The Holy Huddle

What is the goal of Christians? OK, we have more than one goal, but how can we characterize our “mission statement”? To be honest with you, the way we approach some of the issues of the day, I suspect those on the outside looking in might think Christians are all about creating a “holy huddle,” an insulated, isolated band of folks who think alike, talk alike, dress alike. Think Amish, expanded and liberalized.

Mind you, I doubt if any group of Christians would agree that this is what we desire. In fact, we would probably to a person say we are about fulfilling the Great Commission — we are to make disciples — and about loving God first, then loving our neighbors second.

When something comes up, however, like the imprisonment of Pastor Yousef in Iran, Christians here in the West react in an interesting way. On one hand we have Twitter campaigns to raise worldwide awareness of religious intolerance against Christians in order to pressure Iran to free Pastor Yousef. We also have a bill in the US Congress, yet to be passed, that would condemn Iran for his imprisonment.

On the other hand, we have organizations looking to the US government to facilitate immigration to America for those in other countries who are the brunt of persecution for their faith in Christ.

In other words, our solution is two fold — turn to political and populace pressure or provide a safe haven for those who can’t practice their faith freely. In short, we want to either gang up or huddle up.

And yes, those advocating this two-prong approach also tell us to pray. I get the feeling, however, that what we’re being asked to pray is that one of these two approaches will work — either that we can force Iran and other repressive regimes to comply so Christians won’t live under persecution and in fear or that we can gather together away from the oppressors so that we all can live in safety.

The problem is, this double-edge strategy doesn’t resemble anything in Scripture. Daniel stood his ground for his right to exercise his faith and was tossed to the lions. Earlier, his three friends stood their ground and refused to renounce their faith by bowing to an idol. They were tossed into the furnace. Esther’s uncle Mordecai refused to bow to a man, and all the Jews under Babylonian control were subject to annihilation. Later, during the first century, Peter was imprisoned for his faith and due to be executed by Herod.

In each of these instances, no one organized worldwide campaigns to pressure the leadership to release these people, yet they walked away free. Rather than Man finding a way of escape, God exercised His miraculous power and closed the mouths of lions, walked through fire, reversed an irreversible law, and pulled off an inexplicable jailbreak.

On the other hand, the very same Herod who planned to kill Peter, did in fact execute James. Stephen was stoned to death. The prophet Jeremiah was last known to be a prisoner hauled off to Egypt — the place he prophesied would be the doom of Jews who went there. The Apostle Paul was taken to Rome in chains where he was presumed to be executed in the horrendous persecution of Christians by Nero.

The point is that these believers who ended up sacrificing their lives, did not look for a safe place to huddle away from danger. Stephen was preaching, Paul was starting churches and discipling believers. Jeremiah was relating God’s message to those left unprotected in the land after the Babylonians had destroyed the city walls. They weren’t in “duck and cover” mode. They were pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

Prayer was involved in some of these Scriptural accounts — the ones that ended in the way we’d like to see them end, and the ones that ended “unhappily.” Stephen was praying as he died. Peter’s friends were gathered to pray for him as the angel released him from prison. Daniel was arrested because he was praying.

What can we conclude about all this? First I might mention that the persecution of the church in the first century did nothing to slow the growth of Christianity. Yes, because of the Roman persecution, Christians went underground, literally, and yet they were still making disciples, still growing the Church. They weren’t running away to a Masada where they could live out their days in cultural purity and die having made no impact for Christ.

Second, they prayed as a first resort, not a last resort. I don’t doubt that they prayed for Peter’s release from prison, too, though Rhoda, at least, was certainly surprised when he actually arrived at the front door. But Stephen was not praying for himself but for the people who were killing him.

Paul told the church at Colossae to devote themselves to prayer, “praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ for which I have also been imprisoned” (Col. 4:3). His prayer request was not first for his release but for the opportunity to preach Christ.

He didn’t want safety or freedom. He wanted to make Christ known.

I can’t help but wonder if we the Church of Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century aren’t missing several boats. First, perhaps we’re relying far too much on the strategies of the world. And second, perhaps we’re setting our sights on the short term rather than the eternal.

What would change if we started praying for our Christian brothers and sisters, those free and those persecuted, along the lines of Paul’s request?

Published in: on May 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm  Comments Off on The Holy Huddle  
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