Preparing for Suffering in Christ's Name

Sorrow and Blood: Christian Mission in Contexts of Suffering, Persecution, and Martyrdom confronts us with the stark fact that most Christians throughout the ages, and millions of believers today, face daily discrimination, denunciation, and even danger for their faith.

Though active persecution of Christians in China is currently rare, that situation could change quickly. Even today, however, Christians in China live under various legal restrictions and hindrances to the public expression of their faith. They are not supposed to meet except in designated places, at designated times, and under the leadership of authorized clergy. Though most believers hold meetings in violation of these rules, they are not hindered or harassed, though they could be at any time.

Aside from legal restrictions and possible government interference, followers of Christ encounter possible discrimination in education and employment. One must count the cost before deciding to be baptized as a disciple of Christ.

At the same time, Chinese urban Christian church leaders lament the loss of devotion to Christ, hunger for the Word of God, commitment to holiness, and zeal for evangelism that marked an earlier generation. They observe that the lifestyles of today’s city churchgoers often differ little from the way their non-Christian neighbors go through the day, and reflect worldly values.

In short, if persecution does come, or if the cost of following Christ rises higher, we can expect more professing Christians to fall away or even to deny Christ.

Things are the same in the West.

Chinese who make “decisions” for Christ in the West, likewise, often seem to do so for worldly reasons, to gain some benefit, or because they think God has answered their prayers for a visa, success in school, a job, a mate, etc. They, too, seem to follow the same goals as their non-Christian friends, goals which can be summed up in the word “success.” If their hopes are not realized, or if some trouble comes along, they often stop attending church.

As in China, however, so in the secular West, persecution of Christians could come at any time. Already, believers suffer discrimination, legal restrictions, and the growing hostility of the entire society.

How can we reduce the risk of such turning from God in China and in the West? How can we strengthen Chinese for hardship or even persecution?

From the Bible, church history, and the material in Sorrow and Blood, we learn that seekers must be told at the very beginning that to believe in Christ is to believe in the one who suffered and died for them, and who calls them into the same cross-shaped life. We should not promise them earthly benefits for trusting in Jesus, but the supreme blessing of reconciliation with God through the blood of Christ, applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Our hope is in the next life, when Christ returns, not in this world.

Our evangelism, in other words, should focus on God, his holy law, our sinful condition, the redeeming work of Christ for us, and the promise of forgiveness and new life by the Holy Spirit. We should warn that disciples of Christ, if they are faithful, will have trouble in this world, and may have to suffer greatly for their faith in Jesus. On the other hand, Jesus promises to be with us, even to the end of the age, and to give us sufficient grace to glorify him in all circumstances.

Christians should be taught that “all things work together for the good of those who love God,” so that we can “give thanks for all things.” God uses everything, but especially trouble, to draw us to himself; separate us from worldly desires and ambitions; give us a greater thirst for him and his Word; refine us; increase our faith, hope, and love; and make us a testimony to others. We should expect trouble, not be surprised, and use trouble as an opportunity to experience God’s grace more and communicate his glory to others.

Christian leaders should help believers learn the Bible and memorize large portions of it, so that they will be ready when trials come. We should be familiar with the life and sufferings of Jesus for us, the lives of the apostles and the Old Testament prophets, and the stories of Christians throughout the ages who have been faithful in following Christ.

We should also instruct our people in how to pray to God at all times, rely on his strength, and expect him to give wisdom, courage, and joy when we encounter difficulty.

Christians must also encourage each other. Small groups, especially home meetings, have always been the best way for Christians to grow in Christ. We need to return to this biblical pattern in order to avoid the inevitable loss of quality that comes with big congregations.

Perhaps in these ways we may be more able to be good witnesses of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

-G. Wright Doyle