Real time dramas of being a follower of Jesus
Being a follower of Jesus involves real time dramas. The follower of Jesus recognises they have given their life to a new Master, Jesus. This means Jesus is first in everything they do and think - a new world view has taken over. There is no second place for Jesus. Previously I've spelt out a simple set of words whereby a person invites Jesus to become their Lord. It is both simple, yet astonishingly challenging.
Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ unleashes an unseen and unrelenting spiritual battle within our hearts and minds, (it becomes a self discipline issue – allowing Christ to take over life). This is the 'inward' battle. But throughout history and in many countries today, there is also an 'outward' conflict.
In this letter I wish to look at the second of the above issues, the 'outward' conflict. The early church from the first century through to the fourth century suffered enormously. In instance after instance, throughout the Roman Empire, those who followed Jesus were hunted down. Some were thrown to the lions, some burnt at the stake, some stoned to death ….
Tertullian, a third century theologian, wrote: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.". As strange as it might seem, the greater the persecution, the stronger the Christian community grew, both in number and in personal commitment to follow the Lord.
The nature of being a follower of Jesus and giving Him first place, involves a deep love and commitment so that (1) 'within' there is a 'peace that passeth understanding' while (2) 'without' there may be raging persecution.
Throughout the centuries, wherever missionaries have travelled to the outposts of civilisation, and inevitably challenging the 'politic of the day' with such odd-ball ideas like justice, medical care and freedom of religion; then persecution soon followed. Moreover, martyrdom has consistently been the portion of followers of Jesus.
The Medieval (Dark Ages) period saw a number of things coincide in history. There were plagues that almost wiped out the next generation, there were great movements of people groups with the various invasions of Europe from the north and the east. The failure of the civil service throughout civilisation left nations dependent on the structures of the church for education, literature and agriculture.
The church then, like any other institution, found itself in the land of the 'power' and with it came corruption, nepotism and above all a political jealousy of its wealth and position. There arose a ground swell of opposition 'within the church' to all this, and these people led this opposition to an inevitable reformation.
People like Wycliffe in England, Luther in Germany, Zwingli in Switzerland, Calvin in France (later Geneva) and innumerable others, challenged church structures. The printing press enabled them to print the Bible in their own languages and spread their 'reforming' message.
This bought a great wave of persecution within Christendom. It was like a civil war.
Statement: As missionaries took the Bible's Salvation message to the utter most parts of the earth, so too a new wave of persecution came to the fore. Think of last century alone, Communism was the very antithesis of Christian. Nazism formed a Reich Church and imprisoned its opponents (eg: Bonhoeffer).
Today, across much of the world there are martyrs giving their lives for simply telling others this wonderful good news of Jesus. An example of this is in Saudi Arabia (the West's political allies).
Each day I receive news reports over the wire from Assist News Service (ANS) which is dedicated to reporting the persecution of Christians. It's horrific to read. But this is precisely what Jesus told his followers to expect. We only see what happened to Jesus.
In my next letter I shall look at the other side of this equation, the inner spiritual battle that every follower of Jesus, faces.