from A Living Alternative Our Missional Pilgrimage by Jamie
A few years ago, while reading through Church history, I was struck by how often Christian communities found themselves the object of persecution and trials. More pointedly, it seemed that those times where the church suffered most were the times their witness was most vibrant and authentic. While I had seen this dynamic before, I had always assumed that their suffering produced in them the notable faithfulness- and to be sure, that is a part of it. However, I began to wonder if that was the only way the two dynamics were connected. What if it was their very faithfulness to Christ that brought on their suffering? The more I studied, the more I realized this was equally the case.
Jesus not only made it clear that His followers- us included- would face suffering, but that such suffering was a blessing which we should rejoice in. This is such a contrast to the culture of comfort and social acceptability that Christians in the West largely enjoy. Some will cite examples of Christian suffering here, like no prayer in school and the like, but these inconveniences are nothing compared the genuine suffering God’s people have faced through history.
Sadly, such suffering was not always at the hands of those who were outside of the faith. All too often, both in Jesus day and throughout Church history, many Christians who sought to live faithfully according to the way of Jesus found themselves facing the persecution of the larger Christian community. Jesus knew that follow Him would often put us at odds with the world and the religious authorities alike. It was a hard truth, but one that was held firmly by His disciples and later followers.
While we do not need to out looking for suffering- nor justify legitimate rejection by the wider world due to our self-righteousness and pride- we must ask ourselves why the church in the West faces so little of the suffering Jesus promised we would see. Some would argue that our peace is a blessing from God, linking it nationalism or exceptionalism, but an examination of history and Scripture suggests a very different conclusion to me. While God does blessing us, we must also consider the reality that millions of others worldwide, Christians sisters and brothers included, suffering because of some of our so called “blessings”.
Why should such suffering be a blessing? When we follow Christ in faith, even in the face of suffering, we are stripped of our pretenses and false-securities. We realize in tangible ways that we are utterly dependent on Him, and by extension of His Spirit in us, on each other, His Body. We are blessed because Christ works in and through us to bring us to maturity, not from a distance, but from right along side us. For before we suffered for Him, He suffered for us, inviting us to join Him in that painful, yet hopeful and redemptive work.
Again, the challenge is not to go looking for suffering, but to instead be unwaveringly bold as together we dare to live out the teachings of Jesus, to follow Him, not just worship Him. This might sound obvious, but the realities that such a commitment will not only put us at odds with the world, but perhaps even with the status quo of the Christian subculture. For example, our radical obedience will, like it did with Jesus, bring us into the company of people the church has rejected as sinners, as “unclean”. Those we love and respect in the faith might rebuke us, even reject us. And while we are never arrogant, it may require that we defy the norms to be faithful to Christ.
I believe that we are in a crisis of faith in the western church. We need to rediscover what it means to follow Jesus to any end He calls us to. We need to be willing to ask the hard questions about what kinds of communities are being produced in our culture- communities of Christ or communities of consumers? Or communities at all? I am, however, also hopeful. I see many people gathering together to live just such obedience.
Shall we join them?