A perversely pious gush diabolically inspired to derail God’s aggressive, kingdom-expanding work in the world is the last thing we need.
Dear friends and supporters:
I’ve been intending for a couple of weeks to write on “Capitalist Marxism,” but I returned from Minnesota under the weather and decided to write something shorter but no less important this week.
One day a worm that had been burrowing into the forehead of a medieval Mother Superior fell out as she bent over. Believing that all human suffering is God’s will, she reinserted the worm into her forehead. She was a spiritual (and also, apparently, physical) masochist.
Spiritual masochists have been an unfortunate reality in Christianity since almost its beginning, but you’d think that 2000 years of church history would have cured them of their perverse theological ailment. Spiritual masochists are Christians who crave deprivation, persecution, and suffering, considering them proof of supercharged levels of God’s approval and his scourging tools for their greater sanctification. This doctrine is flatly false, to put it mildly.
It’s certainly true that if we live godly lives in Christ Jesus, we will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). We can even rejoice when the wicked persecute us, knowing that lives of obedience elicit hostility from God’s enemies (Mt. 5:11–12).
But longing for oppression and persecution at the hands of the wicked isn’t a Christian virtue. And it’s remarkable how self-centered and short-sighted spiritual masochists are, reveling in their own supposed higher spirituality forged by persecution and suffering but seemingly oblivious to and uncaring about the hardship suffered by many others when Christians and the church endure persecution. Spiritual masochism is a form of unselfconscious self-centeredness. (See my article “Losing Well Together With the Gospel Coalition.”)
Prayer for Persecution?
We sometimes hear Christians implore God to rain down persecution on the church on the grounds that a suffering church will be a holier church. This prayer is dead wrong on at least two counts.
First, it’s not true that persecution necessarily creates a holier church. It might produce greater holiness in certain individual Christians; but in radically reducing the size of the church as well as the church’s ability to preach the gospel — including the gospel of holiness — it does not benefit the church. Tell the church in North Korea that persecution is beneficial for the church. Tell the church in the Middle East that suffering is a great blessing (Christians are leaving in droves). Tell the church in the former communist Albania, the first formally atheistic state in the world, that political hostility is a boon. Christianity survived in the primitive church not because of persecution at the hands of apostate Judaism and imperial Rome, but in spite of it.
Second, and more importantly, the Bible tells us not to pray for persecution. Paul writes:
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. (1 Tim. 2:1–2, emphasis supplied)
God requires that Christians pray for religious liberty, not religious persecution. The civil magistrate (the state) should guarantee individuals and families and churches and Christian ministries the freedom to preach the gospel, train members in the Christian Faith, and advance the kingdom of God. Each of these is hindered when the state is hostile to religious liberty.
And then consider man’s prime calling: the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28–30): exercising benevolent dominion in the earth for the Lord’s glory and under his authority. Religious and political and economic oppression hinder, and sometimes prohibit, obedience to that command. If you long and pray for religious persecution, you’re longing and praying for the necessity to disobey God’s fundamental command to humanity.
“One of the most prominent errors in the history of the church is postponing massive blessings of creation and the gospel to the eternal state. If the liberal churches wish to re-situate all the blessings in the ‘already’ (since they have no actual eternal hope, and often turn to revolutionary politics for salvation), conservative churches tend to push most of the blessings off into the ‘not yet.’”
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Next week I intend to address the Leftist tyranny of “cancel culture” as a form of modern persecution, but note here the recent hostility of statism instantiated in Covid lockdowns. Here’s last Tuesday’s tweet from my dear friend and ministry ally at the Ezra Institute of Contemporary Christianity, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada.
Dr. Boot is referring to Westminster Chapel-Toronto, the congregation he launched and presently serves as pastor emeritus. Here is a follow-up tweet:
For a biblical, theological, and philosophical justification of resistance to many Covid lockdown orders, see my article “Mandatory Masks, “Shelter at Home,” and (Anti-) Social Distancing.”
Incidentally, if your attitude is that churches should obey the state in everything until it specifically prohibits gospel preaching, there will be no gospel left to preach when they finally prohibit it. At the heart of the gospel is the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the universe, and to surrender that Lordship under the pressures of political hostility is to impair the gospel.
Just now I wish to point out that spiritual masochists would likely delight in this tyranny, assuming it’s verification of the godliness of Dr. Boot’s church. In fact, more intense persecution would be even better, separating the wheat from the chaff, purifying the church, and reducing its size. Persecution porn, we might say. And if the church is forced to disband? Well, that’s a good thing too. The fewer the Christians and churches, the better, as long as they’re The Truly Pure Ones.
No doubt the hostility is partly a result of the fidelity of Dr. Boot’s church, but it’s not desirable on those grounds. All to the contrary: it’s a diabolical assault on the church of Jesus Christ, forcing a distraction from God’s chief calling on that church and hindering the influence of godly Faith in the culture.
God’s people are tasked with combatting the wicked, not hoisting the white flag at the first sign of persecution. This battle is a biblical requirement, not a nice suggestion. Notice the implied command from Proverbs:
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, [b]ut such as keep the law contend with them (28:4).
Paul’s instruction in the extended metaphor in Ephesians 6 outlining the strategy of addressing diabolical hostility to the Faith is battle, resistance, not longing for suffering, persecution, and, in the end, defeat.
While the Bible never permits political revolution as a recourse to political repression, it dictates either explicitly or implicitly such contemporary counterpunches as bold, biblical denunciation of tyrants; peaceful civil disobedience (if necessary); aggressive litigation; imprecatory prayer; and long-term strategies to defy and defeat tyrannical civil governments. (See “Christian Counterpunching.”)
Spiritual masochism is contra-creational and contra-Christian. It is a perversely pious gush diabolically inspired to derail God’s aggressive, kingdom-expanding work in the world.
Battle for vindication and victory. Don’t pine for pain and defeat.
CCL is publishing more writings than ever, both printed and digital. Defend the Faith: Christian Warfare for Our Time should be out within two weeks. Judge William Graves has suffered a health setback, but Prudent Jurisprudence (with many new sketches) should be ready to ship before long. I hope to have Creational Marriage: Issues and Controversies out by the fall. Professor John Frame has kindly granted permission to publish his 60+ sermons under the title Widen Your Hearts.
Please pray that our political overlords open the Canadian border before summer. I’m scheduled to lecture numerous times at the Runner Academy (Dr. Boot) in southern Ontario (just north of Buffalo, NY), July 4–16. I hope that many of you 18–40 years olds will apply today. I’ll be delivering the graduation address at the Dominion Christian Academy (Pastor David Shay), Summerville, PA on June 4 and speaking at the For God and Truth Conference (Pastor Ernie Yarbrough) in Decatur, AL, August 4–7.
I thank each of you that prays for and sends money to this work. You are God’s supply chain to the front lines of the battle we’re waging.
Yours for the King,
Founder & President, Center for Cultural Leadership
From the Common Slaves Conference in Crosby, Minnesota. “True Christianity and Current Counterfeits: The Heresy of Conservative Christianity”:
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