Dispelling the Myth of Beneficial Persecution

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sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
New at The Ruling Elder Blog: The Ruling Elder: Dispelling the Myth of Beneficial Persecution

Summary: I have heard from many people that persecution is good for the Church. From several examples in Acts, I believe the opposite to be true. When persecution ceases, then the church grows. Instead of desiring persecution, we should be praying for the Gospel to go forth freely!

As always, I appreciate your thoughts on the topic.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Interesting... I was just having a conversation about this with another chaplain this afternoon. He said he prays for persecution, I asked why, he said that the church flourishes during persecution and then offered China as an example, and I responded with "What about in France or Spain where evangelical Christianity was all but wiped out due to persecution?" He said, "Good question."

Too many people look at the thing itself as good - as if persecution itself is good for the church. No, the sovereign lordship of Jesus is good, and He will build His church. What calls for faith and perseverance is the sobering reality that while Christ has decreed that His church will be built, He has NOT decreed that His church will "flourish" in all places. Faithful obedience is called for if one finds himself in such a place.
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
Both persecution and non-persecution can be beneficial to the church, as the rod and the staff of God are beneficial. God has used each state at various times in various ways to build, purify, and sanctify the church.
 

littlepeople

Puritan Board Freshman
I think persecution is a given so long as the gospel is advancing. To pray for persecution seems to be a confusion of causality. We should pray for the coming of the Kingdom...persecution will likely follow. See Jesus' prayer in John 17.

I've also encountered this desire for persecution (from a minister), and I was confused.
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
Both persecution and non-persecution can be beneficial to the church, as the rod and the staff of God are beneficial. God has used each state at various times in various ways to build, purify, and sanctify the church.

Riley, I believe God can build, purify and sanctify His Church without persecution, and I believe we have numerous examples of that in Acts (purifying the church through the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira comes to mind). I do agree that God is free to do as He pleases, and even times of persecution will be used by Him for His glory.
 
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SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Riley, I believe God can build, purify and sanctify His Church without persecution, and I believe we have numerous examples of that in Acts (purifying the church through the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira comes to mind). I do agree that God is free to do as He pleases, and even times of persecution will be used by Him for His glory. But, I can find no example in Acts of the Church growing while it is being persecuted.

Interesting. I was always taught that after the stoning of Stephen, when a "great persecution" broke out and all the Christians were dispelled from Jerusalem... and everyone goes out preaching, etc.... that this was an example of growth because of (if not "while") persecution.
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
Riley, I believe God can build, purify and sanctify His Church without persecution, and I believe we have numerous examples of that in Acts (purifying the church through the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira comes to mind). I do agree that God is free to do as He pleases, and even times of persecution will be used by Him for His glory. But, I can find no example in Acts of the Church growing while it is being persecuted.

Interesting. I was always taught that after the stoning of Stephen, when a "great persecution" broke out and all the Christians were dispelled from Jerusalem... and everyone goes out preaching, etc.... that this was an example of growth because of (if not "while") persecution.

I have also been told that, Ben. However, I do not see church growth as a result of the persecution. I see Church scattering, which God then uses for His own purposes. But, the Christians that go into Samaria and Judea are not persecuted, once they leave Jerusalem: they preach the Gospel freely wherever they go and the Church grows. There is no indication that the Church grew in Jerusalem, where Saul was persecuting the Church. However, when Philip goes down to Samaria and preaches Christ, "the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did...And there was great joy in that city." (8:6, 8). There was no persecution in Samaria at that time.

---------- Post added at 03:50 PM ---------- Previous post was at 03:39 PM ----------

I suppose I should add: this is my opinion, based on my reading of the text. I am not suggesting that I have all the answers, simply, that I don't see persecution as being a beneficial thing for the church, or something that ought to be prayed for or desired. I see, in Acts, the church growing, when the preaching of the Word is not opposed and the Church is not persecuted.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Seth - While I share your point that persecution is not inherently good for the church, I must disagree with your self-discovered position that the Bible does not record the church growing, indeed, flourishing, in the face of persecution. Indeed, as I read Acts 2-6, I see the whole tone of the narrative being that here's the church not only surviving, but actually growing by leaps and bounds despite the threats and physical abuse of the authorities. That, my friend, is growth amidst persecution. And the narrative is there to reiterate the point that indeed Christ was building His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
Ben, can you give me an example of the church flourishing while being persecuted? I'm honestly asking, but I'd like to see some proof from the text. I'm not saying the Church is incapable of growth during times of persecution, as if persecution was able to stop the purposes of God. What I am saying is that the Church grows more when it is not being persecuted, and therefore, we should not be desirous of persecution, as if it were a good thing for the Church.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Ben, can you give me an example of the church flourishing while being persecuted? I'm honestly asking, but I'd like to see some proof from the text.

If you're looking for a verse that says, "The church grew because of the persecution" you won't find it. (Nor will you find, "The church grew because of the lack of persecution") But as I noted above, Acts 2-6, with it's repeated contrast of growth - pointing out the growth - while injecting stories of arrest and threats and beatings... well, I think that is "proof from the text." Maybe you disagree.
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
Ben, point taken about the church growing during times of persecution (I have edited my earlier post to reflect this). However, I do believe we have a couple of times in the book of Acts where we are specifically told that the Church is at peace and then grows. For example, Acts 9:31 - "Then [after the conversion of Saul and the end of his persecution] the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied."

To get back to my original point: I believe lack of persecution is better for the church than persecution. To that end, I do not believe it is wise to desire persecution. It is better to desire that the Gospel go forth unhindered.
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
Both persecution and non-persecution can be beneficial to the church, as the rod and the staff of God are beneficial. God has used each state at various times in various ways to build, purify, and sanctify the church.

Riley, I believe God can build, purify and sanctify His Church without persecution, and I believe we have numerous examples of that in Acts (purifying the church through the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira comes to mind). I do agree that God is free to do as He pleases, and even times of persecution will be used by Him for His glory.

So we are in agreement then?
 

TaylorOtwell

Puritan Board Junior
I agree with you, Seth. The idea of praying for persecution is very strange, but I actually knew a lot of people like that (including myself) in my pre-Reformed days.
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Seth, I would add that your article could be further strengthened by pointing out that the NT contains repeated prayers for three things: 1) the safety of ministers, 2) an open door for the gospel, and 3) peaceful circumstances for Christians. All three of these demonstrate that although the Church was willing to bear the cross of persecution, the NT authors did not view persecution as the ideal scenario.
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
A very interesting post, Seth! Another passage to keep in mind, though: the only two churches in Revelation 2-3 which receive no rebuke/warning from the Lord are both undergoing persecution (Smyrna and Philadelphia); they have remained most faithful, it seems, in the midst of it (though the Philadelphians are told "Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth." -- 3:10). OTOH, the two churches which seem not be undergoing any sort of persecution (Sardis and Laodicea) are rebuked the most strongly of the churches.

But your point is well taken. One negative effect of the "persecution/growth paradigm" is that it is entirely possible for an heretical group to be persecuted and to assume that it is being vindicated by God because of the persecution. :2cents:
 

moral necessity

Puritan Board Junior
I'm reminded of some of the older writers I've read who compare spiritual growth to that of a tree. Strong winds cause the roots of a tree to spread out wider, thereby giving it more stability.

Blessings!
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
Oh, so you mean quantitative growth of the church benefits. Maybe. However, the qualitative benefits involved in persecution is certainly much and the amounts of its benefit goes often untold.

Josh, I was waiting for someone to make that distinction (quantity vs. quality). I actually believe the church grows both quantitatively and qualitatively when not being persecuted (while fully admitting that both of those things are also possible while enduring persecution). For example, in Acts 9:31, after Saul's persecution of the church ends, we are told of numerical growth "Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied." (but it could also be argued that "walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit" implies qualitative growth, as well). But, then in Acts 12:24, after Herod is killed by an angel of the Lord, we are told "But the word of God grew and multiplied." I'm not sure this is referring purely to a numerical increase of converts. It seems that qualitative benefits came after the end of that persecution, as well.

But, certainly God chastens His people, and times of persecution can be used for numerical and qualitative growth, but I also see qualitative growth during times of no persecution.
 
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sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
Both persecution and non-persecution can be beneficial to the church, as the rod and the staff of God are beneficial. God has used each state at various times in various ways to build, purify, and sanctify the church.

Riley, I believe God can build, purify and sanctify His Church without persecution, and I believe we have numerous examples of that in Acts (purifying the church through the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira comes to mind). I do agree that God is free to do as He pleases, and even times of persecution will be used by Him for His glory.

So we are in agreement then?

Yes, I believe so!

---------- Post added at 08:27 AM ---------- Previous post was at 08:26 AM ----------

Seth, I would add that your article could be further strengthened by pointing out that the NT contains repeated prayers for three things: 1) the safety of ministers, 2) an open door for the gospel, and 3) peaceful circumstances for Christians. All three of these demonstrate that although the Church was willing to bear the cross of persecution, the NT authors did not view persecution as the ideal scenario.

Yes, very good points! Thanks for reminding me of them.
 
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