John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author and serves as the president of The Rutherford Institute. The Rutherford Institute is an international civil liberties legal and educational organization that defends religious persons whose constitutional rights have been violated. These services are provided free of charge.  

If you would like further information about religious rights, please contact:

The Rutherford Institute
PO Box 7482
Charlottesville, VA 22906-7482
Tel: (804) 978-3888; Fax (804) 978-1789

Our world today is ravaged with crises, tragedies, and horrors. To cite a few:

 q      In the Tiananmen Square massacre (June 3­4, 1989), hundreds if not thousands of Chinese students and other demonstrators were killed as the Communist government cracked down on pro-democracy speech.

 q      Chinese persecution of Tibetan Buddhists in Tibet continues unabated. Monasteries have been closed, the Dalai Lama continues to be barred from China, and any activities, including religious ones, deemed to be contrary to Chinese authoritarian rule are severely punished.

 q      The dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1990 and the ensuing war in Bosnia-Herzegovina continue to have serious implications for the region. The four-year war in Bosnia ended in 1995 with the Dayton (Ohio) Accord under United States auspices. Thousands of people died in the war, and the policy of “ethnic cleansing” succeeded in eliminating or displacing hundreds of thousands of Muslims, Croats, and Serbs.

 q      The largest country in Africa, Sudan, has suffered under civil war for most of its modem history. Since its independence from Britain in 1956, the Arab-dominated north, predominantly Muslim, has battled the mostly Black, Christian-Animist south. Thousands have died, and recently the systematic practice of slavery against Christians in the south has been documented.

 q      The Rwandan genocide of over one-half million people (mostly ethnic Tutsis) at the hands of the Hutu in 1994 was one in a series of massacres this country has experienced since the end of the 1950s, and one of the worst examples of human rights violations in the modern world.

 q      Blasphemy and apostasy trials in Pakistan and Kuwait, with corresponding death sentences, are one example of extreme religious intolerance in the Middle East, where the situation continues to be of concern.

 q      In the April 1995 bombing of a Federal building in Oklahoma City, 168 people were killed. It has been theorized that the bombing was an extremist response to the Federal government’s participation in the killing of over 80 people in April 1993 in Waco, Texas at the Koresh Compound.

    Although many humanitarians have spoken out, dire problems such as these demand a clear Christian response. Indeed, the world desperately needs Christians who will engage every facet of life. “Good citizenship,” as Charles Colson writes in his book Kingdoms In Conflict (1987), “requires both discernment and courage – discernment to assess soberly the issues and to know when duty calls one to obey or disobey, and courage, in the case of the latter, to take a stand.”

All too often, however, modern Christians portray Jesus Christ as a meek, harmless friend to the world. But that is not the picture found in the Gospels or the book of Revelation. Far from being passive or meek, Christ was both controversial and dogmatic. Jesus Christ was not “broadminded” in the modern sense nor was He multicultural – He was not prepared to accept as valid all views on every subject. Christ was not politically correct. He was not afraid to dissent from official or popular doctrines that He knew were wrong.

Jesus Christ was on the offensive, with a message that offended those around Him so much that they killed Him. Christ took truth to the world and commanded His disciples to do likewise. He also told them that if they followed His example, they could expect rejection and persecution.

Unfortunately, many contemporary Christians don’t understand that standing up for the truth means rejecting what is false. Modern American culture, for example, does not tolerate dogmatism, and evangelical Christians have largely responded with accommodation. However, not only have these Christians embraced falsehood as truth, they have also failed to realize the impact of that choice, namely the emergence of secularism. Accompanied by the rise of statism, secularism in the twentieth century has perpetrated great cruelty and oppression.

Modern Christians in the West, much like their counterparts in other areas of the world, face the very real potential of being driven from American public life. Once that is accomplished, Christianity will be excised from the basic foundations of the country -­ much like countries such as China where the freedoms of Christians are severely limited — and oppression will result.

If we are to engage the culture and glorify God, we must be willing to be the Christians Jesus Christ told us to be.

What does this mean?

Being Controversial

It means that you must be controversial. You must understand that controversy flows from the collision of truth with falsehood. We must remember that “Christian ideas place one in a radical — that is, critical and adverse relationship to established institutions.”

Professor Glenn Tinder writes:

The Kingdom of God is a judgment on existing society, and a symbol of its impermanence. Jesus was crucified because his presence and preaching were profoundly unsettling to reigning religious and political groups. Jesus did not seek the violent overthrow of these groups but neither did he show much concern for their stability.

Controversy, however, should not result from the manner in which truth is presented but rather from the truth itself.  In other words, in a confrontational situation, controversy should be the result of the message, not the messenger.

    For example, when the Apostle Paul was in Athens, he was distressed by the idolatry he saw. However, he did not rant and rave or harangue the Athenians about their pagan religions.  Rather, he reasoned in the synagogue, disputed with the philosophers, and calmly addressed a meeting of the Areopagus. In other words, Paul was able to argue effectively because he spoke the truth; and, because he had studied Greek culture, he knew the minds of his listeners. He even quoted their own poets and writers to them. Some of the Athenians ridiculed Paul, but others found his message challenging and asked him to speak again. If Paul had tried to indoctrinate his audience and force them to listen to him, they probably would not have given him a hearing at all.

Christians should not be afraid to challenge the modern secularistic culture. The present “air raid shelter” mentality of many Christians in the West will not alter the course of society. Likewise, timidity will not change anything. As C. S. Lewis writes in God in the Dock (1971):

As Christians we are tempted to make unnecessary concessions to those outside the Faith. We give in too much…. We must show our Christian colours if we are to be true to Jesus Christ. We cannot remain silent and concede everything away.

Concession and dismay mark modern Christendom. Like those ten of the twelve spies sent out by Moses to report on the military capacities of the Canaanites, the reports of today’s Christians are filled with fear. Yet, Rahab told the spies of the next generation that “as soon as we heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.”

Therefore, the battle cry of faithful Christian should be that Jesus Christ is Lord of all things in Heaven and on earth. He is not simply Lord of Heaven above and impotent on earth. He is Lord of the entire cosmos.

The misinterpretation of Jesus Christ’s words in John 18:36 – that His kingdom is not of this world – should finally be given the burial it deserves. In this verse, Christ was simply asserting to Pilate that His source of authority over all things was not earthly but heavenly.

The newspapers, entertainment media, universities, and even political leaders in the West likewise speak of little else but defeat and alienation. Many secularists see their world crumbling about them. What an opportunity we have as Christians to respond to this pessimism! We need to inject a consistent Christian message into sermons, evangelical crusades, and bookstores which are all too often characterized by false piety.

Too many Christians believe they can retreat (note that Christian seminars are often called retreats) into a zone of social and political impotence and, therefore, social and political irresponsibility just as they have done for over a century.

As a whole, modern evangelism, at least in the Western world, has had little effect on contemporary culture because of its pietism. Thus, many Christians do not understand their culture because they do not participate. They are neanderthals in understanding any popular media such as film, music, and art. In other words, the things nonbelievers understand and enjoy the most, the Christian knows the least about.

As a consequence, what many Christians see as the enemy is at the gates. Humanism is at the end of the road spiritually, and secularism offers society no concrete values. As such, nothing is left to hold society together except brute force.

As those in China and the Eastern Bloc countries well know, there are no safety zones in the combat of faith. The only way to be effective is to apply Christianity consistently to culture in all its aspects. As underground evangelist Brother Andrew has written:

The first principle for any Christian work is this: the Lord Jesus Christ, who crushed Satan and conquered death, commands us to invade this enemy occupied world and reclaim it for God. We march under his exclusive authority and are forbidden to make any deals with the foe. No compromises. No concessions. And no excuses!

 A Comprehensive Message

   Your Christian message must be comprehensive; it should speak to all of life, not just to theological or so-called “religious” concerns.

Many people compartmentalize their faith because they simply don’t understand how it should affect all parts of their lives. The Western church has contributed to this compartmentalized mentality by failing to give its people a Christian worldview. Christianity today on both a personal and institutional level has put God in a box and delegated religious activity to just a few hours on Sunday morning.

In order to keep attendance levels high, many churches have become social clubs where outings such as ski trips have become much more than peripheral activities. Thus, the church established by Christ as an outreach entity does not teach the faith consistently. As a result, Christians are intellectually paralyzed. They are unable to think critically about the world around them or use the Bible to make sense of it. The Bible seems irrelevant, a book of stories with characters who have little more relation to us than the “make-believe” world of television and movies. Indeed, to their shame, most Christians have not even read the Bible.

This non-teaching and non-intellectual trend has been perpetrated by the “Christian” education system. Instead of providing a real alternative to the secular public education system, many seminaries and “Christian” colleges in the United States have become soft in their teaching. Christian schools today often mirror the secular schools of ten years ago. They parade the same ideas as the secular schools with the exception that they are always a little behind. Often, these institutions resurrect the out­dated and discarded ideas of secular intellectuals -­ only in biblical language. Ideas fundamentally hostile to Christian thought such as Marxism are purported as great truths and incorporated into Christian theology. It may be that those in the West who would minister effectively to their generation will have to seek their education in the best so-called “secular” schools where there are rigorous academic and professional standards. The relaxed intellectual standards of many Christian schools do not adequately prepare young Christians to think critically and engage the culture.

Christian seminaries and Bible colleges should be institutions that equip Christians for the intellectual combat necessary to confront the world with truth. However, because of the inadequate capabilities of many Christian institutions, this may be difficult. C. S. Lewis once wrote that Christianity had not been tried and found wanting, but rather found difficult and not tried.

Outside of their institutions, Christians have a massive educational task facing them. Education in contemporary society, however, must come in many forms: writing, speaking, protesting, picketing, defending, and even challenging the state and suing in court.

However, the comprehensiveness of the Christian message will not be understood by non­Christians until Christians understand it themselves. This means that we must discard the “otherworldliness” of many contemporary evangelical activities. This means reevaluating the idea that the church building is the center of the religious experience and Christian duty. There is, of course, a sense in which this is true, but the local church should not hoard the truth within four walls. This is a one-dimensional view of spiritual reality.

It is true that Christianity is essentially internal.  As a woman thinks in her heart, so is she; if a man commits adultery in his heart, he is an adulterer. Christianity is also internal because the Holy Spirit inhabits the believer. However, this spiritual power is for an external purpose:  to create a moral and faithful life that people can see and experience, just as they experience Jesus Christ Himself. The true believer reflects in his own small way the holiness of God. This reflection requires love.

Jesus Christ said that believers are to love God with their entire being. Such love is not the unctuous, emotional product that many modern evangelicals associate with love. Rather, it is obedience and a direct act of the will. “If you love me,” Christ says in John 14:23, “you will keep My commandments.”

Believers are also to love their neighbors as they love themselves. It cannot be denied that self-love permeates all of society, ranging from the athlete who exalts in the skill that has brought him victory, to the institutions and monuments that Christians in the United States build and name after themselves. Jesus Christ drew on this self-love and commanded the believer to treat others with equal amounts of love, care, and compassion.

In addition to misunderstanding Christian love, Christians often misunderstand and wrongly apply biblical teachings about salt and light. Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:13 said:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing any more, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

In Jesus Christ’s time, salt was a preservative used primarily to cure meats. In like manner, believers are to preserve and cure. However, salt also makes one thirsty. If Christians are fulfilling their proper role, the culture should be thirsty for truth.

Moreover, when placed on metal and dampened with water, salt slowly eats through steel. True Christians, who are the depositaries of truth, should eventually be able to penetrate and wear away the arguments and actions of the opposition. Christians who believe they cannot effectively answer the secularist’s arguments either do not know the Bible or have not taken the time to study how to apply what they believe.

Christians are to preach and teach the good news of Jesus Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. In turn, this will have a curing and preserving effect on those who hear it and on society as a whole. Thus, the concept of “salt” is very much an external idea.

So is the concept of light. As Christ said in Matthew 5:14-16:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under a peck­measure, but on a lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

A purely internal experience would be tantamount to putting one’s light under a basket. In the biblically externalized experience, true Christian belief shines out like a beacon.

By serving as salt and light, true Christians can be a corrective influence on society and the dominant culture, whether it be the secular culture of the United States or the more atheistic and statist regime of countries such as China.

Why hasn’t this happened? Why do Christians repeatedly fail to be salt and light? Christians can’t preserve what they don’t have, and, sadly, when it comes to ethics, many Christians in the West are as lost as the rest of society. In fact, instead of leading society away from its problems, Christians are following it toward a moral abyss. From the grassroots Christian to the well-known televangelist, many modern Christians seem to have immense difficulty telling the truth or living by any moral code, let alone the standards set for believers by Jesus Christ.

Theologian William Barclay writes in The Ten Commandments For Today (1977):

[T]he crisis of the present is not theological; it is ethical. Christian theology is not really under attack, for there are few outside the Church sufficiently interested in it to assail it, and the internecine wars of the technical theologians are not of any great interest to the general public.

Indeed, many modern Christians are, sadly so, ethically illiterate. Unfortunately, the Bible is no longer the norm it used to be. If anything, modern Western culture is predisposed against the Christian ethic (including those who call themselves Christian). This means, as William Barclay notes, that “[t]here has never been a time when the discussion of the Christian Ethic has been more necessary and more relevant.”

 Practicing “Cautious Radicalism”

   Christians must engage in “cautious radicalism” and, if necessary, civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is a serious and frightening matter. Those who were senselessly killed during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre are a testament to this fact.

The sobriety and weight of civil disobedience are even more true today because technology has globalized the impact of civil disobedience and attracted diverse groups to its possibilities. This includes some who may be mentally or ideologically imbalanced. Any concept or proposed action can, and most likely will, be extended to its illogical extreme by someone. Even movements that have advocated pacifist acts of civil disobedience have sometimes found themselves embroiled in violence. In a fallen world, this is to be expected.

It must be remembered that civil disobedience is an important part of Western heritage. Indeed, civil disobedience has provided a means for significant changes in the law and policies of the United States, for example, with no need to resort to armed rebellion or anarchy. For example, civil disobedience has been practiced by groups as diverse as the abolitionists, the women’s suffrage movement, the modern African-American civil rights movement, Vietnam War protests, and anti-abortion clinic protests and rescues.

Civil disobedience and resistance to the state are subjects about which there is wide disagreement, even within the Christian community. However, civil disobedience has a long tradition in Christian history and is sanctioned as a form of protest against certain governmental acts.

Unfortunately, the Christian record in the annals of reform has not been so impressive. Christians have accepted and sometimes actively supported slavery, poverty, and almost every other common social evil. Often the Christians who did oppose such evils merely whispered their objections privately rather than shouting them publicly.

Christianity compels the believer to act on the truth. Sometimes this means facing failure because the truth is applied to a fallen world. However, it is presumptuous to assume that failure is inevitable. Christianity teaches that although sinful human beings are at work in history, in the end it is God who defines success and failure.

However, the believer needs to be cautious in how he or she acts on Christian ideals. Although the individual is exalted (because he or she is created in the image of God), a person’s flawed character can present serious concerns when it is expressed with others in the form of governmental institutions. True Christianity, then, must always be skeptical about the intentions and activities of the state – no matter who is grasping the reins of power. This also means that believers may only give society and political institutions a “qualified” commitment.

A qualified commitment means that, at certain points, times, and places the believer may be forced to resist governmental and societal actions. Such resistance is a common strain throughout the history of Christianity. As the late Francis Schaeffer writes in How Should We Then Live? (1976):

The early Christians died because they would not obey the state in a civil matter. People often say to us that the early church did not show any civil disobedience. They do not know church history. Why were the Christians in the Roman Empire thrown to the lions? From a Christian’s viewpoint it was for a religious reason, but from the viewpoint of the Roman State they were in civil disobedience, they were civil rebels. The Roman State did not care what anybody believed religiously; you could believe anything, or you could be an atheist. But you had to worship Caesar as a sign of your loyalty to the state. The Christians said they would not worship Caesar, anybody, or anything but the living God. Thus to the Roman Empire they were rebels, and it was civil disobedience. That is why they were thrown to the lions.

The Bible provides clear guidelines for resistance to illegitimate acts of the state. A basic text for such resistance is the thirteenth chapter of Romans. It is interesting that this chapter is often cited by those who claim the state has the authority to mandate anything and that Christians must blindly comply. This argument can be advanced only if Romans 13 is misunderstood.

In Romans 13, the Bible instructs that the state (or state official) is a “minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

The Greek noun for the word minister in Romans 13 is diakonos which means servant, attendant, or deacon. Christ uses the word diakonos when He states, “whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister” or servant. Paul uses it to refer to “a good minister of Jesus Christ.”

Later in Romans 13, Paul again uses the term minister to describe a state official. This time, however, Paul uses the Greek word leitourgous which describes the earthly rulers who, though they may not consciously act as servants of God, discharge functions that are the ordinance of the Creator.

These particular Greek words are used for a specific reason: to indicate that legitimate state officials or civil rulers are to be servants under God, not lords or sovereigns. As the Bible says: “For there is no power but of God.” When the civil authorities divorce themselves from their responsibility to the Creator, they often become self-styled lords, lawless and predatory toward the citizens under their control. In St. Augustine of Hippo’s opinion, such civil rulers are no more than bands of robbers.

In Chapter 13 of Romans, Paul describes the authority and limits of civil government. The Creator has appointed civil magistrates to perform a two-fold function that reflects the general purpose of the state. First, the state must protect and promote the good of society. Second, the civil government must deter crime and punish those who foster evil.

Paul states very clearly in Romans 13:1 that all government is ordained and established by the Creator. The Bible states that parents, pastors, civil authorities, employers, and others receive their authority to govern from God. This authority, however, is delegated. It should never be exercised to oppose principles of higher law or natural law (as based upon Christian principles). If so, cruelty most often results.

Paul makes it clear that the state is to create an atmosphere where knowledge and truth prevail. If the state commands or permits actions contrary to the Christian principles of justice and the sanctity of human life, then citizens have not only the right, but the duty, to disobey the state.

Theologian Alan Johnson writes in his study of Romans that “the proper role of government is in promoting good and punishing evil…. It can be assumed that if either of these conditions is not met there is ground for resistance or even disobedience. The state is not absolute in its demands over us, nor is it infallible or always on the side of justice.”

Some seek to justify their failure to stand against illegitimate state acts by asserting that Christ and the Apostles were pacifists. This is not true. The question of pacifism did not arise, but Christ was certainly not silent on matters of government. Jesus felt free to criticize not only the Jewish civil leaders but also the Roman-appointed ruler, Herod Antipas. Also, Christ overturned tables and whipped the money­changers from the Temple. Christ is ultimately portrayed in the book of Revelation as exercising vengeance on the secular state.

Paul likewise accused one of the members of a grand jury of being a “whitewashed wall,” although he apologized when he learned the man was the high priest. It must not be forgotten that Paul was not considered a model citizen. Rather, he wrote the majority of his letters from jail cells because of his acts of civil disobedience.

Peter’s resistance in Acts 5 is a classic example of standing for religious principles against the illegitimate acts of the state. Peter and others were thrown in prison for preaching.

Acts 5 records that God Himself defied the local authorities when an angel opened the prison doors freeing the Apostles. According to the biblical account, God identified with those who defied the state. God released Peter from prison and instructed the Apostles to stand in the Temple and preach. Again, this violated the mandates of the authorities, and the Apostles were brought before the Sadducees (or religious leaders) to answer for their “crimes.”

In response to the charges of preaching in Jesus’ name, Peter replied: “We must obey God rather than men.” The Apostles were then beaten and commanded not to teach about Christ. However, as the Bible notes, “daily in the temple, and in every house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” Nothing could stop them. They were too intent on turning the world upside down for Christ.

In the end, being a true Christian may mean putting your life on the line. A good example is Zheng Yi, who was an activist in the pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. Yi’s stand for democracy placed him on the Chinese government’s hit-list, forcing him into hiding for three years and eventually forcing him to flee for his life to the United States.

Yi’s work has been invaluable for questioning the Cultural Revolution and challenging the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. For example, in Scarlet Memorial: Tales of Cannibalism in Modern China (1996), Yi recounts the horrific practice of cannibalism by Chinese Communist Party officials in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. Yi has also appealed to Western nations and the Christian principles upon which they were founded. He writes, “in the West, law is supposed to restore justice in the name of God.”

 Grounding It All In Love

 Thus far, I have challenged you to be confrontational, comprehensive, and, if necessary, to engage in civil disobedience. But there is no chance of resisting the enemy successfully unless Christians manifest Christian love. Without this element, even the most vibrant faith, the most fearless posture, the most brilliant apologetic, and the most selfless service are incomplete.

When a lawyer asked Him which was the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus Christ replied that it was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. Christ also said in John 13:34-35:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

This is stated as a command, and thus its violation is wrong. Upon His authority, Christ gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are truly Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all. In other words, we simply cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son unless the world sees the reality of Jesus Christ in believers.

Christian love requires an “otherness,” a focus away from oneself, a total respect for others as a reflection of Jesus Christ. This is the kind of expression and action that draws people toward the truth. It concerns what we may call “humanness.” Indeed, a primary task for this generation of believers is keeping humanness in the human race – that is, to upgrade and maintain the high and esteemed place of people in the universe.

All people bear the image of God and have value, not simply because they happen to be believers but because they are God’s creation and made in God’s image. Modern men and women who reject this truth have no real idea why they exist or what their place in the universe is. Because of this, they often feel lost and find life absurd. Modern culture further degrades and depersonalizes people; or, if it is perceived that the “quality” of life is insufficient according to soci­ety’s standards, they are killed – for example in the case of unborn babies – or, in the case of the aged or chronically ill, urged to die.

The true Christian believer, however, knows the value of people as God’s creation and acts on that knowledge. All people are our “neighbors.” We are to love them as ourselves, even if they are not believers, and even if the cost is great.

This means that Christians must love all fellow human beings. If, for example, we in the West are going to preserve the right to life, Christians must truly love others as they love themselves. Crisis pregnancy centers and their work are an important manifestation of this biblical principle.

Several years ago, an ardent anti-abortion activist told me it would be biblical to bomb an abortion clinic, even if there was a pregnant woman inside. This activist said the pregnant woman could not be a Christian if she was seeking an abortion and that it was biblical to dispose of her along with the abortion clinic. This type of thinking must be absolutely rejected by Christians.

In many ways, giving is the essence of love. But giving is not limited to money or material items. It includes giving time to others, opening one’s home to others, and the general giving of oneself to serve others’ needs.

Compassion is another important aspect of love. True compassion must start with assisting those who need help the most. For example, why aren’t more believers on the front lines assisting the homeless, working with AIDS victims, or visiting nursing homes? Why aren’t more Christians battling for the rights and lives of the unborn, infirm, and aged? Christians should know that helping with physical needs is precedent to meeting spiritual ones. Indeed, in Romans 15:1 the Apostle Paul admonishes: “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weakness of those without strength and not just to please ourselves.”

In one of my travels, I met a Christian man who had to work a spare job in order to meet his living expenses. However, he still spent many hours working without pay at a halfway house for AIDS victims, most of whom were homosexuals. The man told me that when he first sought out what he saw as a ministry opportunity, he was told that Christians were not welcome because they were negative and lacked compassion. He asked if he could simply wash dishes, which he was allowed to do. Eventually, this man worked his way into the living quarters and has since ministered and preached the Gospel to dying homosexuals – with astounding results. Many have accepted Christ on their deathbeds.

This is what true compassion is all about. It has nothing to do with weeping at tragedy, which might be more indicative of sentimentalism. Compassion is bringing justice to real-life situations.

However, true compassion often has an emotional companion: outrage. Outrage is a legitimate reaction for believers who see inhumanity. Unfortunately, lack of outrage is a striking characteristic of modern Christianity, one which allows some of the most heinous crimes in history – terror­ism, abortion, genocide, and oppression – to be committed before our very eyes.

If believers proceed in the manner I have described, they may not demand or expect to move from victory to victory. In a depraved culture that often rivals Sodom and Gomorrah, believers should expect opposition of the most hostile sort.

John the Baptist spoke out against corruption in the court of Herod, and his actions cost him his life. Believers can expect the same or even more tortured treatment since modern technology provides persecutors with a variety of new and terrifying tools. And believers in countries such as China find persecution heightened by nationalistic-atheistic prejudice. In countries such as the Sudan, the hostility of the Muslim religion has resulted in open persecution of Christians.

Western Christians currently have it easy compared to the first Christians, or to those solitary souls throughout the world today who are persecuted simply because they are believers who will not be silenced. Unfortunately, I have had American Christians tell me that they would not fight for their freedom to speak the truth because they might lose their jobs.

In the final analysis, persecution will follow any strong stand for God. Suffering, then, is not an option. It is an essential aspect of true Christianity. Jesus Christ foretold that the true believer would be hated. However, in John 16:33 Christ said:

“In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Christians must know that their suffering is never meaningless. Suffering is also preparation for the Christian’s eventual union with God. “We must through much tribulation,” as Acts 14:22 tells us, “enter into the kingdom of God.” Moreover, the Scriptures state that those who suffer for the sake of righteousness are “blessed” and may keep on rejoicing because of the prospect of eventual exultation with God.

 The Bloody Face Of History

   Practicing true Christianity and living consistently as a believer is a difficult task which at times seems impossible. The believer is told to run the race of life “in such a way that you may win,” but failure is a definite possibility. In fact, we all fail. This is the human dilemma; this is reality.

However, Jesus Christ does not expect the believer to do everything and has assured believers that His yoke is easy and His burden light. Christ promises to give the Christian rest. In short, there is no cause for despair or pessimism. There is hope.

Who would have thought that a ragtag band of Jewish radicals from an obscure Roman colony could have changed the course of history? And yet, that is precisely what happened. The fact that they prevailed against all odds is an inspiration.

Because of the breakdown of Western society, the present situation is often compared to that faced by the early Christian church. However, one can make a good case that modern times, especially with the explosion of new technologies, have much in common with the sixteenth-century world of the Reformation: social ferment, religious corruption, an outburst of learning, a dissatisfied populace, and so on.

The Reformation confronted all that, and its institutional source was one person in an obscure school. Today, Martin Luther would be considered an upstart, and the University of Wittenberg would be shrugged off as an insignificant junior facility, only fifteen years old, with a total complement of one hundred, whose professors were mostly in their twenties.

However, equipped with great spiritual and intellectual power, along with a fervent devotion to Jesus Christ, those professors transformed the world around them as well as the world to come. They are evidence that with God all things are possible and one need not despair.

Truth is what Christianity has to offer. Curiously, it is oftentimes the nonbeliever who understands this better than the Christian. For example, the French existentialist Albert Camus claimed to believe in nothing and to consider everything absurd. But he was an honest thinker, and despite his absence of belief, he saw the needs of the age with a clarity matched by few of his peers. He wrote:

The world expects of Christians that they will raise their voices so loudly and clearly and so formulate their protest that not even the simplest man can have the slightest doubt about what they are saying. Further, the world expects of Christians that they will eschew all fuzzy abstractions and plant themselves squarely in front of the bloody face of history. We stand in need of folk who have determined to speak directly and unmistakably and come what may, to stand by what they have said.

Notice that there is no doubt in Camus’ mind that Christianity is inherently opposed to the spirit of the age, what he calls the “bloody face of history.” By his standard, the posture of timidity or non-involvement in the world is fatal. Camus expects Christians to spurn abstractions and hold clear, well-defined beliefs. They must not only raise their voices, but loudly, so there is no doubt what is being said. That done, Camus says, Christians must stand by their word. One could hardly put it any better.

The believer who would practice true Christianity in our torn world will, even against great odds, speak the truth and work to assist his or her fellow human beings. Moreover, these believers will respond to God when He calls for the Christian to stand in the bloody face of history.

Indeed, these believers will hear the spirit of Isaiah the prophet and say: “Here am 1. Send me!”