The Night of Long Knives

Quick history lesson first before we get into the here and now.

The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) occurred more than 70 years ago.  This was a German move against members of their own society – Jews.  Jewish-owned stores, buildings, synagogues, homes, hospitals, and schools were attacked – windows broken, demolished, ransacked, vandalized, and burned to the ground.  91 Jews were killed. 30,000 Jews were arrested. Over 1,000 synagogues were burned. Over 7,000 Jewish businesses had their buildings destroyed.  Up until this point in time, Jewish persecution in German-held territory had been limited to politics, social status, and economics.  Following this night, that persecution shifted to physical violence – beatings and murder.  Kristallnacht is considered the very beginning of the horrible evil that has come to be known as the Holocaust.

Now, why would I bring this up today?

Because we, as humans short on perspective and wisdom, are so prone to revisit the mistakes and evils of the past.

Following nearly a week of church burnings and Islamist attacks on Christian sites, the targeting of Christians in Egypt continued with reports of nuns being paraded in the streets, two Christians killed, a statue of the Virgin Mary decapitated, and two Christian female siblings being groped by a mob.

Many Islamists Fault Egypt’s Coptic Christians

In Egyptian village, Christian shops marked ahead of church attack

Islamist mob parades nuns in Cairo as prisoners of war after six hours looting church school and replacing cross with banner resembling Al Qaeda flagThe tremors in Egypt threaten to engulf the region and the world as an whole in a conflict unseen on this planet for a generation.  Christians make up a small minority of the population in Egypt and they are a likely scapegoat for the troubles in that country, the question we have to ask ourselves is who the Egyptians will blame when all of the Christians have been bled out or fled the country.  Israel is next door.History has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

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Persecution

Persecution takes many forms.  It doesn’t have to be torture, exile, execution, etc. Persecution can be stigmatization, ostracization, or prosecution.

How many soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines, and coastguardsmen are Christians?

In 2003, 67.53872% of the military was identified as some denomination of Christianity (Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodox).  The next largest subset of declared religious affiliation within the military at that time was 26.92228% as “No Stated Preference.”

According to a 2012 Department of Defense set of statistics on religious identification, 92.36% of all members of the United States military consider themselves to belong to a Christian denomination.

Good luck prosecuting just 10% of those should they choose to share their faith openly within their unit.  I say – bring it.  Let’s see that come down into practice.

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,

with the cross of Jesus going on before.

Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;

forward into battle see his banners go!

At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;

on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!

Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;

brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God;

brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.

We are not divided, all one body we,

one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,

but the church of Jesus constant will remain.

Gates of hell can never against that church prevail;

we have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.

Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,

blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.

Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King,

this through countless ages men and angels sing.

What More Can We Do?

I have tried to focus on persecution this week and hope to have sufficiently shined a spotlight on how the modern church is not immune from persecution, but rather that it has evolved and adapted to attack the church effectively, but not necessarily violently as is the most easily recognizable form of persecution.  I think this is an often neglected topic because of how depressing it can be to see fellow believers, fellow humans, suffering at the hands or words of other human beings who either believe in a different religion or none at all and choose to attack the faithful.

As a man who lives in the freedom and liberty of the United States, I have the opportunity to look out at the world and see these atrocities, and like Peter, am prone to think first of the “sword” rather than God when I hear of them.  Rather than trusting God and having faith that His will is being played out, I think of protecting those that cannot protect themselves.  While this is not Biblically wrong as we are called to offer ourselves as a shield of protection for those that are unable, my myopic view fails me often.  I, aside from prayer, cannot impact what happens in Nigeria, Iran, or Malaysia any more than they can directly impact the persecution that may befall believers here in the United States.

I want to bridge the gap from the spiritual to the practical now.  Prayer is the best weapon to combat persecution as we hope to turn our persecutors into believers themselves and may need to suffer in order to accomplish this goal.  That is great in theory, but from a day-to-day perspective, we need to heed other teachings of Christ as well.

Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.

Luke 22:36

And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.

Luke 22:38

We are not called to sell our lives cheaply.  We might be a speck in terms of all things, but we are precious to God, which means we should consider ourselves as precious to Him.  This is where the concept of moral, lawful, and rightful self-defense originates.  Christ did not preach pacifism, nor militarism, but something contrary to both.

So back to the upper room, when Christ asked if there were swords present.  Christ, as God incarnate, knew there were swords there.  Now you could extend the story out to include the events at Gethsemane when one of the disciples used, presumably, one of those swords to sever the Priest’s servant’s ear so Christ could admonish them for it, but if you look at the context of the command, He is directing them to arm themselves if are not already armed.  By indicating that two swords were enough for their small group, you could also extend that out into modern thinking as not a force of arms (which would be the case if all were armed), but rather as a deterrent against force.

Now let’s take this scenario and fast-forward it to the modern day.  Your church is a ripe target for persecution in the form of a religiously-targeted attack.  When I wrote this, I cited statistics which show that religiously-targeted attackers are on the rise in the United States and violent crimes within churches as an whole are on the rise as well.  We need to be aware of this growing threat to our fellow believers and take deterrent measures, as I explained above.

Credit: Oleg Volk

What those measures are lie with you, your family, and your church.  Some may carry concealed as they are permitted, some may elect for pepper spray, some may reconsider where they attend church based on the neighborhood, some may ask their church to consider starting a security team or if there is already one in place.

Christ called the believers in His time on Earth His flock, implying sheep.  He is the Good Shepherd.  To steal a Toby Keith lyric, “when the wolf growls at the door” sometimes you need a sheepdog to scare the wolf away.

This mindset may be uniquely American, but by virtue of being an American and having the liberty to be that sheepdog for not only my family, but also my church, and the community at large, I can look out at the world and recognize the very real threats.  The very real persecutions just waiting to happen, but they will not happen needlessly or without cost.  We should not sell our lives cheaply for our faith.  The price for our lives is high, it is Christ’s blood.

Deterrence is the art of producing, in the mind of the enemy, the fear to attack.

Sterling Hayden

 

Persecution

What is persecution?

Simply, persecution is oppression and war waged against believers either openly or privately with the sole purpose of punishing the believers’ faith in Christ.

There are many in America that are blind to persecution because of our open and tolerant society where all religions and faiths are accepted and practiced.  It also helps that we are a majority self-identified Christian nation and founded based on Biblical principles as I have written about before.  Does this mean that we are immune from persecution here?  Not at all.  Persecution will always exist.  If you are willing to profess belief in something radical, and Christ’s promises and challenges for us are definitely radical in the eyes of the world, then you will be attacked for this belief.

When lots of Christians think of persecution today, they think of Christians being herded into coliseums in the Roman Empire for slaughter.  They think of missionaries attacked in the field by the very people they came to teach the Gospel.  They think of things that have happened in the past where the lens of time provides a clear picture of how and why something happened so we can easily label it persecution.

You can look about a list a host of countries where Christianity is not just scorned, but openly attacked.  Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, China, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, North Korea, Russia, India, Cuba, Tanzania, and Indonesia are just a few of the examples where being a Christian can open you up to public ridicule, public arrest and punishment, or even death.

With Christmas coming soon, I think you’ll see a form of persecution in this country, and possibly in your own town.  Put up a manger scene.  Will it be defaced?  Will it be burned to the ground?  Will it be stolen?  Will it be protested?  If it is on public land, will it be the target of a lawsuit?

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:11-12

I even heard a ministry team member state yesterday that he was thankful that we are safe in this country from attack while we worship.  I don’t often disagree with the pastoral staff at my church, but on this point I disagree. Christians are not safe anywhere while they worship and to think otherwise is foolish and short-sighted.  The statistics say that it doesn’t matter how you worship in the US – the illusion of safety within a church is just that, an illusion.

I plan on diving into this topic all week because how thankful can we really be unless we have the right perspective?  Tomorrow – in the face of persecution, what can and what should we do?

 

Pulpit Freedom

This upcoming Sunday, October 7th, is Pulpit-Freedom Sunday.  This day has been chosen by the clergy across these United States as a day to defy the Internal Revenue Code and to speak the Truth from the pulpit in terms of government policy, politics, and political issues of the moment.

The website above describes the point of the day as one where the clergy “explore what Scripture says about the selection of our national, state, or local leaders and applies Scripture and/or church doctrine to candidates and the issues held by the candidates such as life, marriage, and family,” (What happens on Pulpit-Freedom Sunday?).

Most people do not know that this is a violation of the Internal Revenue Code that classifies churches as tax-exempt.  This tax-exempt status is dependent on the church not advocating any particular politics or political philosophies though.  So the church, in order to avoid taxes, has for the most part stayed out of political messages from the pulpit, but at what cost? 

Simply, the moral decay of our entire country.  How can men called to serve the Truth and the Word stand by as men fall victim to sin and fall away from His Glory every day?  Christ came to save the lost, He came for the sinner.  If the church is unwilling to interject itself in the public conscience, then it is failing at one important aspect of it’s role in the world.  But how can we rectify the church being civilly disobedient when the Scriptures tell us to obey the governing authorities?

As a corollary to the proposition that all institutions must be subordinated to the law of equal freedom, we cannot choose but admit the right of the citizen to adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry. If every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, then he is free to drop connection with the state—to relinquish its protection, and to refuse paying towards its support. It is self-evident that in so behaving he in no way trenches upon the liberty of others; for his position is a passive one; and whilst passive he cannot become an aggressor. It is equally self evident that he cannot be compelled to continue one of a political corporation, without a breach of the moral law, seeing that citizenship involves payment of taxes; and the taking away of a man’s property against his will, is an infringement of his rights.

Herbert Spencer

As long as by being civilly disobedient, we do not impair someone else’s God-given rights, then we are justified to be disobedient to the civil authority if that authority is threatening to violate what Spencer calls the Moral Law.

Politicians and bureaucrats, in service to themselves, have written into law that it is illegal for churches to be used for political purposes or they would forfeit their tax exempt status.

In a country where the seeds of revolution and liberty were planted and nurtured from the pulpit, this is an abomination.  I have written before (here and here) how this is a Christian country, despite calls and arguments against that statement.  The Founders own words, actions, and deeds prove otherwise.  I hardly think it reasonable that men of faith would approve of the inability of other men of faith from speaking about politics from the pulpit.

IN most Countries, they who blind and enslave the People, are popular, and reverenced; they who would enlighten and free them, hated and persecuted… It is with Measures as with Men; they are praised, or condemned, not because they are Right or Wrong, Beneficial or Hurtful, but because they come from this Party, or the other. Evil is turned into Good, and Good into Evil: Truth passes for Falsehood; Falsehood is dressed up in the Guise of Truth: The best Actions are decried as the worst, if they arise from one Quarter; the worst Actions adored as the best, if from the other. The Resisting of lawless Tyrants, is, at one time, Rebellion and Damnation: To rebel against the most lawful Authority, is, at another time, Duty and Glory… When we have taken a Fancy to a Man, and choose or consider him as our Chief and Leader, we are disposed to see all Excellency and no Fault in him, to think him every way able to serve and support us, and quite uncapable of betraying or hurting us, or of ill serving us. We represent him to ourselves, just like ourselves, full of warm Zeal for Us and our Cause, without any Views to himself, or any Motives that are personal… Party Principles are therefore substituted for moral Principles; the sure way to destroy all Morality, and to confound the Characters of Men, and even those of Good and Evil. In truth, Morality, with Sense, is the only true Standard of Popularity, and the only just Recommendation to it. A virtuous Man can never endanger Liberty, nor hurt Society; nor is a wicked Man ever to be trusted with the Support of either. Yet from this Spirit, this baneful and pestilent Spirit of Party, the ablest and best Men are often precluded from the Service of their Country; the weakest, the worst, and most contemptible, employed in its Service; and the best Men often forced from that Service, to make room for the worst.

Thomas Gordon

If those that we trust with explaining and exposing us to the Truth and the Word of God are not allowed to speak about the contemporary issues facing us today without fear of persecution via taxation, then we must force the issue.  Without this moral compass projected on to the national stage from our churches, then we are adrift in an amoral sea of opinion and vicissitude.  This is why each election seems like the choice between the lesser of two evils.  Our own civil laws are insulating us from the Truth and it’s role in our political fate.   By not advocating God’s Word openly about everything in the world today including political issues, we are offering a pinch of incense for Caesar rather than giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

I stand with these clergy, and I hope more and more say “ENOUGH. I will not stand silently by as my country descends into moral darkness.”  I hope that they will stop hiding from persecution and embrace it as edification of a job well done and the friction of a fallen world to the Truth and Glory of the Risen Lord.

Maybe one day we will be able to say we have the choice between the greater of two good men rather than choice between the lesser of two evils.  If only we would shine the light of Truth on all candidates and policies advocated from the pulpit, where the origins of this country’s freedoms and liberties were first planted.  Then we could see the end of the indulgences, of bondage to the state as the arbiter of good and evil, and see the restoration of Liberty and Freedom.

The Mob

Much will be made in the coming few months of the will of the majority.  (Expect much hay to be made about the Electoral College and the popular vote if Romney takes the most Electoral College votes, but comes away on the short side popularly).

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?  For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

Saint Augustine

In Morality, I wrote about moral populism.  I described it as mob rule at it’s core.  Now imagine moral populists taking the reigns of government and enacting laws based on the mindset of “majority rules.”  I went on to explain how the majority’s will does not make anything good, or morally right, it just makes it popular.

Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
   and clever in their own sight.

Isaiah 5:20-21

As Christians, what should our stand be when faced with an unjust law?  Should we tolerate it as mere temporal folly?  Should we not speak up about the law if it does not effect us?

If society deems evil to be good, should we do nothing?  How much evil should be tolerated regardless of how popular?  Where do you draw the line?  If the culture deems evil to be acceptable and normal, how should we act?

Darkness looms and doubts seed your thoughts:

“What can you, a single person, do against the will of the mob?”

“We live in a democracy and it is the will of the majority.”

It even calls scripture to mind when it tries to force evil down your throat in the form of an unjust law by quoting scripture.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

Romans 13: 1-2

Despite the doubts, despite the popularity of whatever law, there are some that are unjust at their core.  These laws would have you sacrifice your core beliefs, your principles, and ultimately force you stand and choose between obedience to Christ or obedience to men.  I pray that all Christians have the resoluteness to stand together and say “ENOUGH.  We will not bend.”

Let the world threaten you with fines, penalties, ridicule, and shame.  They will drag you through the mud and try to convince you of how wrong and regressive you are.  They will try to minimize you with their attacks, but each one that you resist successfully will strengthen you against them.   They may even try to imprison you.  They may even try to kill you.

Regardless of how common the beliefs are, the goodness of God is founded in pure righteousness and if the fight you find yourself in is one where you are rooted in the righteousness of God and His Word, then you will win the day.  They may destroy your earthly body, but in the words of Obi Wan Kenobi, “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can imagine.”

Stand against the mob and tell them “No. You move.”

One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God… Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

Romans 12: 2, 9

If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

John 15:19-20

Friendship with the world is enmity to God.

James 4:4

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

John 1: 5

If sinners entice you, do not consent.

Proverbs 1:10

There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

2 Timothy 3:1-4

Will you follow the unjust for the sake of keeping the peace on Earth?

Just because the majority wills something does not make it right or just.  To paraphrase St. Augustine, an unjust law is no law at all. I answer to the One above it all, not to men.

The mob can rule itself.

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