Church, Suffering

Throwback Thursday ~ 4 Things You Need to Understand About Christian Persecution

I usually wait at least a year to “throwback” an article, but with the Canadian government’s seizure of GraceLife Church
yesterday, I thought a refresher might be in order.
Please keep the whole GraceLife family in your prayers.

Originally published February 26, 2021

Persecution. It’s a hot topic in pop-evangelicalism these days in the wake of Pastor James Coates’ arrest in Canada (please don’t forget to pray for him, his family, and his church).

Though Pastor Coates’ arrest was heartbreaking, one good thing that has come out of it is that the online discussion about it has pulled back the curtain on just how much biblical ignorance is running rampant out there among professing Christians on the issue of persecution.

In a way, it’s understandable. American citizens (and many citizens of other Westernized countries as well) alive today have grown up with the guarantee of freedom of religion, codified in our Constitution. Until the last ten years or so, finding the proverbial needle in the haystack would have been much easier than finding an American who had experienced actual Christian persecution at the hands of her government.

To us, the persecution of Christians has always been something that happened thousands of miles away in far off, uncivilized, unsophisticated lands. “That could never happen here,” we mused thankfully, and promptly pushed the matter out of our thoughts.

But it can happen here. It’s already happening here. And it will increasingly continue to happen here.

And so, it’s a good thing that the issue has come to the forefront now, while we still have time to develop a biblical theology of persecution and prepare to act on it.

Let’s examine four popular misunderstandings about persecution, and what the Bible has to say about it.

1.
The degree of persecution does not equal
the definition of persecution.

“That’s not persecution. Persecution is being burned on sticks.”

I forget what the “that” was in this comment I recently saw on social media, but the “burned on sticks” part stuck in my memory. Whatever the “that” was, it some sort of unpleasantness aimed at a Christian for his faith, but it was much less intense than being burned on sticks.

But that diminished intensity doesn’t mean “that” wasn’t also, in fact, persecution. It only means “that” was less painful, less inconvenient, less life-altering, less terrifying persecution than the persecution of being burned on sticks.

I think maybe people don’t understand the difference between the definition of persecution and the degree of severity of persecution. Persecution is like stealing. Taking a paper clip from your office isn’t as severe as embezzling millions of dollars, and doesn’t garner as severe a consequence, but both are, qualitatively, and, definitionally, stealing. When you take something that isn’t yours without permission, that’s stealing, regardless of the value of what you take, and regardless of the consequences that follow.

The Bible doesn’t give a cut-and-dried definition of Christian persecution – i.e. there’s no one verse that specifically says, “Persecution is _____,” – rather, we glean the definition from looking at examples of it in Scripture. And, actually, if we look at it on a spiritual level rather than a temporal, tangible, earthly level, the definition of Christian persecution is rather simple: Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.

Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.

If you are obediently following God’s Word, standing with Christ and His Word, and you face opposition for that – regardless of the official reason given for the opposition (more about that in a sec) – you’re being persecuted, whether it’s somebody responding to your Christian worldview Facebook post with an “angry face” emoji or somebody executing you for sharing the gospel.

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

If the definition of persecution is being “burned on sticks” – martyrdom – then this verse of Scripture isn’t true. Millions of Christians living godly lives in Christ Jesus have lived and died without being martyred. Yet this verse says all will be persecuted. Since we know this verse of Scripture is true, that means persecution has to include lesser forms of mistreatment of Christians.

We should never say that somebody calling you a booger head for being a Christian is as bad as, painful as, or difficult as being burned at the stake, but both are, qualitatively, persecution, just in different degrees of severity.

2.
We must think about persecution
on a spiritual level, not a tangible level.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12

We’ve simply got to wrap our minds around this concept if we’re going to properly understand persecution.

There is an entire, real spiritual realm that we cannot see, hear, or touch. And in that realm, Satan and his minions are constantly rebelling against God and attempting to, for lack of a better word, “attack” God and thwart His purposes. 

And what better way to really stick it to God than by using His own Creation against Him? People made by God in His image. People He loves so much that He sacrificed His only Son for them.

Because we can’t see Satan and his demons, he “puts on flesh” by using his children – his slaves – to do his bidding. 

So when we see, for example, governmental officials placing restrictions on the church and giving COVID as the reason, we’re not seeing reasonable, uninfluenced people altruistically doing what’s best to protect others. That’s just the deceptive window dressing Satan wants us to see. That’s his sleight of hand to distract us from what’s really going on in the spiritual realm: he’s attempting to attack God and His people and thwart God’s plan for the church. And he’s using God’s own creation – people and government- to do it.

In this whole debate about Pastor Coates and whether or not he should have obeyed the government’s COVID regulations, and whether or not he should have gone to jail for refusing to obey them, and whether or not his imprisonment is actually persecution, one of the things Christians are failing to grasp is that, in God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.

In God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.

Stop myopically looking at one itty bitty little tree, and back up and look at the whole forest: God is King of the Universe. He purchased the church with the blood of His Son. He founded it. He owns it. He is the head of it and rules over it. 

The government is God’s servant. A servant has no right to override his master’s commands:

  • God says:
    proclaim the gospel to the whole creation and make disciples of them,
    come, all who are thirsty, and
    whosoever will may come.
    He casts out no one who comes to Him.

    His servant, the government, has no right to issue an edict that only a select few may enter the church to serve the Lord with gladness, come into His presence with singing, enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise, when God has said, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” God does not place capacity limits on who may come into His church. The government certainly has no right to do so.

Open your spiritual eyes, sisters. Look beyond what you can see in this tangible realm, and grasp the bigger picture. This isn’t about what your physical eyes can see. Persecution is about spiritual warfare.

3.
Satan is a deceiver.

Have you ever heard the old saying, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”2? Well, it’s true and he pulls that trick on various levels with various people. It’s not just on the macro level with atheists or lost people who are convinced Satan is just a mythological character. There’s also the micro level of the sleepy-eyed Christian who has forgotten that Satan is the underlying inspiration for every unholy act in the world. (And we’re all prone to that forgetfulness from time to time.)

That’s why Satan doesn’t march right up to Christians and say, “Hi, I’m the Prince of Darkness. Wouldn’t you like to sin against God today?”. He’s smarter than that. He knows if he presents himself to you as what he really is, and sin as what it really is, you’d see right through him and stay away from him. 

There may come a point in time in the West at which the government clearly and overtly says, “Christianity is against the law, and if you’re a Christian, you’ll be executed.”

But that time is not now. That’s the last leg of the race for Satan. And you don’t get to the last leg of the race without first having stretched, put on your running shoes, and run the first, second, and third leg of the race. And that’s where we are right now: at the beginning of the race.

At the beginning of the race, Satan has to con you into believing there are good reasons for the havoc he’s wreaking on the church, and he’ll even disguise himself as an angel of light and dress up his reasons in the costume of Christian-ese to do it. And that’s exactly what he has done as he has persecuted God’s church with COVID regulations3:

It’s for your safety…

It’s for the safety of others…

It’s loving your neighbor…

The Bible says you have to obey the government, no matter what…

And…

James Coates wasn’t arrested for preaching, he was arrested refusing to obey COVID regulations.

Again, put on your spirit realm thinking cap and your spiritual eyeglasses and see what’s really going on here. Satan doesn’t give a flying flip about COVID regulations, or the virus itself, or how many people it kills or doesn’t kill. His mission (though futile) is to destroy God’s church, and to  oppose, rebel against, and attempt to thwart God’s plans and purposes at every turn. And he will use anything he can get his hands on to do that – especially deception that veils what he’s really doing.

Don’t believe me? What capital crime did the Roman government officially charge Jesus with and execute Him for? It wasn’t for preaching or being a “Christian”. It was for insurrection. Because in Rome’s eyes, there was only one King of the Jews, and it wasn’t Jesus.

And what about the riot in Ephesus? When the Ephesian business men grabbed Gaius and Aristarchus, they didn’t say, “We’re about to beat you senseless because you’re Christians.” Nope, it was, “It’s the economy, Stupid.” They were riled up at the Christians because they were losing money.

And when Paul was arrested in Acts 21, the reason given was inciting a riot, not his beliefs or practices as a Christian.

And when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, the capital charge was not: “These men worship the one true God,” The official charge was that they refused to obey the king’s unbiblical law – which as the governmental “servant of God” he had no right to make in the first place, nor to punish God’s people when they obeyed Him rather than man. Selah.

Need I go on? Search your Bible. Search the nightly news. You’ll find many instances in which Satan sets the stage with elaborate props of perfectly logical sounding reasons why God’s people are being attacked, while backstage, he’s singing second verse, same as the first – I hate God and I want to kill what He loves.

He wants you to think pastors are being arrested and fined and sanctioned because of COVID regulations, or that Christian businesses and organizations that won’t get on board with the government’s sexual perversion agenda (let the reader understand) are violating anti-discrimination laws, but that’s not the real reason. They’re being arrested and fined and sanctioned because Satan wants to obliterate the church.

If you are walking in obedience to the Lord and you face opposition or restriction, that’s persecution, regardless of the “official” reason given.

4.
Knowing the consequences ahead of time
doesn’t mean it’s not persecution.

“James Coates had been warned multiple times that he was violating COVID regulations and he kept doing it, so he can’t cry ‘persecution’ now that he has to pay the piper.”

Um…seriously? Have you ever read your Bible? Persecution is not defined by whether or not you know what the consequences for your actions will be ahead of time. I would even argue that most victims of persecution in the Bible knew what they were in for, and they chose to obey God rather than evil men anyway.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew they would face the furnace.

Daniel knew the consequences for his prayers would be the lion’s den.

Jesus knew the cross was coming.

The Apostles had already been beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, so they certainly knew they were in for more of the same when they went out and preached again.

Persecution is when Satan attempts to attack God and His people. It has nothing to do with whether or not the Christian being attacked knows what consequences his actions will bring.

Knowing the consequences ahead of time and obeying God anyway doesn’t mean you aren’t being persecuted, it means you’re a Christian.

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there about Christian persecution. If you’re a genuinely regenerated Christian, you will face some level of persecution at some point in your life. That’s a promise from Scripture. It’s important to be prepared for that so you can respond in a godly and obedient way, because responding to persecution by refusing to bow to man over God and doing so with a holy, humble, honored attitude is a testimony to the world, and an encouragement to your brothers and sisters, that Jesus Christ is King, and that He alone is worthy to rule and to reign.


1The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia. It literally means a gathering or an assembly. The church, is, by definition, a gathering together – in person – of “the called out ones” – Christians. Watching a church service online is a blessing when you are temporarily Providentially hindered from being there in person, but it is not the same as going to church, as we are commanded, and it is not a biblical substitute for going to church as we are commanded. It is not church at all, because where there is no gathering, there is no church.

2Quote attributed to 19th century French poet, Charles Baudelaire

3Please understand, I’m not saying that if you have to stay home from church temporarily to stay healthy that you’re automatically deceived or unsaved. Remember, we’re talking about the long term, big picture of Satan’s agenda here, not individual trees in the forest.


Additional Resources:

Persecution in the Pew

Why Pastor James Coates’ Imprisonment is Actual Persecution at The Cripplegate

Why are COVID restrictions on gathering size persecution, but fire codes limiting gathering size are not? Glad You Asked (~23:21) at A Word Fitly Spoken

Erin Coates Interview

I did not have an opportunity, before I wrote this article, to listen to James Coates’ last sermon before he was arrested, but he does a much better job of explaining the government’s roles and responsibilities, and exegeting Romans 13 than I ever could. Please give it a listen:

Movies

Movie Tuesday ~ Paint the Wall Black: The Story of Nini’s Deli

It has long been my perspective that the grit, wonder, and inspiration of true stories far surpasses anything in the fictional realm. And Paint the Wall Black only serves to bolster this belief.

Meet Juan, a dear brother whom God graciously saved out of a number of depravities. Listen to his story of serving Christ and ministering to others through his family’s business…and what happened when he stood his ground on God’s Word on Black Lives Matter during the 2020 riots. Bonus material after the movie: Jon Harris, of the Conversations that Matter Podcast, interviews Juan and Pastor Joe.

A couple of caveats:

The filmmakers nobly attempted the herculean task of bleeping or blurring out every audible or written instance of profanity and vulgarity. But as you will see, it was impossible to edit out all of them. You will see the F-word. You will see middle fingers flying. Many pagans express themselves in such ways. If you cannot handle that, please do not watch this film.

Featuring this film on my blog does not equal an endorsement of Metro Praise International church, which, from its website, appears to be Pentecostal. Though I appreciate their strong focus on preaching the gospel and don’t doubt their confession of Christ based on what I’ve seen in this movie, Pentecostalism holds to some doctrines which are unbiblical. If you’re looking for a church in the Chicago or Dallas areas please see my Searching for a new church? resource instead.

Suffering

Erin Coates Interview

Normally, when I feature a full length video in a post, it’s for leisure time entertainment, or maybe it even focuses on something important that you need to educate yourself about.

This time, it’s urgent.

Let me get this part out of the way first because I know some of you, like me, looked at that 3 hour time stamp on the video and your visceral reaction was, “There’s no way I have the time or the attention span to watch all of that.” I get it. But here’s how the video breaks down:

  • Justin Peters’ interview with Erin: About 45 minutes long
  • James Coates’ February 14 sermon: About an hour
  • GraceLife Associate Pastor Jacob Spenst’s February 21 sermon: A little over an hour.

If you read my article from last Friday, 4 Things You Need to Understand About Christian Persecution, or if you’ve been paying attention to Christian news and social media, you’re familiar with the story of Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (And if not, it’s explained in the video.)

I want to urge you to at least listen to the interview with Erin and pray for her, James, their family, and GraceLife, especially today and tomorrow. Thursday is the hearing to determine whether James can bail out of jail without agreeing to the shamefully discriminatory bail conditions that have been put in place. Erin explains more in this Instagram post:

At the end of the interview, Justin asks Erin if there’s anything we outsiders can do to help. Here’s what you can do:

  • Pray
  • Contact Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta, Canada via phone, mail, email, or via Facebook and Twitter, and request that all charges against James be dropped. Do so kindly and politely. Remember, you are representing Christ. Mention where you’re from. Even if you don’t live in Alberta or anywhere in Canada, the Premier needs to know this is a bad look for Canada in the eyes of a watching world – and so do other world leaders who are undoubtedly watching to see what Canada will do in this case. Never underestimate the power of negative publicity in the hands of an Almighty God.
  • Help get the word out. Share this post with your pastor. Post it on social media and ask all your friends to share. If you have any contacts in the media or anyone with a large platform who could aid in spreading the word, ask that they help shine some light on this situation. The more publicity, the better.
  • Pastors, open your churches. Especially if you’re Alberta. Not only is it obedient to Scripture, can you imagine how encouraging it would be to Pastor James and GraceLife to see other churches and pastors standing in solidarity with them?
  • Keep your mouth shut. I can’t tell you how many horrifying comments I’ve read from professing Christians about this situation. If you can’t be an encouragement to your brother in Christ, just be quiet, and maybe examine yourself against Scripture. I definitely won’t be publishing any comments or reading any emails that are discouraging or critical.

Watch. And pray.

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you…in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25: 37a, 39-40

Church, Suffering

4 Things You Need to Understand About Christian Persecution

Persecution. It’s a hot topic in pop-evangelicalism these days in the wake of Pastor James Coates’ arrest in Canada (please don’t forget to pray for him, his family, and his church).

Though Pastor Coates’ arrest was heartbreaking, one good thing that has come out of it is that the online discussion about it has pulled back the curtain on just how much biblical ignorance is running rampant out there among professing Christians on the issue of persecution.

In a way, it’s understandable. American citizens (and many citizens of other Westernized countries as well) alive today have grown up with the guarantee of freedom of religion, codified in our Constitution. Until the last ten years or so, finding the proverbial needle in the haystack would have been much easier than finding an American who had experienced actual Christian persecution at the hands of her government.

To us, the persecution of Christians has always been something that happened thousands of miles away in far off, uncivilized, unsophisticated lands. “That could never happen here,” we mused thankfully, and promptly pushed the matter out of our thoughts.

But it can happen here. It’s already happening here. And it will increasingly continue to happen here.

And so, it’s a good thing that the issue has come to the forefront now, while we still have time to develop a biblical theology of persecution and prepare to act on it.

Let’s examine four popular misunderstandings about persecution, and what the Bible has to say about it.

1.
The degree of persecution does not equal
the definition of persecution.

“That’s not persecution. Persecution is being burned on sticks.”

I forget what the “that” was in this comment I recently saw on social media, but the “burned on sticks” part stuck in my memory. Whatever the “that” was, it some sort of unpleasantness aimed at a Christian for his faith, but it was much less intense than being burned on sticks.

But that diminished intensity doesn’t mean “that” wasn’t also, in fact, persecution. It only means “that” was less painful, less inconvenient, less life-altering, less terrifying persecution than the persecution of being burned on sticks.

I think maybe people don’t understand the difference between the definition of persecution and the degree of severity of persecution. Persecution is like stealing. Taking a paper clip from your office isn’t as severe as embezzling millions of dollars, and doesn’t garner as severe a consequence, but both are, qualitatively, and, definitionally, stealing. When you take something that isn’t yours, without permission that’s stealing, regardless of the value of what you take, and regardless of the consequences that follow.

The Bible doesn’t give a cut-and-dried definition of Christian persecution – i.e. there’s no one verse that specifically says, “Persecution is _____,” – rather, we glean the definition from looking at examples of it in Scripture. And, actually, if we look at it on a spiritual level rather than a temporal, tangible, earthly level, the definition of Christian persecution is rather simple: Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.

Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.

If you are obediently following God’s Word, standing with Christ and His Word, and you face opposition for that – regardless of the official reason given for the opposition (more about that in a sec) – you’re being persecuted, whether it’s somebody responding to your Christian worldview Facebook post with an “angry face” emoji or somebody executing you for sharing the gospel.

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

If the definition of persecution is being “burned on sticks” – martyrdom – then this verse of Scripture isn’t true. Millions of Christians living godly lives in Christ Jesus have lived and died without being martyred. Yet this verse says all will be persecuted. Since we know this verse of Scripture is true, that means persecution has to include lesser forms of mistreatment of Christians.

We should never say that somebody calling you a booger head for being a Christian is as bad as, painful as, or difficult as being burned at the stake, but both are, qualitatively, persecution, just in different degrees of severity.

2.
We must think about persecution
on a spiritual level, not a tangible level.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12

We’ve simply got to wrap our minds around this concept if we’re going to properly understand persecution.

There is an entire, real spiritual realm that we cannot see, hear, or touch. And in that realm, Satan and his minions are constantly rebelling against God and attempting to, for lack of a better word, “attack” God and thwart His purposes. 

And what better way to really stick it to God than by using His own Creation against Him? People made by God in His image. People He loves so much that He sacrificed His only Son for them.

Because we can’t see Satan and his demons, he “puts on flesh” by using his children – his slaves – to do his bidding. 

So when we see, for example, governmental officials placing restrictions on the church and giving Covid as the reason, we’re not seeing reasonable, uninfluenced people altruistically doing what’s best to protect others. That’s just the deceptive window dressing Satan wants us to see. That’s his sleight of hand to distract us from what’s really going on in the spiritual realm: he’s attempting to attack God and His people and thwart God’s plan for the church. And he’s using God’s own creation – people and government- to do it.

In this whole debate about Pastor Coates and whether or not he should have obeyed the government’s Covid regulations, and whether or not he should have gone to jail for refusing to obey them, and whether or not his imprisonment is actually persecution, one of the things Christians are failing to grasp is that, in God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.

In God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.

Stop myopically looking at one itty bitty little tree, and back up and look at the whole forest: God is King of the Universe. He purchased the church with the blood of His Son. He founded it. He owns it. He is the head of it and rules over it. 

The government is God’s servant. A servant has no right to override his master’s commands:

  • God says:
    proclaim the gospel to the whole creation and make disciples of them,
    come, all who are thirsty, and
    whosoever will may come.
    He casts out no one who comes to Him.

    His servant, the government, has no right to issue an edict that only a select few may enter the church to serve the Lord with gladness, come into His presence with singing, enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise, when God has said, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” God does not place capacity limits on who may come into His church. The government certainly has no right to do so.

Open your spiritual eyes, sisters. Look beyond what you can see in this tangible realm, and grasp the bigger picture. This isn’t about what your physical eyes can see. Persecution is about spiritual warfare.

3.
Satan is a deceiver.

Have you ever heard the old saying, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”2? Well, it’s true and he pulls that trick on various levels with various people. It’s not just on the macro level with atheists or lost people who are convinced Satan is just a mythological character. There’s also the micro level of the sleepy-eyed Christian who has forgotten that Satan is the underlying inspiration for every unholy act in the world. (And we’re all prone to that forgetfulness from time to time.)

That’s why Satan doesn’t march right up to Christians and say, “Hi, I’m the Prince of Darkness. Wouldn’t you like to sin against God today?”. He’s smarter than that. He knows if he presents himself to you as what he really is, and sin as what it really is, you’d see right through him and stay away from him. 

There may come a point in time in the West at which the government clearly and overtly says, “Christianity is against the law, and if you’re a Christian, you’ll be executed.”

But that time is not now. That’s the last leg of the race for Satan. And you don’t get to the last leg of the race without first having stretched, put on your running shoes, and run the first, second, and third leg of the race. And that’s where we are right now: at the beginning of the race.

At the beginning of the race, Satan has to con you into believing there are good reasons for the havoc he’s wreaking on the church, and he’ll even disguise himself as an angel of light and dress up his reasons in the costume of Christian-ese to do it. And that’s exactly what he has done as he has persecuted God’s church with Covid regulations3:

It’s for your safety…

It’s for the safety of others…

It’s loving your neighbor…

The Bible says you have to obey the government, no matter what…

And…

James Coates wasn’t arrested for preaching, he was arrested refusing to obey Covid regulations.

Again, put on your spirit realm thinking cap and your spiritual eyeglasses and see what’s really going on here. Satan doesn’t give a flying flip about Covid regulations, or the virus itself, or how many people it kills or doesn’t kill. His mission (though futile) is to destroy God’s church, and to  oppose, rebel against, and attempt to thwart God’s plans and purposes at every turn. And he will use anything he can get his hands on to do that – especially deception that veils what he’s really doing.

Don’t believe me? What capital crime did the Roman government officially charge Jesus with and execute Him for? It wasn’t for preaching or being a “Christian”. It was for insurrection. Because in Rome’s eyes, there was only one King of the Jews, and it wasn’t Jesus.

And what about the riot in Ephesus? When the Ephesian business men grabbed Gaius and Aristarchus, they didn’t say, “We’re about to beat you senseless because you’re Christians.” Nope, it was, “It’s the economy, Stupid.” They were riled up at the Christians because they were losing money.

And when Paul was arrested in Acts 21, the reason given was inciting a riot, not his beliefs or practices as a Christian.

And when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, the capital charge was not: “These men worship the one true God,” The official charge was that they refused to obey the king’s unbiblical law – which as the governmental “servant of God” he had no right to make in the first place, nor to punish God’s people when they obeyed Him rather than man. Selah.

Need I go on? Search your Bible. Search the nightly news. You’ll find many instances in which Satan sets the stage with elaborate props of perfectly logical sounding reasons why God’s people are being attacked, while backstage, he’s singing second verse, same as the first – I hate God and I want to kill what He loves.

He wants you to think pastors are being arrested and fined and sanctioned because of Covid regulations, or that Christian businesses and organizations that won’t get on board with the government’s sexual perversion agenda (let the reader understand) are violating anti-discrimination laws, but that’s not the real reason. They’re being arrested and fined and sanctioned because Satan wants to obliterate the church.

If you are walking in obedience to the Lord and you face opposition or restriction, that’s persecution, regardless of the “official” reason given.

4.
Knowing the consequences ahead of time
doesn’t mean it’s not persecution.

“James Coates had been warned multiple times that he was violating Covid regulations and he kept doing it, so he can’t cry ‘persecution’ now that he has to pay the piper.”

Um…seriously? Have you ever read your Bible? Persecution is not defined by whether or not you know what the consequences for your actions will be ahead of time. I would even argue that most victims of persecution in the Bible knew what they were in for, and they chose to obey God rather than evil men anyway.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew they would face the furnace.

Daniel knew the consequences for his prayers would be the lion’s den.

Jesus knew the cross was coming.

The Apostles had already been beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, so they certainly knew they were in for more of the same when they went out and preached again.

Persecution is when Satan attempts to attack God and His people. It has nothing to do with whether or not the Christian being attacked knows what consequences his actions will bring.

Knowing the consequences ahead of time and obeying God anyway doesn’t mean you aren’t being persecuted, it means you’re a Christian.

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there about Christian persecution. If you’re a genuinely regenerated Christian, you will face some level of persecution at some point in your life. That’s a promise from Scripture. It’s important to be prepared for that so you can respond in a godly and obedient way, because responding to persecution by refusing to bow to man over God and doing so with a holy, humble, honored attitude is a testimony to the world, and an encouragement to your brothers and sisters, that Jesus Christ is King, and that He alone is worthy to rule and to reign.


1The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia. It literally means a gathering or an assembly. The church, is, by definition, a gathering together – in person – of “the called out ones” – Christians. Watching a church service online is a blessing when you are temporarily Providentially hindered from being there in person, but it is not the same as going to church, as we are commanded, and it is not a biblical substitute for going to church as we are commanded. It is not church at all, because where there is no gathering, there is no church.

2Quote attributed to 19th century French poet, Charles Baudelaire

3Please understand, I’m not saying that if you have to stay home from church temporarily to stay healthy that you’re automatically deceived or unsaved. Remember, we’re talking about the long term, big picture of Satan’s agenda here, not individual trees in the forest.


Additional Resources:

Persecution in the Pew

Why Pastor James Coates’ Imprisonment is Actual Persecution at The Cripplegate

Why are COVID restrictions on gathering size persecution, but fire codes limiting gathering size are not? Glad You Asked (~23:21) at A Word Fitly Spoken

I did not have an opportunity, before I wrote this article, to listen to James Coates’ last sermon before he was arrested, but he does a much better job of explaining the government’s roles and responsibilities, and exegeting Romans 13 than I ever could. Please give it a listen:

Faith

7 Ways to Endure to the End

I don’t know about you, but over the past year, I’ve experienced moments of just about every emotion imaginable as I’ve walked through the various evil events filling up our 2020 calendars. Anger. Outrage. Offense. Depression. Anxiety. Fear. Frustration. Incredulity. Grief. Maybe you’ve had those moments too.

I’d like to give all of you a hug and say “Cheer up! Everything’s going to be fine!” – temporally speaking.

And maybe it will be.

But I don’t think so.

Sure, there are going to be times of blessing and happiness in our future, just like there were last year and every year before. But as far as the general trajectory American society and government are on, things are going downhill at breakneck speed. And unless we stop and think now, get prepared now, we’re going to be caught unawares and fail at what could be a crucial moment of decision.

Trials and persecution – real persecution – are coming. And coming sooner than we think. How can we be prepared to endure whatever comes our way until Christ returns?

1.
Go to church

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

I get it. “Go to church” isn’t as easy as it used to be. I get that some of your churches are closed. I get that there are health concerns.

But I also get that when the Holy Spirit inspired the author of Hebrews to pen these words, He knew full well, and, in His sovereignty had pre-ordained, all the details surrounding Covid and the restrictions and hassles that go along with it. And still He said that as the day of Christ’s return gets closer, we need to meet together (face to face, in person) more, not less.

Do we believe Him? Do we trust Him? Will we obey Him?

I don’t know you. I don’t know your situation. So, I can’t tell you what to do. All I’m saying is that as Covid restrictions drag on and on and on, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your church attendance in light of this command from Scripture:

  • If the primary reason you’re not attending church now is that your own church is closed, consider a friendly, loving chat with your pastor about his thoughts on the possibility of opening back up in some way, even if only partially. You can also check around and see if any other doctrinally sound local churches are meeting. If you find one, hang out with them until yours opens back up. Family is family, and you need the fellowship, teaching, and encouragement. Get to know the “cousins” down the street.
  • Are all the doctrinally sound churches in your area shut down due to government regulations and that’s the main reason you’re not going? Find another way to meet together with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Get on the phone with the members of your Sunday School class or a few others you know from church and plan to meet together for worship, prayer, and Bible study at your house, the park, wherever you can gather. I realize your local government may frown upon that. Governments all over the world have been prohibiting Christians from meeting together for 2000 years, and they meet anyway, underground. Looks like it might be our turn. Prayerfully consider whether it might be time to start walking out “we must obey God rather than men” in your context.
  • Perhaps it’s legitimate health concerns for yourself or your family that is keeping you away from the Lord’s house. Listen, I’m not a doctor, so I’m not qualified to dispense medical advice. All I can say is, check back in with your doctor (not the internet – your personal doctor) and ask if there are any new or different precautions you could take that would make going to church or gathering with a few others possible. Prayerfully and wisely weigh the potential health risks against the very real spiritual damage that occurs when you don’t gather with the Body.
  • Finally, take some time alone in prayer with the Lord and carefully and honestly examine your heart and your motives. Is the real reason you’re staying away from church laziness or an ungodly fear that stems from refusing to trust God? Only you can answer that. If you find that those are the actual reasons you haven’t been going to church, repent, and get your posterior back in the pew this Sunday.

God gave the command for the Body to gather knowing it would cost many Christians their lives and their freedom down through the years. But He gave that command anyway. That should tell us how utterly crucial it is for us not to neglect meeting together – out of obedience to Him, and for our own good.

2.
Realize that the rules have changed

There used to be a general sense of consistency, fair play, and “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” logic in America.

That’s gone, and we need to get used to it.

As I write this, I could throw a rock out the window and hit a dozen tweets, articles, and podcasts decrying the hypocrisy and inconsistency of liberals. I’ve remarked on it myself. How there is one set of rules for them, but another set of rules for others, whether we’re talking about governors having Thanksgiving dinner with their extended families after telling you not to, or liberal evangelicals supporting BLM riots while decrying peaceful conservative protests and church gatherings. And they have absolutely no shame about their double standards.

Don’t expect that to change. Stand for what’s right, keep pointing out hypocrisy, but don’t expect people who support torturing babies in the womb to death and sexually abusing children via genital mutilation surgery to suddenly have an attack of conscience about holding themselves to one (or no) standard, and holding everybody else to another. They don’t care one whit about being fair and consistent – especially toward Christians. And if we keep expecting them to, it’s going to drive us mad.

These people are depraved, and this is spiritual warfare. Believers are unwelcome trespassers on the Devil’s playground, and he doesn’t play fair.

3.
Expect betrayal

Give the gospels a good study again, keeping a special eye on Jesus’ enemies. Who were they? What positions did they hold? What tactics did they use? What was the real reason they wanted to destroy Him? When you have the answers to those questions, you’ll better understand who your real enemies are, and why they’ll turn on you when you least expect it.

Who was it who wanted to destroy – kill – Jesus for speaking the truth? Not the Roman government. It was the powerful and influential “church leaders” of Jesus’ day, the scribes and Pharisees. It was they who pursued Jesus, made false allegations against Him, and cajoled the government into executing Him because they wanted to preserve the position, power, and wealth they maintained by sleeping with, and fearing, the Roman enemy

If we let [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”

John 11:48-50

And who was it who betrayed Jesus into the hands of those bent on His destruction? His closest of friends and protégés – Judas. Judas, who, for the price of his greed, would give Jesus the kiss of a brother while thrusting a traitor’s knife into His back.

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

Matthew 26:14-16

A servant is no greater than his master. If this is how “God’s people” treated Jesus, we can expect no less. Expect to be betrayed by those closest to you- a brother, a friend, a cherished member of your church family. Expect false teachers and influential evangelical leaders to cozy up to governmental leaders so they can hang on to their multi-million dollar “ministries,” minions, and mansions. Expect them to make sacrificial lambs of true sheep and shepherds. After all, better that one, or a hundred, or thousands of genuine Believers should die than that their nation or way of life should perish.

Those we hold dear will turn on us. Those we thought we could trust with our lives will deliver us up.

4.
Count the cost

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10: 37-39

Count the cost, Jesus said. When He spoke these words, Jesus meant them – and His audience understood them – literally, not metaphorically. A cross wasn’t bearing up under insults on social media. It was a cross. Rough-hewn wood that real human beings were nailed to (after a thorough flogging, of course) to hang on for hours or days until they succumbed to one of the most agonizing deaths imaginable. “That’s your future if you follow Me,” He said to them – and to us.

Is staying true to Jesus worth losing your job…your closest loved ones…your freedom…your health…your dignity…your home and possessions…even your life? When you sing “I Surrender All” do you actually mean it? All? Do you love Jesus more? If you’ve never taken the time to sit down and seriously think about whether or not you’d follow Jesus all the way to a cross, do it now.

Count the cost, because the cost is a cross.

5.
Embrace suffering

If you believe in your heart that robustly and unashamedly following Jesus is worth any cost, be prepared to suffer for it. Yet know that what man means for hurt and humiliation, Christ means for honor and high regard.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:10-12

and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 

Acts 5:40-41

Suffering for the name and sake of Christ is an honor.

6.
Know your Bible

When oppressors want to stamp out an ideology – like Christianity – that threatens their agenda, the first thing they do is quash speech about that ideology. And then they come for the books.

Over the last few years, how many times have you heard of Christians getting in some sort of trouble for sharing the gospel? For refusing to call a “he” a “she” or a “she” a “he”? For saying homosexuality is a sin? For declining to “repent” of racism they haven’t committed?

We’re already seeing the suppression of speech. The written word is next on the chopping block. Bibles will be confiscated and disposed of. Publishing houses that produce Bibles and other Christian materials will be shut down. Big tech will de-platform Bible apps, Christian podcasts, Christian bloggers, and all other forms of doctrinally sound Christian media.

And we’ll probably even see something worse: the powers that be changing the written word of God to fit their own agenda. How easy would it be for someone in power to stroll through the back door of your Bible app and begin changing, adding, or deleting whole verses and passages until the “Bible” says what they want it to say? Think that kind of thing could never happen here? It’s already happening in China.

Make sure you have a good, reliable, hard copy (the kind with paper pages) translation of the Bible on hand. (You might even want to start stockpiling them to quietly give away when owning God’s Word becomes illegal.) Study it forward, backward, and inside out until you know what it says so well you could spot a modification a mile away. Memorize it. Because they can take away the copies in our hands, but they can’t touch the Word hidden in our hearts.

7.
Believe God

Pressing on in the face of all these daunting circumstances would be impossible if God were not who He is. But because of all that He is, we can hope in Him and endure anything that comes our way.

When you don’t know what to do, He says: Trust Me. I’ll give you wisdom and guide you.

When you have to do hard things, He says: I’ll strengthen you and help you.

When you’re weary from fighting the good fight, He says: I’ll give you rest.

When you’re afraid, He says: Fear not. I am with you.

With our pampered lifestyle of freedom and ease, many of us have never experienced a moment in which our only option – for provision, for protection, for help – was to cry out to God and trust Him to take care of us. I daresay, in the days ahead, those moments will come with increasing frequency. And that’s not a bad thing.

Because God loves you. He cares for you. He can be trusted. You can depend on Him.

What’s coming our way next? It’s hard to know exactly, but we can see the handwriting of persecution and trials on the wall. So gather with the Body and encourage each other. Be wise to the ways of the enemy. Ready yourself for betrayal and suffering. Know God’s Word. Trust God to carry you through.

Because Christ’s return is drawing near. It’ll be here before we know it. And we can endure ’til then.