Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fleeing or Enduring Persecution? (part 3)

This is part two of a three part blog posting on the believer's response to persecution. Read parts one and two.

What the Bible Says
As helpful as Christians from the first few centuries of the church can be, we must ultimately derive our beliefs from the same book they had access to: God’s Word.

Although biblical narratives can present the facts without weighing in on whether the actions of the people described were right or not, the Book of Acts details some narratives we should take into consideration.

For one, when Saul had converted in Damascus and began preaching boldly, his opposition planned to kill him. When Saul’s disciples discovered this, they “took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket” (Acts 9:25).

Saul was still new to the faith, as were his disciples, so it is possible they were wrong to flee persecution. But there are more examples to consider.

A few verses later we find Saul in Jerusalem. He argues with the Hellenists, who may have been part of the same synagogue that he was and that killed Stephen. They in turn plot to kill Saul. The passage then reads, “And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus” (Acts 9:30).
The possibility of the believers being wrong in this action is very slim. First, there is no dissention mentioned. The believers are described as unified in sending Saul off, and both Barnabas and the apostles are mentioned as being present and having met with Saul in verse 27. Their consent is quite likely implied, and after fleeing and abandoning Christ in the garden, it is quite unlikely that they would encourage Saul to flee if they viewed fleeing persecution the same way as abandoning and denying Christ.

But perhaps Jesus’ statement helps shed more light on the actions of Saul and the believers in Acts 9. He says in Matthew 10:23, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

The greater context shows Jesus speaking to the twelve prior to sending them out. The context also shows that these words were not just specific to that one “mission trip” of the disciples, but referred to the time after the church was established, since He also says,

Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matt 10:17-22).

Although the Bible has much to say about persecution and martyrdom, I have to be brief here. I have not argued that fleeing persecution is the only appropriate response. As for those in Egypt, some will stay and some will go. Some may die for the faith. We need not second-guess every missionary’s decision in this matter, but we should pray that they would be submissive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

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