The perils of the persecution of the West versus that of the East
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12
Whenever we think of the word persecuted we tend to think more of the physical aspect, we think of the one being beaten or even killed for something they believe in. But is that it? In reality Jesus likens persecution with being insulted and lied about for the sake of Him. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Persecute” as:
1: to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically: to cause to suffer because of belief
2: to annoy with persistent or urgent approaches (as attacks, pleas, or importunities)
So to “persecute” is not limited to physical means only, but is far broader. Now why look at the term persecute? The reason is over the last few weeks/months I have begun to ponder the difference between the persecution of the church in the West versus the church in the rest of the World specifically those in the 10-40 window. Now having never been in chains nor faced the chance of death for my faith I am forced to only see things from a limited perspective. But it is in my opinion that neither version of persecution is more dangerous than the other in the long run. Though one is definitely more obvious and less subtle and one tends to be quicker than the other; still both are equally dangerous. The reality is whoever coined the phrase “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was wrong. I can be physically beaten and if I have some measure of confidence I will get back up again. However, throw me in among people who will reject me, ignore me, mock me, ridicule me, demean me and tear me down and it requires a whole different level of confidence to not let it bring me down. In reality our words have the power of life and death and can easily do harm to a person’s heart to the point of suicide, lashing out at others, passivity or living in a constant state of depression.
If I could distinguish the two types of persecution I would say one is primarily of the flesh or body and the other is primarily of the emotions or heart. For a Christian in China they will be primarily forced with prison, being beaten, killed or seeing it happen to loved ones. Now this appears to have been the main form of persecution in Church history, but it would also seem to be the least effective form. Whenever persecution hit the early church it always has seemed to grow and flourish but when they became accepted it was then that it became in some ways weaker as a whole.
Now compare East to what we see in the West, specifically the United States, the church is mocked, scrutinized severely for every short coming, they are demeaned, torn down and called names like bigots and haters. The effect of this is a church that becomes both timid and passive because they don’t want to be called bigots or haters. When the attack comes we shy away in fear. The opposite would be that the Church hardens themselves to the name calling and actually hurt the people back; for example “No I am not a bigot, you are just a fag and sinner on the way to hell.” When the finger is pointed at us we point back in our own insecurity. The biggest problem is that they retaliate with name calling and don’t show love. Though these aren’t the only outcomes they are two that I have witnessed as a result of the Western persecution, with the former being more predominant than the latter.
Emotional persecution can stop the Church from growing by causing people to doubt their faith or by demoralizing hearts to the point of deep depression or even suicide. They can stop growth by scrutinizing Christians to the point they abandon their faith because they see other Christians as hypocrites. Because of fear of rejection Christians may give into compromise to be accepted. Or they just attack back losing their witness all together. In reality the persecution of the Western Church attacks Church growth unlike anything else. I used to think this was because we were less mature in our faith and we needed to become like those in the East but have since learned that it is on its own level. Meaning for a believer to stand strong in one requires a spiritual maturity that may be different from the one needed for the other. Brother Yun of the persecuted Church of China once made the point that he felt what the Church in the West experience was far harder to overcome than what He was used to. This was in context to both all the pleasure Westerners have as well as all the emotional and verbal persecution.
Growing up I was physically abused by my father for thirteen years and experienced emotional wounding from the rest of my family, friends and peers. On the outward the physical abuse seems to have wounded me more than the rest on the contrary it is not so. Though the physical abuse was more obvious, it was the hurtful words and tearing down from the rest that left deeper wounding in my heart. The closer they were to me the more pain it was. As I have shared in the past when leading people through inner healing, that my father wounds from the abuse versus the emotional or verbal wounding from another person, is like comparing a big yet shallow cut versus a small but very deep cut. Both hurt but one still is deeper. I say this because having experienced both I can say the emotional hurt worse and took far more time to heal and deal with.
Now many in the West tend to look down on the rest of the world as less enlightened and more backwater or primitive. This is many ways is true, just look at society, technology, education, judicial systems and media. We have grown in many ways to where society as a whole is greater than many other nations and we have become in many ways a beacon of light to many other nations, and a thing to aspire to. Though this all true it would seem that we have learned a new form of persecution. We attack the heart and not the body. I could not go further on if I did not add that this enlightened and more sophisticated society would not have achieved its success without starting off with a Biblical worldview as its foundation, though we have seen that disappear as time goes on. Still it is our enlightening that has made us more dangerous as we have grown more in intellectualism we have also learned how to attack others on a whole new frontier for the sake of not appearing as barbarians.
When a person in China is called by God to go preach the Gospel they say “Yes Lord” and they remind themselves of the age to come. When a Westerner is called they need to take time reassuring their identity in God. It is my opinion that this is why scriptures like Ephesians 1:17-19 and Ephesians 3:16-19 are key. We need to be rooted and grounded in the knowledge of God and His heart for us, because in the Western world these are attacked greatly. Satan seems to have learned that if He can stop the Western Church’s confidence in her identity. This is why it would appear that over the last century, specifically since the 90’s that God has begun to really move in the area of calling the Church back into her identity as sons and daughters and as the Bride of Christ. I feel that when the Church steps into confidence in their identity in God then the physical persecution will begin because they will know that the emotional no longer works. It is also my opinion that the Church in the West will continue to stand strong even the face of physical persecution in a way the rest of Church will not understand having not dealt with the identity issue from emotional persecution.
This does not mean we are better than the rest nor does it mean that the West only faces emotional persecution and the East only physical persecution, it just means we are being sanctified and matured in a different manner and some experience a certain type of persecution more than another. David himself experienced both and tells of them both in the Psalms (i.e. Psalm 109). In the end blessed are you who are persecuted for the sake of Christ no matter the manner, now may Father of Glory give to you the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation in the Knowledge of Him that you may know the hope of His calling being rooted and grounded in the love of God towards you.