Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We Cannot Stop Speaking

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward (Heb 10:32-35).

Although a bit of a departure from our normal fare at The Prostrate Calvinist, we have been unable to overlook Franklin Graham's purported comments in China:
While some Christian groups have said they plan to proselytize during the August games, Graham said he was against that because Chinese law does not permit such actions. "I would not support any illegal activity at all," Graham said.

- Associated Press, "No Missionary Work During Beijing Olympics"
It appears that Graham hopes appeasing the Chinese government will garner official support for evangelistic work in the future, for he was also quoted as saying, "I'm not here to condemn, I'm here to work with them and help to build better bridges of understanding between Christians and government." Assuming these reports are accurate, Graham, on behalf of American evangelicals, has communicated much to the Chinese church and the rest of the world:

Suffering for the Gospel is a fool's errand. Yet, the Scripture would have us
Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Heb 13:3).
The persecuted church in China has been suffering shackles, bleeding, and dying at the hands of their government for generations. To these saints, Graham has said, in effect, that we prosperous, comfortable, and influential American evangelicals do not suffer with you and that your disobedience to the atheistic government of China is unwise. May the Lord save His people from "political savvy."

Spiritual ends are achieved by worldly means. Graham has betrayed a common misconception in American evangelicalism, that we achieve influence and progress by pleasing the world. Paul reminded the Corinthians of being enamored by the unbeliever's applause long ago:
Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (I Cor 2:6-8).
Paul goes on to say that the world is completely unable to understand the message of the cross apart from God's Spirit (v. 14). Spiritual ends are achieved spiritually, that is, by the illumination of God's Spirit. Christians are therefore called to be disciples, not diplomats.

Christ is not so glorious and all-powerful as being worth our very lives. Probably most egregious of all, is the insinuation that our hope and comfort lay in smooth relationships with the powers of this world. When Christians speak and act as though submitting to Christ is negotiable when faced with loss of life and limb, they falsely testify to the supremacy of Christ and communicate an impotent Gospel of a weak hope that is not worth inconvenience, let alone death. In contrast, Paul declared:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions (Col 1:24).

But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).
"I rejoice in my sufferings"? "I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself"? The sweetness and surpassing hope of Jesus Christ is broadcast to the watching world when His followers joyfully suffer for His name. This is why Tertullian wrote,"the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Although such circumstances try even the most faithful, God has not left us without guidance in responding to state-sponsored persecution or government restrictions on proclaiming the message of His Son. The Apostles Peter and John replied to such prohibitions by answering,
'Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard' (Acts 4:19-20)
'We must obey God rather than men' (Acts 5:29).
And they responded to suffering at the hands of their leaders by
…rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:41-42)
And they prayed in the midst of state-sponsored persecution,
'And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence' (Acts 4:29)
It is therefore my sincere prayer that, if these reports are true, the Lord would lead Franklin Graham to repent and to publicly recant. May all who follow Christ remember the persecuted church, as though suffering with them, for the cause of the Gospel, the sake of the Church, and the glory of Christ.

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