Acts 20:22-24 says, “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 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.”
Paul wrote these words knowing that persecution was coming to him. In fact, Acts 20 is Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian church. Paul was going to return to Jerusalem where he knew that nothing but persecution awaited him. Paul was more concerned about the Gospel than he was about anything else. Nothing was going to move or deter him in the ministry. He was going to be joyous about the ministry just as he had always been.
I’m not saying anything surprising when I say that we live in perilous times. Post-modernism, secular humanism, pluralism, materialism, pragmatism have changed our culture radically in the past twenty years alone. What is worse is that these “ism’s” are also in our churches to one degree or another. In many churches today, God has become a symbol of our morality rather than the holy and glorious God. A God who represents us (rather than the other way around) is a God whom we can change to suit our whims and needs.
We now live in a post-Christian America (if America was truly a Christian nation from the start), and the view of the general trend of our society is not encouraging. While many in our nation still embrace political, economic, and social conservativism, true knowledge of God remains virtually non-existent.
We may awake one morning to find that our nation has been more radically changed literally over night than it was on 9-11. I say this because the influences I just summarized in the last two paragraphs leave our culture wide open to the rejection of genuine Christianity.
I’m not trying to be Chicken Little, doing nothing but complaining about how bad things might get in our society. It is what it is, and the Gospel is powerful enough to thrive even under the threat of persecution. The point is simply this: persecution is coming. Our fellowship exists in part to build relationships with our brothers in the ministry so that we may support each other when persecution arises.
How would you respond if you knew one of the pastors in this fellowship had been jailed for preaching the Gospel? Beyond being startled, would you go to visit him? Would you send him notes of encouragement? What would you want for other pastors to do for you?
What would you do if you knew a church in the fellowship was forcibly closed by government officials even though no laws were broken? What would you do if a church in the fellowship was vandalized or even destroyed because of the perception that we are hateful people? What would you want other churches to do for yours? Would we extend ourselves to help Gospel-preaching churches that are not of our particular doctrinal or even practical stripe?
Let us consider one more important question. What are you doing to prepare your church for persecution? It’s coming. Will you and your church be ready? These are matters that we can discuss and address in our fellowship in the future.
As we meet and work together within the fellowship, we are developing relationships of trust. We are also encouraging each other to remain steadfastly joyful in the ministry. If something were to happen to one of us, we would have the comfort that we have ministry relationships which will be there to encourage and support us in our time of difficult need.
Let us gather as a fellowship so that we can encourage each other to be unmoved by the persecution that will come as we minister the grace of God to our churches and communities.
When this series of articles is finished, I will post an article about the most persecuted Baptist pastor of whom you have (likely) never heard. It is a story that will encourage you as you face the difficulties of ministry today and moving forward.