The title of this week's blog is a quote attributed to Ignatius of Antioch, an early Christian martyr. He was thrown to the lions in the Colosseum. Before that he rose to the position of bishop, and penned seven letters to different churches that are still believed to be authentic. (Other letters showed up in centuries past that were attributed to him, but are no longer considered genuine.) It is amazing to study history and see the persecution that so many faced just for proclaiming faith in Jesus. It is more amazing to study current events and see the persecution so many face today just for proclaiming faith in Jesus. There are many parts of the world where being Christian is a crime punishable by death, and yet the Church (the whole body of believers, not a specific church or denomination) is growing by leaps and bounds in these areas. Yet here in America, where we are free to announce our faith to any who will listen, churches are struggling to keep people in the pews. Why the difference?
I think it stems from the idea that Ignatius is referencing, and the one Jesus referenced when He was speaking to the rich young man. (Matthew 19:16-30) What do we give up for our faith here in America? Sex, drugs, booze? A few hours a week? What is it we stand to lose for our faith? Some people might unfriend or unfollow us? Most people, probably without much prompting, can think of a or two church they are familiar with that has split due to less than earth-shattering matters. I'm sure most of us know at least one person who switched churches or stopped going altogether over some trivialities, like music or dress, or which translation of the Bible was used. Sometimes it's as little as "we've never done things that way before". Then we wonder why numbers like divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, out of wedlock births and the like aren't that much different between the Church and the secular world.
America is blessed with a culture that, even as bent out of shape as it is, still allows us to practice and proclaim our faith. There is some social stigma that comes with it, a little name calling, but nothing severe. I don't worry about a cop stopping and searching me, then taking me to jail for the Bible on my blackberry. I don't worry about a gang of thugs deciding to kidnap me off the street then behead me for my Promise Keepers tshirt. Maybe that lack of resistance is making for weak spiritual muscle. We all know that lifting a barbell with only 5 pounds on it will not turn us into a Schwarzenegger, no matter how many times we repeat it.
Do we pray for persecution then? No, I say not. Instead be mindful of the blessing we have, give thanks for it, and take advantage of it. Read the stories of those who suffered in the past, and those who suffer now. Voice of the Martyrs is an excellent resource, in addition to their website, twitters, and facebook pages, they put out a monthly newsletter you can subscribe to for free. We can use our prayers and support for those suffering to add weights to our spiritual barbells, and work those muscles out of their atrophy. The American Church has so much potential power in it, waiting to be released. But I think because we are not facing swords, we are letting it wither.