Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question: “Dear Dave and T.A., What’s with the Bible’s preoccupation with suffering on the part of a Christian? What does it mean in Acts:14:22 where it says that, ‘We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God?’ Or in Romans:8:17, where it says that ‘Christians are joint heirs with Christ if so be that we suffer with him?’ Or in 2 Timothy:3:12, ‘All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution’?”
Tom: Dave, I don’t know where this guy is getting these things, because [in] Christianity today, I don’t ever hear much about this. However….
Dave: He’s getting it from the Bible, Tom.
Dave: Not from The Message or whatever.
Tom: Yeah, and not from many things that are going on in the church, but I think it’s a really good question.
Dave: It is a good…
Tom: What does it mean that we’re to suffer for Christ’s sake?
Dave: It is a good question Tom, but it seems that he’s criticizing the Bible. I don’ t think he’s criticizing modern Christianity.
Dave: He’s saying how come the Bible has this emphasis.
Dave: Well, it’s quite simple, actually. You could go back to John 15 where Christ said that “You’re not of this world, I’ve chosen you out of this world. Because you’re not of this world, the world will hate you. The servant isn’t greater than his lord. If they’ve hated me and persecuted and killed, they’re going to kill me, what do you think they’ll do to you?” So, it’s not that suffering is being glorified. It’s not that the Bible is encouraging Christians to try to get into a suffering mode, but it’s simply stating the facts. All those who will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. And it goes on and says, “But evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
I remember in the Iron Curtain days, Tom, maybe people don’t even remember that. That was vicious. Getting into the Soviet Union, behind the Iron Curtain, and into Bulgaria and Romania, Hungary, and these places. And, the people back there asking how is it that they were suffering for Christ? I mean, they’re being put in prison, some of them were killed, they couldn’t get a job, a decent job. You couldn’t get a university education if you were a Christian. They were really persecuted and hated. And they said, “But Christianity is so popular in America. How is it?”
I remember when Yonghi Cho’s books, Kenneth Hagin’s books were smuggled in. Give them credit for smuggling them in at least. Smuggled into the Soviet Union, I think over a million copies. And these people began to think positively. They began to think, well, if we, you know, we shouldn’t be suffering. We shouldn’t be persecuted. We need to understand positive confession. This is another side to it, Tom. But the fact is, if Christ was not popular, then why should I be popular if I’m His follower and I’m true to Him?
Tom: Mmhmm. Dave, I think what we need here is a marketing scheme. I think we need to take suffering….
Tom: …I think we need to just wrap it in different packages and make it more attractive and so on. (I’m being sarcastic here, folks.)
Dave: Of course.
Tom: Forgive me for that. But with regard to what we’ve been going through, The Purpose Driven Life and so on, I don’t see this being mentioned much. Maybe a line here or a line there, but if this is truly a part of what it means to be a Christian, and I know with different areas we could talk about Christians in the Sudan. You referred to them earlier. They can’t relate to what’s going on over here, because they’re under persecution on a daily basis. They’re dying for their faith.
Tom: And here we’re not doing that. But there are forms of persecution. Nevertheless, where is this in a Purpose Driven Life?
Dave: I wonder what Rick’s methods would do in China, for example, to build a big church. To help the Christians over there to feel better about themselves, and to build up their self-esteem and their success and happiness in this life. I don’t think it would work.
In other words, what we’re seeing, Tom, it’s market driven, of course. It comes from the marketing approach of the corporations in America, which will sell products, no doubt about that. But that’s not the way Christianity is to be sold. We’ve said it many times.
Somebody runs up to Jesus and says, “Lord, we’ll follow you where ever you go,” and Jesus would say, “Peter, sign him up! James, get him in the choir! John, make a deacon out of him! You know, we don’t want to lose this guy. Let’s make this as successful as we can.”
That’s not quite the way. Jesus would say, “You sure you want to follow me? Let me tell you where I’m going. I’m heading for a hill outside Jerusalem called Calvary and they’re going to nail me to a cross. So if you want to follow me faithfully to the end, pick up your cross right now, that’s where we’re going.”
Now, Tom, again, we’re not glorying in suffering, but these are the facts. So, then there must be something wrong! We have an Americanized Christianity, that it’s the American way of success, and marketing, and so forth.
That’s not what Christianity is supposed to be, but that is what is behind the church growth movement of which Robert Schuller says he is the founder.
Tom: Dave, one of the questions here: That we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God—That’s not necessarily physical tribulation, in terms of—to me the fight is with self, the fight is with denying self, and living for Christ. To me, that’s the battleground for entering into the kingdom.
Dave: Yeah, but Tom, Paul is simply stating the facts. “I mean we’re in the Roman Empire guys, and they crucified Christ and they hate Christians. Now….”
Tom: Right, Nero is in charge, right? When he’s writing this.
Dave: Right, “You’re going to enter into the kingdom of God, it’s not floating on a pink cloud, you know. But you’re not on the gravy train. You are going to suffer.” I think that’s all he’s saying. I don’t think he’s saying that unless you have suffered you don’t qualify for the kingdom of God.
Tom: That would be a Catholic gospel, by the way.
Dave: No, and what’s the other verse that he quotes there?
Tom: He said, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus….”
Tom: “Shall suffer persecution.”
Dave: Yeah, we dealt with that, that’s 2 Timothy 3. So, I think Paul is laying out the facts. Christ is laying out the facts, and He’s not promising us that we’re going to be great successes in this life. I don’t think Jesus was voted the most likely to succeed in the high school graduating class there in Nazareth. He was despised and rejected. “He came to His own and His own received him not.”
So, the problem that we have, going back to Rick Warren, and some of the others who are teaching the same, is that they are trying to make Christianity popular.
Well, if it’s going to be popular with the world, it’s not going to be the real Christianity that was despised by the world.