Question: When I read 1 Peter:4:17 ("For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?") it seems to me that this applies to persecution of the church. I'm aware of wholesale persecution of believers in places like China, Pakistan, Sudan, and other foreign countries, but I don't think that has ever happened in the U.S. Are we exempt for any particular reason, or do you think it is going to take place here?
Response: We believe that the judgment referred to in 1 Peter:4:17 is a judgment of persecution that God allows His church to go through for the purpose of purifying and strengthening it. As the process takes place, believers are supported by His grace and mercy. It has value for them, and it glorifies Him—even when it ends in the death of the saints. The contrast is judgment without grace and mercy, which takes place against those who reject God's salvation and will suffer eternal punishment.
Consider the record of the persecuted believers in Hebrews 11. Their testimony has been an encouraging witness to those who followed after them. Persecution has caused the church to grow just as a pruned fruit tree increases in its fruitfulness. History confirms that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church, and as Tertullian noted, "The more we are cut down, the more we persist."
Certainly, believers in the U.S. have never suffered persecution—as a body—such as we've seen in other parts of the world down through the ages. Yet America has been subjected to something of a more spiritually destructive nature that few countries have experienced: seduction. In Satan's game plan of attempting to destroy the church, seduction has been by far his most successful tactic.
It may be that the consequences of seduction, which have resulted in a church that has drifted away from the Word of God "in the latter times" and is "giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" and will "not endure sound doctrine," will foster a condition of persecution in this country (1 Timothy:4:1; 2 Timothy:4:3-4). Some have already been subjected to it as they have been thrown out of their "seeker-friendly, purpose-driven, marketing, and/or psychology-oriented" churches for simply questioning the biblical basis for such programs.
As believers, we simply and with meekness hold fast to God's Word and reflect its truth in our lives. Be aware, however, that we will invite persecution from both the world and from a professing church that regards us as intolerant, racist, bigoted, self-righteous, lacking compassion, arrogant, and on and on. As the apostasy increases in the U.S., there is every indication that persecution will also increase.