False Persecution

Applying Discernment

It was in high school that I really encountered the other evangelicals. Like a paratrooper dropped behind enemy lines, I had stumbled around in search of my unit, eventually finding a collection of people wearing the same uniform as I, and behaving in unfamiliar ways. So these were the other Christians. I thought I had best start working with them.

At the time, I didn’t realize I was “evangelical.” I’m not sure they did either.

There were differences between them and me, most of which I must write of separately, but one in particular caught my attention-they had a penchant for praying loudly in public spaces and announcing their faith unabashedly. I recall many uncomfortable moments, during which I asked myself why I felt so uncomfortable. At the time, I never disagreed with anything they said, but I never felt stillness in the midst of those events. I felt acute embarrassment at the idea that one of them might get up on the library table and begin preaching at any moment, but I could not reconcile this with my faith, for I felt that I was obliged to do just such a thing.

But whoever disowns me before men,
I will disown him before my Father in heaven
(Jesus, Matthew 10:33, NIV)

It took some time before I stopped feeling a moral obligation to preach from the library tabletops. It was much longer before I stopped seeing it as a virtuous act.

The evangelicals I’ve known have always understood one thing particularly well: persecution. They understood that no amount of ridicule, suffering or affliction is sufficient cause for immoral action-or immoral inaction. They never needed public school lessons on the dangers of “peer pressure.” These evangelicals were always much more willing to suffer for their cause than anyone else, even if only because they have a cause to suffer for. In North America, suffering for a cause rarely means more than subjection to obscenities and spitballs, but this is something they were (and are) willing to endure.

In many ways, this mindset is noble. In many ways, it leads to misguided acts. There is something my fellow evangelical paratroopers so often fail to realize, I realized. And this is that their ostensibly pious behaviour is not always beneficial, nor is it always well motivated. Some of it warrants the persecution that it brings-and because we expect persecution on account of our faith, we sometimes fail to notice when we deserve it.

If, therefore, the whole church comes together, and all speak in tongues,
And outsiders or unbelievers enter
Will they not say that you are out of your minds?
(The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 14:23, ESV) [1]

It is ingrained in the minds of Christians that you must expect persecution on account of the Word of God, and similarly, that this may be a sign that you are doing something right. Because of this, however, Christians do not always ask themselves why they are persecuted, and it is an omission that leads them into error.

In an effort to proclaim their faith, there are many evangelicals who employ methods that (if anything) damage their credibility and turn those away who might otherwise have listened to them. They do this by behaving in ways that indicate, to all observation, that they have gone nuts, or have a personality quirk that renders them fundamentally incapable of identifying with their listener. They make insufficient attempts to provide context. They speak to people as if there is no response that will remotely alter what they are about to say-not even the method of delivery-creating the impression that they are detached from the human element. Their message, like a generic resume sent to an employer without the slightest bit of tailoring, is often rejected. The applicant shrugs off the rejection, having been told that persons of their type are discriminated against in this industry.

These evangelicals seem to believe that it is wrong to exert control over how they are perceived. They do not openly recognize, however, that perception is never accurate. Perceptions of these evangelicals form without any of the information required to properly interpret their behaviour (this, assuming the behaviour is even advisable). They are living, breathing, out-of-context human beings. Juxtaposed against such perceptions, words have little value. A sizable portion of these people are not, in fact, nuts, yet they behave in such a way because they believe it is required of them to act as such-completely apart from its effectiveness.

The effect of this paradigm runs deep, affecting Christians’ ability to reason concerning their own faith, and those matters in which they hold false conclusions. Some have so expected and accepted persecution that they regard all negativity as simple martyrdom. Attacks by critics are dismissed without proper consideration.  In this way, an otherwise easily falsified belief–that, for instance, there is not a single scribal error in the Bible–becomes impregnable. The criticism leads them to believe they are on the right track, drawing them into a spiral; they are carried away towards extremes, as if having lost the ability to feel pain.

It is ironic, then, how the willingness to suffer discrimination-a quality intended to wrest honest inquiry from the minds of others, force jeering adversaries to overcome their preconceptions, and lead one to suffer injustice for the sake of justice-has become the same quality that prevents sensible people from knowing when they are making fools of themselves, or failing to accept reason where reason is sound.

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room,
Close your door and pray to your Father, who is in secret,
And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you
(Jesus, Matthew 6:6, NASB) [2]

Those who are persecuted for the wrong reasons may feel a sense of personal piety, having acted on their duty to appear foolish to the world for the sake of divine merit. Christians believe that this situation exists. However, it does not arise as often as one may think in this time and culture, and such “opportunities” cannot be created for the sake of self-righteous appearances. Christians must take care not to blindly praise such actions, as this gives rise to the incentive of impressing others-at which point a discerning act in spite of social harm has completely decayed, having become a misguided act committed for social gain.

There is difficulty in this. It is no small task to distinguish between being ridiculed for the right or wrong reasons. In both cases, one is surrounded by detractors and acerbic criticism. In both cases, the mass opinion is not to be trusted simply on account of numbers. The greater the antagonism, the more difficult it becomes to believe that it could have been suffered in vain.

The aforementioned distinction must be made, however. Sensitivity to the perceptions and mindsets of others must be maintained. Convictions must be examined apart from–and due to–criticism before they are strengthened by it.

—————————————————————————————-

[1] There is no small dispute over the relationship between such verses and modern day Pentecostal glossolalia, but I do not intend to address that in this essay.

[2] “Rewards for praying?” – Also an entirely different matter.

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2 Responses to “False Persecution”

  1. I got a lot out of this–thank you. I’d like to ask a question about one particular part. “In this way, an otherwise easily falsified belief–that, for instance, there is not a single scribal error in the Bible–becomes impregnable.”–What does this mean? Would you please identify the scribal error you refer to here, and discuss its implications?

  2. It means that if we neglect the possibility that others may have useful input, it can become impossible for anyone to dislodge certain beliefs that we may have completely wrong.

    Most scribal errors have essentially no implication (which is part of the point).

    Example: 1 Kings 4:26 and 2 Chronicles 9:25 refer to Solomon as having “forty” and “four” thousand horse stalls respectively (though they might have fixed this in some translations), which is apparently an easy mistake to make given the way the numbers were written.

    The idea of Biblical infallibility/inspiration is a whole different idea, however, and I intend to write about that.

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