Persecution: “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”

I recently opened the “News from around the World” section of the June/July issue of Lausanne World Pulse and found that forty percent of the news articles were focused on the persecuted Church. Consider these article titles and first lines:

Algeria: Christians Stand Firm, Meet in Vandalized Church
“Even on an ordinary Sunday, it takes courage for Pastor Mustapha’s church to meet together.”

Bangladesh: Buddhist Extremists Drive Christians Out of Village
“Four Christian families in southeastern Bangladesh left their village on 2 May 2010 under mounting pressure by Buddhist extremists to give up their faith in Christ.”

Indonesia: Extremists Infiltrate Pluralistic Nation, Upset Religious Harmony
“Life is becoming difficult and dangerous for Christians in Indonesia because of outside extremists.”

Uzbekistan: Churches Raided, Christians Detained and Questioned
“On 10 April 2010, eight police officers raided a Protestant church’s youth conference held in the village of Baraj.”

The Church lives in the reality of persecution. It is
normal, expected, even anticipated in
much of the world.

The Church lives in the reality of persecution. It is normal, expected, even anticipated in much of the world. I first wrote on this topic in our November 2008 publisher’s memo (“Persecution of the Church: Hot, Warm, Temperate”).

In this publisher’s memo, I quote the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, when he wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” His poem was for his atheist father nearing death. Shaking his hands at heaven he cajoles his father to not go to his death easily, but to fight it. He asks his father to “Rage, rage against the dying of the Light.”

I borrow Thomas’ phrase for another, and I believe, more noble purpose. I encourage the Church, wherever she dwells in our world, to not go gentle into the night of persecution, and resist all attempts to kill the light. Thomas sounds a bit like the Apostle Peter:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

In this edition of Lausanne World Pulse, you will read stories of Christians and Christian churches standing strong for Christ in the midst of travail. Peter encourages both them and us to be sober-minded concerning suffering. Certainly, persecution is a form of suffering, but not in the individual sense. More, it is when God’s people corporately suffer for their belief in Jesus. Peter uses the term “sober-minded,” suggesting that the Church not be in denial about suffering and persecution.

Persecution comes and is a part of what it means to be the light in a dark world. Therefore, we can expect persecution, and not be surprised or shocked when it arises. The Church should also be “watchful,” Paul states. The guards on the city walls were always watching for trouble. To be watchful allowed them to warn the city of impending danger. They could anticipate it, and thereby prepare for it.

Peter then reminds the Church that supernatural evil is behind the suffering and persecution. Therefore, resisting the devil wardrobed in human disguise is a reality the Church must keep in the forefront. Resistance comes through prayer and the pursuit of justice when law supports freedom of religion.

Finally, Peter suggests that comfort in persecution comes in the companionship of persecution. We are never alone. The Church of Algeria stands with the Church of Bangladesh. The Indonesian Church is not alone; Uzbekistan is alongside.

Persecution is a given in this darkened world. We should expect it, prepare for it, resist it, and find comfort in the companionship of it. Most of all, because we have hope in the eternal glory coming, we can endure it. Heaven is at the door. I hear her knocking…

Dr. Lon Allison is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He also serves as director for the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.