It’s the way of wisdom for Christian parents to prepare themselves and their children for persecution, and now more than ever. I believe it becomes clearer each year, if not each month, that the church will soon become the object of terrible oppression. I’ll explain why, shortly.
It is our Lord Jesus’ wisdom to prepare our children for persecution. His regular instruction included forewarning of persecution: the people of God should expect to be betrayed, afflicted, hated of all nations, and killed. Jesus called it “tribulation” in Matthew 24. The church has called it The Great Tribulation. Jesus’ apostles repeated His teachings about persecution as they wrote their letters. Paul warned of “perilous days coming.” Peter cautioned the saints not to “think it strange” when the fiery trial comes upon them. And the last book of the Bible puts it in language few can forget.
Of course you believe the imminent persecution, unless you are not amillennialist. But even we amillennialists can allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep by the good times the church enjoys now (at least in the West). Then, although our catechism books teach it and our theology maintains it, our hearts forget that this tribulation may be just around the corner. And that mistake sounds a great deal like the foolish virgins—a good parable to read with our children—because though the foolish virgins’ theology was right, they just got tired of waiting and fell asleep. Which is the reason for this editorial, and should be the occasion for regular sermons on eschatology. We so easily forget. Really, we don’t like to remember. So we play the ostrich.
The likelihood is high that if we do not see persecution ourselves, certainly our children or grandchildren are in for the time of their lives. Which is the other, and primary, reason I write this editorial. Our children and grandchildren. The church’s covenant generations.
The editorial title does not say, “Scare the children about the impending persecution.” Of course we are not to scare them. But I wonder how many of us, in our desire to shelter them from terrors, take any opportunities at all to teach them that persecution is in store for believers, that all who “live godly shall suffer persecution.” If we have been lax, now would be a good time to renew our efforts, even as grandparents.
What makes me urge us to prepare our children is the barrage of news lately that shows an acceleration in the open promotion of godlessness and, paralleling that, the bold intolerance of Christian testimony to godliness. Wickedness (really “the Wicked One”) has an agenda, and Christians should understand that. As soon as the “prince of the power of the air” has some momentum in promoting his wickedness, he will accelerate his work in “the children of disobedience” (; which answers the oft-asked question whether the devil really has any interest in unbelievers. He “works” in them, energizing them in their wickedness). There is a too-flippant use of the expression “all hell broke loose.” Now is an appropriate time to use it. The gates of hell are opening to assault the church in a real and terrible way.
I see the promotion of homosexuality as a major element in the devil’s preparation to persecute the church. On the one hand, there is the open promotion of it by sports figures and television stars coming out. On the other, one can hardly keep up with the news in Europe and North America of each new assault on those who stand against homosexuality. The Duck Dynasty fiasco will soon be forgotten, as have the wedding photographer who declined to work for a homosexual couple, and the baker who declined to bake for a homosexual wedding celebration. Now that you think of it, the list includes Chick-fil-A, the ESPN news commentator Craig James, the bed-and-breakfast owner, the florist, the T-shirt company, and more. Incidents like these are happening with increasing regularity. Anyone who speaks out against homosexuality is ostracized, publicly castigated, even demonized. And how’s that for a devilish coup? To “demonize” Christians! Business owners who contribute to causes supporting traditional marriage will be boycotted by an organized and aggressive campaign of cultural intimidation, as the maker of a world-famous pasta found out recently. CEOs will be forced out of their seven-figure jobs when the pro-homosexual movement digs up old campaign donations to pro-marriage causes. Blatant lies will be concocted and the object of attack will be “Google bombed” until the lies are believed. No weapon is too malicious to attack those who oppose homosexuality.
The true church is the real target. The gates of hell want to destroy her. The environment the church lives in has changed so much just in the last 10 years that if I were pastor in Byron Center, MI, PRC today, I truly wonder whether the evangelism committee would dare to promote a special service like the one we promoted over 20 years ago on the biblical testimony on homosexuality. Already then we asked ourselves whether the broad advertising of the sermon would draw hostile reaction. And today…well, ask yourself what might be the response.
And what makes things exponentially worse for the true church is that the church herself begins now to approve homosexuality. When the civil government (and what the government does is worthy of an article all by itself) makes laws to sanction homosexuality and outlaws all opposition of it as “hate-speech,” the nominal church aids and abets her. The “woman” truly sits upon the “beast” (). Many old mainline churches have long endorsed homosexuality. Now, the Roman Catholic Church, long opposed to it—at least officially—is softening its stance through the carefully-worded statements of the new pope. But the statements are so clear that a prominent magazine of the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgendered) community named Pope Francis their “Person of the Year” for his comment, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” The number of Christian para-church organizations like World Vision, which recently approved hiring homosexuals in legal marriages, is on the increase.
As more and more voices join the chorus in favor of “toleration,” the space for Christians to live in will become smaller. Increasingly, business-owners will be required to compromise (and the SB invites any business-owners to testify of their struggles in this regard). Christian schools, important as they are in the church’s welfare, are certainly in the cross hairs of the Devil. Already there are laws in Canada—stronger than in the USA—that make preachers cautious about what they may say concerning homosexuality, for fear that they may be silenced by the law. Soon Christians who are willing to testify of their faith will all be labeled “enemies of the human race,” as a United States Supreme Court Justice recently declared them to be.
Let him who runs, read. Read. Just read of these things. Then, let Scripture urge upon you, “Let him that reads, prepare.”
One prepares for the persecution to come not so much by talking about it—although that’s certainly part of it—as by training to endure it. And because persecution will be the taking from us of one earthly comfort after another until finally our earthly existence is denied us, we must train to endure death. We must be the company of those who “loved not their lives unto the death” ().
Let me suggest some ways.
First, mortify the old man
This seems pretty basic, but the basics are where we always ought to start. Dying to myself. Crucifying my own desires in order to live to Christ. We live daily in “sincere sorrow of heart that we have provoked God by our sins.” Increasingly we “hate and flee from” sin (Lord’s Day 33). The reason Scripture calls this “mortification” of our old man is that to do this feels like dying. And it really feels like dying because it is dying—the putting down, more and more, of my old self. Have I learned this? Have my children?
Second, quicken the new man
That is, promote more and more the life of Christ in us. The Catechism defines this as living in “a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.”
There is also a good reason Scripture and our confessions define this life as the “quickening” of the new man. Christ in me comes to life more and more. Listen to a good sermon on Lord’s Day 33 to fill out your understanding of this, but the third step is really part of this:
Third, love Christ and His cause more than anything else in all the world
There is nothing else worthy of your love in all the world, but there are certainly a thousand things that compete for your love. So when we learn to love Him more than everything else, then when the wicked world gives me a choice either to deny Christ or lose “everything,” life included, I have long ago made my decision. By God’s grace I will carry it out. That’s preparation for persecution. Love Christ more than everything.
Fourth, learn to abhor (with both humility and requisite boldness) all that dishonors God and His cause.
Teaching this to our children takes great care, especially because we must learn first (daily) to abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes because of who we are by nature. If we fail here, we train up our children to be the perfect Pharisees.
But with both humility and boldness we can speak to our children about the enemies of God, pointing out carefully to them what doctrines and what practices dishonor Him and undermine His cause. We abhor them.
Let’s exercise ourselves and our children “unto godliness” (), and train them to “endure hardships” as good soldiers of Jesus Christ ( ).
The practical outworking of this calling is the stuff of good, Christian parenting, which, if done over the course of a lifetime, is the good and necessary preparation of our children for persecution—for death. Death. Hard to imagine, but real.
Very practically, I must teach them, as I teach myself, that just because I may have or enjoy something does not mean I ought to. All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. Learning to say no to legitimate enjoyments for the sake of a higher cause—God’s covenant—is not easy for me. It’s even more difficult for me to teach my children. For the sake of God’s cause, I will do that, and tell my children why. God’s way with me, daily, is to deny me much of what He has the ability to give me. He could give me wealth, but usually does not; He could give me health, but often withholds it; he could give me ease and mostly pleasure, but this isn’t normally His way of wisdom and love for me. So children learn tribulation, to prepare them for the greater tribulation.
We may be strong intellectually and theologically. How strong are we in this regard? Persecution comes. Can we endure that cross? For the sake of the joy and glory to come?
I can think of other texts to start with for a Sunday afternoon discussion with our children, but how about this one: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” ().