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Around the year AD 63 the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to some Christians living in northern Asia Minor who were beginning to experience the first headwinds of social and state persecution at the hands of the Romans. They were not yet being arrested nor had the practice of their faith been criminalized but they were facing legitimate discrimination. Thomas R. Schreiner characterizes their various difficulties saying:

“The only specific suffering noted is discrimination and mistreatment and verbal abuse from former colleagues and friends”[1]

The Apostle Peter wrote to stabilize these congregations so as to preserve their active Gospel witness in the culture. He wanted to “right size” the challenges that they faced, so he asked them:

“who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (1 Peter 3:13 ESV)

Christians have a tendency to see demons behind every bush. We have a tendency to exaggerate the opposition that we are facing and so Peter wanted to brace them and sustain them in their troubles. It would be foolish to run into the barn at the first sight of rain! There is work to be done! There is a harvest to gather! We mustn’t neglect our duties every time we hear the distant rumble of an approaching storm! Let’s work until the clouds above us let loose with rain! Let us seize every minute, every second of opportunity before we seek shelter underground.

Such was the counsel of the great Apostle.

As it happened, there were in fact almost 50 years before the warning clouds of 1 Peter broke forth into an actual storm of formal persecution. In AD 112 the Emperor Trajan sent Pliny the Younger to investigate this growing community of Christians in Bithynia Pontus. There had been so many converts from paganism in the previous few decades that it had actually begun to affect the local economy. Pliny was thus commissioned to investigate the movement and a number of Christians were arrested, examined by torture and a significant number executed upon confession of faith in Christ.

Thankfully, however, the persecution was short-lived. It was reported that Christians were very useful citizens and Trajan decided that the Empire could ill afford to eradicate such valuable people. Thus, he wrote to Pliny and ordered him to cease his investigation immediately.

It is extremely important for us to pay attention to that historical timeline.

There were 50 years of explosive growth and ministry between the mild persecution that lies behind the letter known to us as 1 Peter and the severe persecution that happened a generation later. That’s a lifetime of evangelism and mission that Peter was fighting in his epistle to preserve. To these troubled, afflicted and harassed Christians Peter says: “Now is not the time to hide!  Now is not the time to stock up on canned goods; now is not the time to lock yourself up in the basement – there is a harvest to be gathered! There is work to be done used, even if that means that there is suffering to be endured!”

Thankfully, they got the message. They stayed in the field, they focused on mission and by the grace of God they transformed an entire region.

In 50 years.

50 years that could have been wasted hiding in the basement, complaining about the government and imagining the worst-case scenario.

Thanks be to God for 1 Peter – and thanks be to God for the faithful men and women in Bithynia Pontus!

All of this leads to the question, what if we had 50 years before the outbreak of formal and fatal persecution in Canada?

I’m not saying that we do; we may have only 10 years, or we may have 25, or we may have 150. I don’t know and you don’t know, but one thing we ought to be able to agree on is that it hasn’t started yet.

It has not.

While the pandemic due to COVID19 is/was a significant hardship for the church, it does not meet the definition of persecution. A meteor strike would be hard on the church as well, but it also wouldn’t qualify as persecution.

What we’re facing right now in Canada, with very few exceptions, barely meets the level of what these folks in Bithynia Pontus were facing in AD 63. According to Thomas Schreiner:

“The only specific suffering noted is discrimination and mistreatment and verbal abuse from former colleagues and friends”[2]

Have you been verbally abused by any former colleagues and friends? Have you been mistreated? Do you face any actual discrimination?

You may. I think in some cases we do.

Many churches had their first encounter with discrimination as a result of the Canada Summer Job program in 2019. The required attestation seemed specifically designed to marginalize and exclude evangelical churches. However, as unfair as that was, I think most fair-minded people would agree that being excluded from government funding is a long way off from being fed to the lions or cut into pieces and thrown into the waters of the Black Sea.

That actually happened.

In the early 4th century, in this same region, there was another outbreak of formal and fatal state persecution. Simon Baker says:

“Roman governors were free to punish dissident Christians, shut down some churches, demolish others and, in the case of the bishops in the province of Bithynia-Pontus south of the Black Sea, murder key figureheads in the Christian clergy.  According to Eusebius, their bodies were chopped up and thrown into the sea as food for fish”.[3]

That is persecution. When they are arresting your pastor and chopping him into little bits and throwing him into Lake Ontario it is time to take shelter in the barn.

Jesus said:

Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! (Matthew 24:17–19 ESV)

A day may come in this country when we should run for our lives; a day may come when we should head for the hills and hide in the woods and in the cellar; but that day is not today. It takes a surprisingly long time for governments to go from occasional harassment to full on persecution. Therefore, let’s be careful not to exaggerate the difficulties that we’re facing. We’ve certainly lost the better part of our privilege but with very few exceptions we are not yet facing the prospect of formal and fatal persecution.

So, back to the question at hand: what if we had 50 years before the outbreak of serious persecution in Canada? How should we use that time? I suggest a two-pronged approach.

A Few of Us Need to Function As a Wedge

A few of us need to function as wedges. We need to do everything we can to keep the door of permission open in this country for as long as it is possible to do so. Discriminatory legislation should be resisted. Bills like C-6 and C-10 must be opposed or amended to remove obvious threats to liberty and freedom of expression. To accomplish this work we need to generously fund organizations like CCCC and CLF and we need to empower strong denominations to write, speak and advocate on our behalf.

But most of us shouldn’t be doing this.

Most of Us Should Focus on Our Witness

When most of us log onto Facebook or Twitter or any other social media platform we shouldn’t allow ourselves to complain about the government or to criticize other interest groups within the culture. That isn’t helpful. Our neighbours don’t want to listen to us whine about the possibility that we might one day have to pay taxes. Most of our neighbours think we should pay taxes. Our neighbours don’t understand our nuanced concerns about Bill C-6. When we say that we don’t like Bill C-6 they hear us saying that we want to employ abusive therapies against the LGBTQ2plus children in our communities.

That’s not helpful.

When we gnash our teeth and wring our hands over every piece of legislation that may or may not reduce our operating space in the culture, our friends hear that as an effort to protect our privilege.

Again – not helpful.

Wedge work should happen quietly. Wedge work is about lawyers filing a brief and denominational leaders writing a letter. Wedge work is about your pastor having a cup of coffee with the local MP. Wedge work goes on behind the scenes.

Witness work takes place in the public square. That’s where we need the most help! That’s where we need the maximum number of boots on the ground!! And interestingly, that work tends to be most effective in the cause of preserving our permission. Remember, Peter said:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? (1 Peter 3:13 ESV)

It was not the lawyers that put an end to Pliny’s tortuous inquiry into Christianity in AD 112 it was the track record of charity and citizenship built up by the church and testified to under oath by their pagan neighbours. The neighbours stepped up and said: “Leave these people alone! They are a blessing and a benefit to our region!”

So let’s focus on that. Let’s build up such a store of good works and good will that the population itself would rise up in uniform protest should the government ever attempt to stamp out the church of Jesus Christ in this country. Let’s not be known as the people constantly complaining about their loss of privilege, power and public funding.

Let’s do our job.

Let’s preach the Gospel and adorn it with an overflow of good deeds.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21 ESV)

 

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Paul Carter

 


To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. Pastor Paul will be releasing a podcast series on 1 Peter beginning May 14th which you will be able to find here. You can find his personal blog, Semper Reformanda, by clicking here.

[1] Thomas Schreiner, 1,2 Peter, Jude The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H, 2003), 30.

[2] Thomas Schreiner, 1,2 Peter, Jude The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H, 2003), 30.

[3] Simon Baker, Ancient Rome (UK: Random Books, 2006), 356.

 

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