Belfast Telegraph

Let the light shine through

Thought for the weekend: Allen Sleith: Hillsborough Presbyterian Church

They say that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church" - a phrase that was particularly true of the early followers of Jesus.

As a fledgling movement created out of its encounter with the new thing that God had done in the Christ-event and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the church initially was perceived by many as a threat, especially to the powers-that-be in positions of authority with their vested interest. Beginning with Stephen who was stoned to death, the persecutions of those identified as Christian was both grisly and yet awe-inspiring.

Nor did the story end there - there's been a great deal of martyrdom for faith in Christ ever since. The organisation Open Doors has been supporting the suffering worldwide church for years and part of its remit has been the monitoring of the extent of persecution faced by Christians.

Tragically, various attacks on Christians and their places of worship have made for grim headline news, though it's not only they who have a monopoly on being aggressively targeted for simply belonging to a particular religion.

I have the utmost admiration for those who continue to practise their faith in the face of real or potential threat but I would distinguish that from what I would call the "faux-victimhood" or "pseudo-suffering" that some Christians have recently voiced.

Let's be clear: when church leaders or members in this part of the world claim to be persecuted because public opinion, media coverage or aspects of state legislation are contrary to the wishes of "the faithful" that's not persecution, it's simply how things are, calling for something better than a hollow appeal to martyrdom. As scholar Norman Gottwald once said, the contemporary church might well need a new catechism, but in his view it would be a "catechism in reality" - ouch!

I believe in God's sovereignty, Christ's lordship, the Spirit's supremacy, but I do not wish that to take the form of a theocracy nearly every form of which operates as a grim, joyless regime hell-bent on suppression and oppression. So let the seed sprout, the yeast grow, the salt permeate, the light quietly shine - as Jesus said - that's quite enough to be getting on with, come what may.

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