Acts 8:3-4 – But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.  Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
Are you glad that a persecution broke out against the church in which Saul, the soon to be Apostle Paul, was a major participant? I hope not. But you should be glad why God had it happen and what the results of it were. Jesus had given the Great Commission just before He ascended back to His Father. The Acts version of it reads
Acts 1:8 – But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
That first band of believers was called by Jesus to be His witnesses in all the surrounding area and they were to make disciples wherever in all the world they would end up. We rightly see this as our mandate as well. But it seems that the first church did not get going on their calling and it appears that they were content to sit at the Apostles’ feet and not be witnesses beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem. So God, in His sovereign, and shall we add, kind, providence, sent a persecution against the church, of which Saul was a part. The result was that the believers in the church in Jerusalem got scattered. And as they fled from the troubles, they took the Gospel with them and preached it everywhere. “You shall be my witnesses” Jesus said, and when they showed a reluctance to go beyond their own city, God saw to it that they became what Jesus said they would become.
I thought of this text as I pondered on the various responses to the American election on Tuesday evening from various Facebook friends and Christian bloggers. It seems that a lot of Christians believe in the sovereignty of God until something they really hate takes place. Then there are those who recognize the sovereignty of God but see the results on Tuesday as an act of judgement upon a country for the various ways that the U.S. has abandoned its “Christian roots”. Then we have those who see God as sovereign but only after the fact. God apparently watched the election and when He saw how terribly things had turned out He decided to step in and we can trust our sovereign God to fix things up, now that He is back.
But could it not be that this election and its results were part of something bigger that God is doing for the good of His church and the salvation of a great number of people? And could it not be that God’s grand purposes for His church are better fostered through the election of President Obama than Mitt Romney? Could it be that believers in the United States, and in Canada, are being called to be witnesses in our Jerusalem and beyond in situations that we wished had not happened but because they have, are more fruitful ground for the propagation of the Gospel in our countries? There is some evidence that the election of a separatist government in Quebec in 1976, whose purpose was to have Quebec secede from Canada, actually helped the spread of the Gospel in that province/country/ sovereign state.
So when we hear people talking about the horrifying prospect of our borders opening up to widespread unguarded immigration would it be completely wrong to see in it an opportunity for the church to evangelize people it would not otherwise ever encounter? And would it be wrong to conclude from that, that had it not been for the election of a liberal president, the Gospel would not have reached those people? There are people in this church who think that the best thing that ever happened to them was the election of Pierre Elliott Trudeau as Prime Minister, simply because he liberalized the immigration laws. I was fourteen the first time Trudeau was elected and there was little doubt in the evangelical circles of which I was a part that he was the worst thing to happen to this country – ever. A seminary professor opined during the 1980 election campaign that if Trudeau got re-elected it would be the judgement of God upon the country. He was re-elected. This is not to say that President Obama or Pierre Trudeau are and were doing a good job or that their policies are right or even best for their respective countries. But they could have the result of being good for the church to fulfil its mandate to be Christ’s witnesses in its Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and if any of those converts ever decided to become a missionary, and return to their country to evangelize parts of it, then it would be going into the uttermost parts of the world as well.
The legalization of same sex marriage and abortion may be indications of a growing acceptance of unbiblical standards of morality and we should not rejoice at anything that fosters immorality. But none of these things hinder the church from accomplishing its mission. Not in the least. And that would be true if Christianity were declared illegal tomorrow. As the days grow darker the light shines brighter. We can curse the darkness or we can light a candle. Bemoaning the times in which we live and predicting vile consequences upon our world is a waste of energy. I am increasingly convinced that our mandate as the church and as individual Christians in a culture that is bent on running away from God, is simply to love God and love our neighbours. That, of course is a no brainer since everything that God tells us is summed up in those two commandments. But in the climate in which we now live, loving our neighbour might just mean loving the immigrant who got the job that my son had applied for. (It is a striking thing that while many believers will often cite Leviticus 20:13 to show God’s displeasure with homosexuality never quote Leviticus 19:34 as a text that reflects their views of immigrants). Loving our neighbours may mean helping the gay couple who were threatened with death in their home country, deal with the winter weather that they have never had to face before. It may mean spending time with the young girl who is dealing with guilt and emptiness and feelings of abandonment since her abortion. Or maybe it will mean helping her with a problem even if she has no guilt or issues stemming from her abortion(s). God is putting these people into our lives and we should be thankful.
The culture in which we live is no friend of grace to lead us on to God. It never has been. But we have been lulled into believing that the way for the Gospel to prosper in our culture is for laws of the land to reflect Christian principles. This is nonsense. The church was born and weaned in a very hostile environment and it just may be that the worse thing to happen to it in the early days was its legalization. If we need prayer in schools in order for the Gospel to thrive then we have already capitulated. The Gospel teaches us that aside from an act of grace people cannot come to God. It is the church’s job to preach the Gospel – the thing God uses to get His grace into people. The concept of cultural Christianity is dying and I for one, am very grateful for it. As the days progress the culture grows more and more distant from a godly morality. This may have the effect of separating the wheat from the chaff in the church. The real believers will remain faithful in the face of opposition and ridicule and persecution. False believers will not.
It may get very difficult for believers in the not too distant future in this part of the world. But that has never stopped the forward movement of the Gospel before. In fact, it is in such times that we see that the church has most flourished.
The point here is not that since something awful has happened we should trust God. Trusting God is what we should do no matter what happens. The point is that God was at work on Tuesday and also last week when the Premier of this province prorogued Parliament for political expediency. Some think that God is judging. Some think that He is blessing. Both sides should agree that regardless of what God is up to, He has not given notice that the Great Commission is abrogated or that we cannot be salt and light. The times we are in are the times God has given us for the delivery of the Gospel and being the aroma of Christ in the world. People mean things for evil. God intends (note the word) them for good. We disobey if we think that any election, event, or catastrophe falls outside those parameters. Jesus Christ reigns over all the created order for the sake of His church. No politician will thwart the great purposes that God has for His church or the world. In fact, He will use them, even though they do not acknowledge Him, to accomplish the plans He has. What was God up to on Tuesday evening? Too much for us to ever come to grips with. And none of them mean the demise of His church, even if they might mean the demise of culture and power and influence.
Ephesians 1:22-23 – And [God] put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.