Jesus Statue

Where it’s Hard to Follow Jesus

Christianity Today published a brilliant article at the start of January telling the readers where there is the most persecution going on actively against the Church. Unsurprisingly, North Korea, China and Iraq all feature in the top 50 countries where physical persecution goes on, with North Korea listed as the worst of all.

The article tells a great side, often forgotten in the comfort of the West, of Christian life.

Persecution.

A dear friend of mine lives in Erbil, Kurdistan region of Iraq. She is a devout and very vocal Christian woman, her husband an equally staunch man. I’ve followed the reports of ISIS with a great deal of concern for her family given what is happening over there at the moment. Iraq is being emptied of Christians, and churches founded by the apostles and their immediate disciples 2000 years ago are being shattered to a remnant.

Living in South Africa has been an eye-opening experience for me. Religious freedom is very liberal here and there is a lot of tolerance in most places. My secretary is Muslim, as is my wife’s best friend. We work and socialise (sort of) easily with one another when time permits. But I’ve had issues raised when I’ve mentioned my faith on my Facebook page. On one occasion when I shared a quote attributed to Bill Cosby (inaccurately) and had the audacity to agree with the sentiment that Islam was a false religion being twisted to create terrorists and was generally ungodly it almost resulted in my wife losing a long friendship – yet we as Christians are expected to put up with Muslims telling us Jesus was a prophet of Allah. The compromise: I have had no direct contact other than when I had to answer my wife’s phone┬áin over 2 years with them.

Reading the Christianity Today article made me think about where it’s really hard to follow Jesus.

Yes, if I know telling others about Jesus will result in my imprisonment, torture, and execution I would think it was hard to follow Jesus – because I’ve never been in the situation. But the more I think about it, the more I find myself thinking how much simpler it would be if that were the case where I live.

A “tolerant” society breeds a different kind of persecution. Less so recently in France, but for the most part in Europe, South Africa and the West, persecution is subtle. We have our faith watered-down by the tolerance we show in the society we live in. Our leaders speak of celebrating our similarities instead of focusing on our differences when we speak of our faith.

We become luke-warm.

I’m open about where I stand – or I try to be. I used to say I was a “fundamentalist,” but the term got hijacked by right-wing bigots so I thought I was “progressive,” however that term has been claimed by another branch looking too far to the left and embracing all actions as acceptable. So I’m stuck for a way to describe myself. These days I refer to myself as a “regressive” Christian because I want to see the church return to the belief structure of the first century – to regress from this modern tolerance and reclaim the souls from the broad path.

Perhaps this is too much of a rant, but it ties in to the title. It’s hard to follow Jesus in Western or semi-Western societies that engage in religious freedom and try to keep religion and state matters separate – even where their entire legal system was based on Biblical principles and a Judeo-Christian morality.

Now I’m not suggesting we start stoning people. This isn’t Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” we’re talking about. It’s a real issue that is overlooked and ignored by the church. Symbols of Christianity are being systematically removed in the West in the name of political correctness and tolerance. In the town I grew up in the parish church was asked by the town council to remove the cross from the wall of the church hall so non-christians wouldn’t be offended. The town I moved to as an adult had a similar request at a cemetery and the instruction was only reversed when a Muslim man complained the cross had been removed!

Wherever we go as Christians we will be hated by the World. Jesus said so.

Just because it manifests as physical danger in some places doesn’t make the persecution in the West any less dangerous. In Western society we forget there’s an enemy on the Spiritual level fighting us because we have a television and a car. We become content with less than God’s best for us because we can get medicine and prosthetic limbs instead of healing from Christ. The mindset of Western Civilization is just as deadly spiritually as a gun is in North Korea or a sword is in the hands of ISIS.

It’s time we get our spiritual head out of the sand and realise we’re in a fight here and now.

Especially when it’s hard to follow Jesus