In part 1 we raised the issue of Standing Up for the King in the face of difficulty. We’re talking about King Jesus, King of the Kingdom, and we again are reminded that the only way we can stand up for the King is to stand up in the King. We looked at many examples, from the students at Tiananmen Square protesting against Communist excesses twenty five years ago to the brave Bonhoeffer protesting against Hitler’s idolatrous Reichskirche, from Queen Esther interceding for her people before the Persian King to the early Church confessing ‘Jesus is Lord’ when Rome declared ‘Caesar is Lord.’ At the conclusion I posed the question: how do I stand up for the King now – in my own country, in Africa, in the West, in the Middle East, in the Far East, etc?
Here I tread humbly. I can recall four occasions when I found myself in rather uncomfortable, even life-endangering situations. The first was on a mission in Mozambique during the civil war days of Frelimo and Renamo. The second was in Malawi when my Dutch Reformed missionary hosts, who had sided with some Roman Catholic bishops in criticizing the President, were put under house arrest and told to be out of the country within forty eight hours. The third was when the bus on which our small mission team was travelling was brought to a halt in the high Andes of Peru by Shining Path terrorists blocking the road into Ayacucho. The fourth was when visiting Central China and Tibet – somehow I (it would be me!) got drawn into a crowd of protesting Tibetan students in a university city and was busy taking a photo when a secret policeman grabbed me by the shoulder and told me to get lost very quickly [there was also a rather sensitive situation in Xian when meeting with two underground church leaders who were being monitored by communist officials]. Even these uncomfortable incidents could never give me any idea of living, on a daily basis, year in and year out, facing the powers of overt Communism or militant Shariah Islam. So, any readers in North Africa, the Middle East, the Far East and other places where more overt persecution is a daily experience, I have nothing to say except commend you to the God of Psalm 121. We pray for you (sometimes – God forgive us) – please don’t forget to pray for us in our often luke-warm Laodicean state (Rev. 3:14-20).
Of course many of you have had your moments of confessing Christ when confronted by the machinations of traditional-institutional ‘Christianity’ – perhaps we should call it ‘Churchianity.’ My wife and I, together with our three young adult children, certainly felt the brunt of this some years ago when standing for what we believed to be biblical truth in our denominational-evangelical church, subtly controlled by powerful foundation-member families, using as their weapon the omnipotent ‘Church Constitution’ and denominational ‘conflict resolution’ strategies rather than the simple wisdom of the Bible. In the end democracy (the rule of man) triumphed over theocracy (the rule of God). Graciously God in his sovereignty and compassion rescued us from that situation, releasing us to pursue a more organic and simpler way of ‘being church’ in our city and beyond. Like the Anabaptists of old we are trying, in small ways, to go back to our NT origins that, together with exploding numbers around the world, we may find a new future in Christ and his Kingdom.
Last Saturday my wife and I were facilitating a group of young adults in the matter of Discipleship in the Market Place. During discussion, a university student raised the example of serving in the Army and being called upon to kill, should the need arise. A thorny issue that greater minds have wrestled with over centuries! The conclusion was that each one would have to hear from their ‘Commander-in-Chief’ (Jesus) as to how to act or perhaps not act. Somebody else mentioned the matter of facilitating an ‘abortion-on-demand’ in a state institution. My wife faced this challenge in a private hospital – fortunately her protest was graciously accommodated by the doctor in charge and she wasn’t forced to act against her conscience.
Even in the West there can be instances of persecution in subtler forms. My wife was once on the receiving end of a militantly atheist medical doctor who made it his life’s mission to embarass and harass her as much as possible because of her faith, to the embarassment of some of the other staff. When he couldn’t fault her work ethic he insulted her in front of patients and even resorted to false charges. These were examined by an independent panel of doctors, which vindicated my wife’s expertise and positive attitude. Not long afterwards the atheist doctor was dismissed from that hospital group. I thank God that in all this trauma my wife was enabled to abide by Mt. 5:11ff, 43ff. [of course, some believers revel in being ‘persecuted for Christ’s sake’ when simply bringing trouble on their own heads through stupid behaviour – 1 Pet. 3:8ff exposes this temptation and gives helpful guidelines in handling opposition to the Gospel]
There is also the matter, for the believer in the West or under Western influence, of daily confronting the energy-sapping powers of rank materialism, hedonism, competitiveness, idolatry, humanism, religion and even ‘success.’ Bonhoeffer once declared that man is concerned with success, God with obedience.
Perhaps, at the end of the day, it is a case of quietly and confidently walking with Jesus and in Jesus, leaving the outcome in God’s hands. Who said about the early believers that they were often filled with hilarity and more or less always in trouble?? We mark Jesus’ words in Mk. 8:34ff, “Then he called his disciples and the crowds to come over and listen. ‘If any of you wants to be my follower,’ he told them, ‘you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross [definitely not a posture-pedic one], and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life!'”
I conclude with something from German theologian Jurgen Moltmann (1926-), who during a recent interview suggested that there are two kinds of cross:
- The real one, the cross of Golgotha, the cross the early believers bore as ‘atheists’ in the eyes of Imperial Rome.
- The dream one, the cross of Constantine and the Holy Roman Empire (300 AD), the cross of institutional Christendom ever since, the ornament, the insignia on many national flags.
Which one do we bear?
Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
Ye soldiers of the cross!
Lift high his royal banner,
It must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory
His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished
And Christ is Lord indeed.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus!
Stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you
Ye dare not trust your own,
Put on the Gospel armour,
Each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls, or danger,
Be never wanting there!
(George Duffield, 1818-88)