Persecution and the Church
A workshop study on Biblical principles
…. a major issue of our time
Persecution is undoubtedly one of the major issues of our time, although not many people are aware of the fact. Our media have unfortunately failed in their duty to report the whole truth and reality of the day by opting to focus on the things people want to hear and to omit those things that they don’t, notwithstanding the, often huge, importance of the omissions. Consequently, the public have become used to issues that may be of vital importance to society being swept under the table or at least watered down to becoming of little import. Indeed, we have reached a stage where to be accused of telling the truth has almost become an indictment. Tough words, but unfortunately true and persecution is one such victim of this deceit.
When we talk of persecution we are inclined to think of the Middle Ages or the Spanish Inquisition, like ‘we don’t do that stuff anymore’, but we do and big time and it comes in many forms. Persecution is persecution, whether it is bullying on the school playground or 9/11, whether it is a foul racial insult or kicking over an old man because he wears a big black hat or a bullet in the back because his skin is the wrong colour, it is all the same thing and it has got to stop. But how?
This program will be focussing on two types of persecution, anti-Semitism and persecution of Christians, both old and well understood patterns of demonic behaviour, but which have emerged in force once more in recent decades. This does not, however, mean that other types of persecution, such as in racism in its multitude of formats, are any less worthy of attention, as all are equally reprehensible and are founded on the same particularly ugly human characteristic, hate. The above two forms of persecution are chosen not because the others are less important, but because they are widespread and they cover most aspects of persecution including religion and therefore, what is true for them is at least in principle true for the rest.
Unfortunately, persecution is right back on the table and with a vengeance. However, what seems peculiar to our present time is that society appears far less able to deal with the situation than it has been in the past. Western governments are in disarray and the Church is simply incapable of doing anything, both having had their moral backbones removed by secular humanism and its cousin materialism. It is repeated at this point, before going any further that, although only two forms of persecution are our focus here, other forms are not excluded and that the principles, if not the circumstances, are identical.
The objective of the program is to change attitudes, no easy task to be sure, and it targets the two largest agencies for change in society, specifically government and the Church. Governments are their own master and are not wont to listen to the individual, but the Church is different in that it can be targeted by individuals and, if successfully done, can in turn effectively target government and thus change may be affected. Over the ages the Church has been an agent for great change for the good of all, but today that is somewhat debateable. Nevertheless, despite its depleted influence, the Church remains our greatest hope of being able to change public opinion and therefore to lift society, government included, out of the perilous position in which we all sit. But how do we go about it?
Television, the internet and social media and don’t bother to mention the printed media, radio and so on, do not change attitudes any longer. Public media used to manage to achieve that, but today, unless they give the public what they want to receive they simply go out of business and that changes nothing. It is simply extending what already appeals. Today people have become accustomed to being spoon fed and not having to think for themselves. So, you only have to listen to what you want to hear and it all gets served up in a form that does not require you to think too much. All nice and easy and it is like that in the Church as well. Mushy, warm sermons on Sunday but no teaching, definitely no teaching; teaching means you may have to think and ‘no more than twenty minutes please’. ‘Anyway, I can get as many sermons as I want on the TV and if I don’t like yours, there is another at the click of a button’. The trouble is that a sermon heard at eleven Sunday morning is forgotten by seven Sunday evening, because that is what is preached today, nothing that makes people sit up and listen. Nothing that stays with you through the week and that changes the way you think. Of course, there is plenty of other stuff to fill your head, but not much that teaches you how to read and understand God’s Word for yourself. The Bible is the only comprehensive manual for living there is, but it does require some effort.
Scripture poses questions; that is the nature of the Bible. There is not a chapter in the Bible that does not question its reader, if not on the spot then later when we have had time to do what most don’t want to do these days, think. It is what God’s Word does and that is how the course works. Eyeball to eyeball, that is how Jesus worked, not with a thousand people, He did sometimes, but more often with small groups and even with individuals one on one. You can preach to big crowds, but if you want to teach you have to get up close and personal and that means a small group, and a small group means ten or twenty not millions. The course is not a sermon or a lecture, it is a group discussion, but motivated by Scripture and the questions it asks and for the most part, it is the participants who provide the answers. Most churches today, big and small, have cell groups, usually around ten perhaps fifteen or twenty people and that is how we get upfront and personal, eyeball to eyeball, and that is how we change attitudes. And so, the cell groups permeate their own churches, which in turn affect another one and then another and so the numbers grow until you have a full-on movement in progress and the whole Church becomes confronted, forcing government secular and ecclesiastical to take action.
However, a group, meaning a cell, needs a leader, to ensure the correct interpretation of the Scriptures used and to see that the questioning and answering keep in line with the subject and verses of the day. This requires someone who is Biblically literate, is in control of the workshop, is able to recognise when the ‘twaddle’ is washing in and to see that it gets washed out again without offending anyone; people can very easily become defensive. It will be realised that all groups are not going to be the same and will vary even in a single environment, such as members of the same church. Therefore, we cannot treat the course as a ‘one size fits all’ presentation, because it can never be that. Experience has shown that one group might spend two hours debating a single question in one module, whereas another covered the whole module in half the time allotted but lingered somewhere else. Therefore, our leader also needs to have discernment of the dynamics of the present group. A central characteristic of the course is the inclusion of questions which are aimed at causing discussion and this is the dynamic of the course; if you are discussing you are thinking and thinking is where attitudes change. Discussion is what it’s all about. Not all the questions included will perhaps have the desired effect on a particular group, whereas there might be others forthcoming which can still be included as discussions progress. As always, the problem is ‘too many opinions, too many questions and we can’t cover them all’, but the framework allows for adjustments along the way, while still keeping to the primary thrust of each module. And it is critical that the leader manages this process. Therefore, choice of a competent leader is important. Another aspect that needs explanation is how Scriptures are used. Many are quoted but not all are fully written out. This is in order to have participants read the whole passage direct from their own Bibles and to then to debate its meaning amongst themselves – very important this. Thus, the leader is able to get the relevant points on the table. The whole idea is to invite participants to work out meanings for themselves and thereby become familiar with the crux of the subject and then to apply what they have learned, which they will if the discussion is meaningful. Discussion, discussion, discussion; this is not a lecture or a sermon. In part a teaching, this is really a self-learning exercise in a group environment and its success will depend on the leader’s ability to engender a situation in which participants open up.
It is pointed out that this methodology was developed and tested by the author over a four year period of teaching in Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison in the Western Cape and it definitely works. However, the ability of the leader to engender discussion and to manage the dynamic of the group is the essence of the process. But it does not stop there. Once the course has been concluded, the real business begins, that of spreading the message among your own congregants and beyond.
Finally the worksheets themselves; these are pretty much self-explanatory, but they are really ‘prompt’ sheets to be used by both leader and participants; by the leader as a template for each module to be modified group by group and by the participants as note pads for their post session meditation and thought which should hopefully take place. They are printed in larger font to give more space for note taking. Only the leader need have the manual, while worksheets can be photocopied for distribution among the group, one session at a time only; to give out all the sessions together will short circuit the whole dynamic. By way of a final word, it can be categorically stated that the more interaction between participants achieved, the greater the fruit of the whole exercise.
List of modules:
Part I: A story of decay: History, decline, secular atheism, humanism, materialism, the world in which we live, choices.
Part II: The seven Churches for today: Do we really understand, Laodicea, Principles of Persecution
Part III: Wisdom is Justified by her children: Ethics and morality, past present and future of anti-Semitism.
Part IV: Watchman, watchman what of the night: The reality of today for Judaism and Christianity.
Part V: Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain: Recontextualism. Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Islamophobia and political correctness.
Part VI: HA’ AZINU: Just listen, something is in the air! Deut 32:1-43