Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Church's Response to Treachery and Persecution

The following is an excerpt from "Heralds of the Truth: The History of the Evangelical Church in Bulgaria" by Rev. Hristo Kulichev of Sofia, Bulgaria. I edited the English translation of the book, and it should be published later this year. In this chapter, Kulichev is not speaking about the Inquisition or counter-Reformation atrocities. Rather, he refers to the period of Christianity's greatest persecution in Bulgaria, under the Communists (1944-1989); then subsequently during a backlash directed at the growth of Gospel-preaching churches in the mid-ninetees. I attended his church, First Evangelical Church of Sofia, from 1992-1995.

"Throughout its existence, the Church has encountered numerous trials wherein it persevered in the truth. In doing so, it has also received many blessings in leading souls to Christ, through the accomplishment of its calling to proclaim His Gospel. The Church has also fallen when it has deviated from its call to seek the well-being of the world. During a prolonged period of trials and persecutions, some church leaders became obsessed with the satanic idea that the existence of the church hinges on the goodwill of the world and the indulgence of the authorities ‘who granted us the right to live’.

In such times of tribulation one could frequently hear the words, ‘Let us be cautious and circumspect’, ‘Let us preserve the Church’, or, ‘Let's spare our strength for more favourable times’. Many of the Christians saying such things were in leadership positions in the church. In this manner they actually sought to disguise their concern and self-serving worry. They had no understanding that God had placed us not to be keepers or guardians of his Church, but rather to be servants and ministers within it. God has no desire for our zeal of tomorrow; He seeks our faithfulness of today. The general counsel was, ‘Let us be cautious’, and not, ‘Let us be bold for the Lord’.

The history of the early Church was forgotten. When threats were extended to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, the believers in Acts 4 gathered together and lifted up their voice to the Lord in one accord. Their prayer, however, was not something like, ‘O Lord, have a look at the hardships and the intimidations we are facing; remove the obstacles placed by Satan before Your Word!’

No, their prayer was, ‘And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word’ (Acts 4:29).
In their ‘concern’, many Christians were willing to conceal their fear for themselves, their cowardice, and their unwillingness to endure sufferings for Christ. Who can destroy a Church over which even the gates of hell cannot prevail? Who can destroy the body of the living, resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, whom the chains of death and hell could not hold in the cold grave?
The Word of God reveals to us the truth that no one ever hates his own body, but feeds it and takes care of it. The Church is the Body of Christ and Christ provides for his own body. He wants us to be obedient and docile members of His body (Ephesians 5:29-30).

Knowing that the whole world is in the wicked one, and we are not of the world but of God (1 John 5:19), what co-existence and friendship could there be between the Church and the world? Should the Church compromise with the world in order to evade the hardship and trials? Is it pleasing to God that we should allow compromises? Any case of compromising with the world is sinful, since it is a retreat from God's will.
If it existed by the will of the world, the Church would have been destroyed long ago. That is why the world forces the Church into all kinds of compromise, as if the existence and subsistence of the church was dependant on the world's good pleasure. YET THE PRESENCE OF THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD IS NOT DUE TO THE WORLD'S BENEVOLENCE, BUT RATHER TO THE WILL OF THE LORD.

The will of God is the sovereign will, and the Church, having persevered in all things, will one day triumph in the glory of its Lord.
In the times of struggle for upholding truth and purity, many martyrs and heroes emerged from within the Church. Unfortunately, it also brought out many backsliders, apostates and traitors. Faithful and devoted children of God worked in the Church, but it was also infiltrated by false teachers, false brethren, false apostles and false prophets who took advantage of their freedom in Christ to accomplish their own interests and ambitions. Along with the chastity of Joseph, fervency of Moses, the power of Elijah, the diligence and earnestness of Paul, the gentleness of John, the Lord’s people have also seen prophets like Balaam, kings like Saul, disciples like Judas, workers like Demas and leaders like Diotrephes.

However, God’s children have always been found in the Church. In the power of the Spirit, they have persisted in their defiance of the spiritual powers of ungodliness. These saints have contended for the faith, which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3), and have earnestly guarded the purity of the Church of Christ that it may be without ‘spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5:27).

We should not be surprised at the variety and the number of Satan’s attacks against the Church, but we should always be wary and alert to resist him so that he will flee from us (James 4:7). Neither should we think that having once repelled and driven him back we have chased him away forever. He will always try in a different way, through other vehicles, to sneak into the Church. He will either employ sweet and flattering words, or resort to brute violence. We need the wisdom and insight of Christ to discern his wicked craftiness, and not to succumb to his deceptions. We need God's power to withstand the ordeals he might inflict upon us. And, above all, we should always have in mind that Satan is a defeated enemy.

He knows he is running out of time to exert his power, and he will grow still more wicked, ferocious and ruthless. (Revelation 12:12b). But in all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and redeemed us through His death on Calvary (Romans 8:37). The Bible says that the saints will be able to overcome Satan through the blood of the Lamb and through the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives so much as to flee death (Rev. 12:12)."

1 comment:

4simpsons said...

What beautiful and true words! I especially these lines:

"God has no desire for our zeal of tomorrow; He seeks our faithfulness of today."