As Americans, we often assume that our freedom to exercise our faith will always be protected by our Constitutional rights. In many ways, we are often unable to relate to the biblical call to suffer well in the face of persecution. For many of us, persecution for Christians is just something that happens in other places across the world—far away from the safety of the land of the free.
But in the midst of the lockdowns related to COVID-19, we have seen the possibility of persecution in our nation increase significantly. Churches have been unfairly targeted, whether directly or indirectly, in many ways over the course of the past year.
Just to our north in Canada, we have seen a serious attack on one particular local church which has dared to gather for worship in the midst of Canada’s strict lockdowns. In recent days, Grace Life Church in the province of Alberta has faced increasing levels of government persecution.
In the early stages of the high restrictions from COVID-19, Grace Life willingly complied with governmental lockdowns. However, over the course of time, the restrictions in Alberta have remained incredibly strict. “Having engaged in an immense amount of research, interacting with both doctors and frontline healthcare workers,” Grace Life Church reasoned, “it is apparent that the negative effects of the government lockdown measures on society far surpass the effects of COVID-19.”
And so, after much prayer and preparation, in obedience to the commands in Scripture for the church to gather together for corporate worship, the church began to meet in gatherings beyond the capacity limits placed by the Canadian government.
The government did not back down. James Coates, the pastor of Grace Life Church and a husband and father of two children, was arrested and jailed for a month before being released. After his release, the government constructed a fence to surround the church building in order to prevent the church from meeting, and they even sent more than 200 law enforcement officers to their campus on a Sunday morning in an attempt to intimidate and prevent their gathering.
We often think something of this sort will never happen here in America. Perhaps it won’t. But what if it does? How will we respond as a church?
If it does happen here, we shouldn’t be caught off guard. We shouldn’t be shocked or surprised. Jesus tells us in John 15 that the world hates us. And as 1 Peter 4:12 tells us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” American Christians have been spared from this kind of action in our nation’s history, but persecution and trials are not a strange thing. We should expect them. And when they come, Peter continues, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
As counterintuitive as it might seem, we are to rejoice when we share in Christ’s sufferings. Jesus teaches the same thing in Matthew 5:11–12, when he says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Paul tells us in Philippians 1:29 that suffering is a gift that has been granted to us. And the apostles model that perspective when they were beaten and ordered to stop proclaiming the good news of Christ. In response, Acts 5:41 tells us, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”
If suffering comes—if we face persecution of any kind here—will we be ready? Will we stand for Christ? Will we rejoice that we might be counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of our Lord?
I pray that we will. I pray that the church will not back down. I pray that this season of refinement has prepared us to stand firm in the Lord and to be willing to endure much for the cause of Christ. And I pray that when we are discouraged, we will be strengthened by the testimony of Scripture and the example of others who have gone before us.
Psalm 2 says that the governments of the earth come together to set themselves against God—they conspire to reject the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. They target churches and attempt to limit their call to worship. They put pastors in prison. They try to put up fences around church buildings, and they send hundreds of law enforcement officers to intimidate and persecute the gathered church.
But Psalm 2 tell us how God perceives this activity of these governments. When they imprison Christians and put up fences and send hundreds of officers to one place, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD holds them in derision.” It’s laughable to think that the gospel can be stopped by a fence. It’s foolish to believe that the purposes of God can be thwarted by man. It’s senseless to fear the authority of the government when standing in the will of the Almighty God.
We do not serve a God who can in any way be threatened by the schemes of men. So, if persecution comes, we can stand. Because our God laughs at them. We know that he is in the heavens—that he sovereignly rules and reigns over his creation.
Yes, in this world we will have trouble. But as Christians, we take heart—because we know that Christ has overcome the world.