“And Saul approved of their killing him.
On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. “ (Acts 8:1-4)
Many Christians assume that persecution unites the church and make it grow. But the truth is, persecution can destroy a church that is out of order. Back in the seventh century, for example, North Africa was the most Christianized part of the world. But most of the churches disappeared under the Arab conquest. WHY?
It was mostly for internal reasons: Complacency and corruption. Rivalry and division.
• Persecution doesn’t unite a divided church. A church divided when all is well will be dismembered by persecution. Christians will betray each other to death. (Mark 9:12).
• Persecution doesn’t make the church obedient. Churches that disobey in the absence of persecution will apostatize during persecution.
• Persecution doesn’t make the church grow. Churches that don’t evangelise when it is perfectly legal to do so will hide their light under a basket during persecution.
Acts 8:1-4 is a snapshot of the kind of church that flourishes in a hostile environment. Disciples who have borne faithful witness in Jerusalem are now scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. And what do they do? Play safe? Hide their light? Bury their talents? No. Luke says, those who were scattered went about preaching the Word (v.4). Witness spreads like wildfire from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, all according to the divine plan of Acts 1:8.
The question is not whether persecution will come. It is a question of WHEN. Let us yearn for more of the Spirit and more of HOLY fire and zeal of the Lord in the good times so that when the “bad” times come we will thrive and not disintegrate and disappear.
Rev. Timothy Chow