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A THREE-PRONGED RESPONSE TO ATTACKS
by Ajith Fernando
How should Christians who are a minority in their land respond when fellow Christians and churches are attacked? I have thought about it a lot because churches are often attacked in Sri Lanka too. One thing is certain—never should our motivation be one of tit-for-tat or revenge. I want to suggest a three-pronged response.
LOVING OUR ENEMIES
We live in a region where the understanding of the concept of honour requires that if someone hits us we must ht back. In some countries the so called ‘honour killings’ are even sometimes ignored by the authorities. This is totally different to the Christian understanding of honour. Paul said: ‘Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all’ (Rom. 12:17). In Christianity the honourable thing is not to hit back.
Then there is the fact that Christ has asked us to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). So the general response when we are hurt is to love our enemies. This is a teaching that is repeated over and over again in the Bible (Matt. 5:43, 44; Luke 6:27, 35). We are told, ‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you’ (Luke 6:28 ). Referring specially to persecution, Paul says, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them’ (Rom. 12:14). Paul says of himself, ‘When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure’ (2 Cor. 4:12b). Peter writing to a church suffering persecution said, ‘Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing’ (1 Pet. 3:9). Note that in this last verse a blessing is promised if we bless our persecutors.
This is a pretty strong case for loving and blessing those who persecute us. I believe the witness of history is that the reaction of Christians to persecution left a strong impression on the persecutors. After painful initial suffering, they left such a powerful impression upon their persecutors so that large numbers of people ended up coming to Christ. This is our dream for our nations. We want large numbers of people to come to Christ. It may seem impossible now, but that is how the conversion of the Roman Empire looked to the small persecuted band of Christians in the first century to whom the passages I quoted above were first written.
When people in our nations get tired of the endless cycle of violence coming from revenge, may they be challenged by seeing Christians refusing to take revenge and loving their enemies. When they get tired of the corruption that is ruining our chances of progress, may they be challenged by seeing Christians willing to suffer loss and taking on poverty because they refuse to break their principles. When people realise that all their wealth has not given them satisfaction may they be challenged by seeing Christians truly happy and contented by living godly lives and realise that the life we have in Christ is the greatest gain (1 Tim. 6:6). Jesus said, ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:16). That is our ambition for the church.
Actually the persecuted Christians in the New Testament era looked forward to nothing short of world conquest by Christ. They saw their sufferings as temporary means towards achieving that end. That is how we see our sufferings too. So knowing that Christ is the truth, yearning for our nations to bow their knees to Christ and believing that Christ will conquer the world in the end influences our attitude to persecution.
Of course only a pure church where people truly love God can react this way. The churches in South Asia are anything but pure. This is a much more serious problem than the persecution we are going through. We must pray that God will use this persecution to make our people truly holy which is the biggest need in the church today—a much bigger need that the need to avoid suffering.
SEEKING LEGAL RIGHTS FOR CHRISTIANS
Now that is one side of the coin. The other side is that the Bible shows that the early Christians did all they could to win legitimacy for Christians. In Philippi, when Paul and Silas were released after being unlawfully beaten, they did not meekly leave the prison. They protested that they had been treated like that even though they were Roman citizens (Acts 16:35-39). They wanted it recorded that Christians had been treated in an illegal way. Luke is careful to record that the proconsul in Corinth Gallio who was from a famous family and was a well-known figure in the Roman empire gave a verdict very favourable to the Christians (Acts 18:12-17). The early Christians did all they could to achieve a legitimate legal standing for Christianity and for evangelistic activity.
In the same way today Christians need to use the court system to appeal for our right to practice Christianity. When something illegal is done against Christians we may need to go to the courts to agitate for our rights or against the actions that have harmed Christians. This is so that people are warned against the repercussions of doing it and will think twice before trying it again. In this way we help the whole church, not just ourselves.
If Christians are being denied a basic human right like access to the village burial place, it may be necessary for Christians not to give in when they are stopped from using the cemetery. They may need to grapple with the authorities until permission is granted. This has happened a few times in Sri Lanka.
Sometimes it may be necessary to apply pressure on the authorities by using the pressure of foreign interest groups and governments. It may be necessary to highlight in the press nationally and internationally the injustices meted out to Christians.
Like the great thinkers in the first few centuries (whom we know as apologists), we must produce great thinkers who will devote their energies to producing material in defence of Christian belief and practice. This is a long-term strategy. We need Christian people who will grow in stature to become respected lawyers, politicians, journalists and economists. They can represent Christ to the nation better than we preachers can. This is a long term strategy, but we must be thinking about this and urging people in this direction.
MINISTERING TO THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN ATTACKED
There is a third thing that needs to be done at this time: those affected by the attacks need to be comforted. Physical attacks are very hard to endure. They humiliate the person; they produce fear of another attack; and they can produce severe anger over the way the person’s body or property was violated.
Indeed we have seen people like Stephen who have reacted with wonderful faith when attacked. But my experience has been that some time after the attack people go through all sorts of difficult feelings. They become vulnerable to Satan’s attacks at this time. They could get over-discouraged and lose heart. They could become angry and develop vengeful feelings.
Another need for outside help from Christians is that in times of persecution Christians could act rashly and in an unwise way. Sometimes persecution is triggered by unwise behaviour of Christians when they antagonise others by things that were not necessary to do. An example is having loud worship which disturbs neighbours. Another is unwise ways of distributing material aid to the poor and needy which gives opponents the impression that we are using unethical lures to coerce people into becoming Christians.
This, then, is a time when those who have been attacked need the support of the body of Christ. We need to be close to them and help them regain some balance as they go through different emotional moods. When Peter and John were told for the first time that they must not speak in the name of Christ again, the first thing they did was to go ‘to their own people’ (literal translation) or ‘to their friends’ (ESV; Acts 4:23). If they cannot come to us we must go to them. Leaders must ensure that those who have been attacked are personally ministered to.
So my answer is a three pronged one. Firstly we are committed to radical personal non-retaliation. We will not resort to violence to achieve our ends. Instead we will demonstrate the power of the gospel by exemplary lives. Secondly, we are committed to using the existing structures to present a case for the legitimacy of Christianity. Towards this end we develop strategies that will be effective and leaders who will be qualified in presenting the case for Christianity. Thirdly, we care for those who have been attacked.
May we be faithful at this time.
If you ever want to see who your true friends are, struggle through trauma therapy after being assaulted. Man. Real friends can BRING IT. Love. Anger. A text that actually makes you laugh out loud moments after you were just wondering if you’d ever laugh again. Prayer. Presence. Sure, an occasional link to a helpful article or sermon. Cards, books, and one friend in the last two years even sent a meal! (Big T!!)
But really, the mark of love for me has simply been when people felt the awkwardness of what happened to me and then the REALLY awkward reality of my physical and emotional collapse—and they didn’t necessarily know what to say or do, but they NEVER pulled away. They never gave up. They pressed in. Love pressed in. Even my introvert friends (most of my closest friends are introverts) didn’t choose silence and distance for their own comfort. They remembered that I existed. They told me that they remembered that I existed. And just by remembering me, I knew they cared. I knew I was never alone.
Please. If someone you know is suffering and you have no idea what to say, don’t say nothing. Stumble and fumble and even just say, “I don’t know what to say! But I love you. I care. I think about you and I want to put the person who (violated, attacked, abandoned) you IN THE GROUND. I want to gently care for you and sacrificially try to protect you from future pain. I know I can’t completely, but I sure would like to try!”
The fact that you care is what matters. My pain causes you pain? This means I am loved!
Oh. And when it comes to the debilitating, chest-crushing, anxiety related to all of this suffering, I have been most deeply helped by one piece of advice in one article. I encourage you to read this and see if any of it might help you—or someone you love who struggles with debilitating, life-altering anxiety and fear:
(Stupid limbic system. Yes. Yes. I know. Helpful at times. Necessary for life even. But when it goes haywire from PTSD? Grrrrrr. So. So. SO annoying. And painful. Distressing. Devouring.)
Be helped, I pray! Help someone else! Enjoy.
Facebook just reminded me that it was one year ago today that The Gospel Coalition & 9Marks endorsed David Edling’s and my book, “Redeeming Church Conflicts.” What an honor! And even more importantly, what a JOY that so many people facing the misery of church conflict have received biblical hope and practical help.
If you haven’t yet read it, you can order the first edition of “Redeeming Church Conflicts” through my website for only $10 with free shipping (within the USA).
And I’ll close with just a few summary endorsements:
Matt Smethurst, Managing Editor of The Gospel Coalition, as published in the 9Marks Journal – “Barthel and Edling suggest we have much to learn from Luke’s account of the meeting in Jerusalem to redeem the early church’s first major conflict … They are exactly right. Barthel and Edling have done the church a vital service in applying biblical counseling principles to the realm of congregational conflict. Don’t wait until you find yourself in a relational mess to consult this helpful resource; read and benefit now.”
Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher and author of the Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible Study Series – “This book delivers exactly what is needed in church conflict: a wealth of biblical wisdom and professional expertise as well as an unflinching challenge toward self-examination and away from angry entrenchment and graceless condemnation. But best of all it offers a huge dose of hope that what is so hurtful and seems only destructive will be used by God to conform his church to his image for his glory.”
Robert Kellemen, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, Author of Equipping Counselors for Your Church – “Tara and David’s guiding concept of ‘responding redemptively’ deeply resonates with me. Their understanding that the Bible provides not a formula for redeeming church conflict, but a biblical, relational roadmap, equally resonates. I’m encouraged and equipped, as I believe you will be, by their practical, scriptural wisdom.”
Megan Evans Hill, pastor’s wife, pastor’s daughter, writer, speaker, author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches – “Experienced conciliators Tara Barthel and David Edling offer a warm, biblical, and careful roadmap for navigating church crises. Through exposition and application, they bring the truth of God’s Word to direct suffering churches toward healing. Through practical case studies, they illuminate the way with specific examples. Perhaps surprisingly for a book about sin and its fruits, these pages are also filled with hope … whether your church is currently in the midst of strife or proactively seeking to avoid it in future, this book is an excellent guide.”
Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal – “Barthel and Edling tackle a subject most would prefer to ignore yet all have to face … Multiple case studies provide nice balance to the theology and advice. The book is theologically rich, seasoned with wisdom that comes from years in the trenches of church conflict. The hope here is powerful: even our conflicts become opportunities for the gospel’s redemptive work.”
Carolyn McCulley, author of Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred – “Tara Barthel and David Edling have written a wise and tender reminder that our Lord’s redemptive purposes extend even to today, even to the most fractious church bodies. Whether you are an ordained leader or a new church member, Redeeming Church Conflicts is a must read. It will give you hope that whatever conflicts you are currently in, or will encounter in the future, can be resolved in a holy and purposeful manner, to the praise of God’s glory.”
Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker and founder of Relational Wisdom 360 – “My friends Dave and Tara have served dozens of churches that were teetering on the brink of destruction … having gained a passport into the hearts of individuals and opposing factions, Tara and Dave became channels of God’s reconciling grace. I pray that you will study this book carefully and apply its principles in your church.”
Thanks and blessings!
Live Blog Gospel Coalition 2017: John Piper on Galatians 1
Live Blog The Gospel Coalition 2017 – Kevin DeYoung: On John Calvin
When I spoke at a recent event, an elderly woman approached me. (I found out later than she was 90 years old!)
Honestly? Not knowing her, but making an assumption based on most of the other times that elderly women have approached me when I’m speaking at their events, I assumed that either she had a question or prayer need (always an honor to serve in this way), or, she was going to express displeasure at my rate of speech. (I’m trying to say that nicely, but based on what has happened to me at previous events, I was really bracing to be yelled at.)
Sadly, getting yelled at happens a little more often that one would expect at, you know, peacemaking women’s retreats. But it’s easy to take on part of the blame myself because when I talk too quickly, I fail to serve these dear women well. I have definitely improved and slowed down my rate of speech, but it can still be a problem.
ANYWAY … this precious, lovely, pillar-of-the-church woman did not yell at me at all. Instead she said something to the effect of:
“I’ve been coming to these women’s conferences for 56 years. And usually they are SO boring! But today, I can tell that the women are REALLY listening to you. Now, I personally can only understand ONE OUT OF EVERY TEN WORDS YOU SAY.”
(I was SOOOO embarrassed! I tried to jump in to try to apologize.)
“No, no,” she said, “That’s OK, Tara. That’s OK. I’m just so glad that you are holding their attention and even though I can’t understand most of what you are saying I CAN PRAY. And so I do. I pray for you and for the ladies. I’m praying for you, Tara.’
And that was that.
Her love for the Lord and his people was so great that she joyfully bore with even my many weaknesses.
What grace in actions! Grace with skin on.
I want to be like her when I grow up.
I want to be like her today
May God be glorified and may our words be edifying and aptly spoken!
Sending my love and care,
(An oldie but a goodie from way back when Sophie was all of six years old and little E was just a tiny babe. I hope you enjoy!)
I’ve been traveling a lot lately and it has taken a toll on our family. We all pray and work hard to serve well … but it can be hard (and lonely) to be apart. But tonight, any tears of sadness became tears of joy when Sophie created an hysterically fun, loving, and and sweet evening for us all. This is what happened …
When I was upstairs nursing Ella, Sophie decided to create and entire CONCERT for our listening pleasure. She found all sorts of tubs and containers (so that her pounding would have different tonalities). She created a sign for the concert hall (“no drenking, no food, no radeyo, make shur your sel fones are off”) and a table of contents for the performance:
Then I got to be the “spotlight girl” (with a flashlight) and we were blessed with a stellar performance that began with this song:
“Oh Mama! Oh Mama!
You dear sweet dear.
Oh Mama! Oh Mama!
You dear sweet dear.
You were not here …
But now you are here.
Oh Mama! Oh Mama!
You dear sweet dear.”
It’s much better with the singing, as I’m sure you might imagine. But oh! What a grace it was to my tempted-to-be-too-hard-on-myself little ol’ Momma heart.
(She then went on to the songs “lolly pop lolly pop oh lolly lolly pop / Lili pup Lili pup oh Lili Lili pup” and “The Little Bear Who Went Into the Woods”, which had a very intense middle section with the cymbals taking the lead “because the hunters were talking intensely about whether they should TAKE the little baby bear or LEAVE the little baby bear”. We had an intermission (listed as a “6 minit brake”) and closed out the concert with the world-famous “little duk in its tuc” and “10 litl monkes on the bed”.)
(The crowd went wild.)
And then, just for fun, we all crowded on our bed for a late-night game of “I Spy.”
Mmmmmmmmmmm … what a great night.
Hope yours was blessed too! And that your weekend is restful and enjoyable—
Just in case your curious, it takes 60 years to grow a tree and less than one afternoon for the city to come and take it completely away. My heart is broken and I miss our beautiful tree already.
We don’t know if we’ll actually GO to our Reformation Party next week because the seasonal flus and H1N1 are ravaging Billings (including our church). But if we do, we’re taking two mermaids with us …