Monday, September 1, 2008

Persecution’s Paradox

Listen (Presented at Inchelium, WA 8/30/2008)


God's church has always had problems, and you should not be surprised if you discovered problems in the church today. People say unwise things. Individually among us we can find worldliness, bitterness, vendettas, spiritual laziness, selfishness, pride.

In every church: If you look for problems, they are there. God's people have always had problems.

For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them; In transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey. Isaiah 59:12-15

Doesn't this apply to us as a church today?

There are problems in the church. But my point is not to look at the problems in the church today. It's enough to say that you and I have probably noticed that there are problems. We can see that our church today is not yet the pure triumphant church that will be taken home at Christ's return. (Praise God if it was!)

But instead we see worldliness, a lack of seriousness, and a focus on the here and now rather than the future, eternal life. And if the truth be told, most of us see these same things in our own lives. We wish they weren't there, but how many of us let the daily busyness of life take away from our spiritual growth?


What will the church be like—the church that Christ will take to heaven?

In Revelation 14, we see a description of the 144,000. Notice the character of this church:

3 And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. 4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. 5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.

We do not want problems—what do we need instead? Purity. Purity is what characterizes the church when Christ returns.

1 John 3:2: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

The characteristic of God's people who are alive when He returns is that they are like Him. And if we have this hope to see Him when He appears, what should we do?

Verse 3: And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

We can see problems around us in the church. We can see problems in our own lives. What is it that God is calling His church to? Purity. You and I need to be purifying ourselves.

Our Relationship to Impurity

God is coming for a pure, triumphant church. But I am not in a church that is pure: Instead I find problems—even serious problems. What should we do when we find ourselves, not in a pure church, but in a church with problems?

The answer, sadly, that many people give is to part: to part company with those who have the problems—to part with the church that is impure and try and create a new, pure organization.

That is a mistake. That is dangerous.

God has not called us to part company with His people—even though there are problems. If you were thinking of separating, if you have friends who are contemplating starting something new, please know that that idea is wrong, and it is a mistake.

How do we know? What did we just read in Revelation 14? Let's look back at the character of those who are translated.

Verse 3: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.

What is that song?

Revelation 15:3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.

The Song of the Lamb

There is an entire universe of pure, perfect churches. And yet to which of God's churches did the Lamb go? To ours. To our impure church. This fallen planet is where God sent His dear Son. And for what purpose?

Mark 10:45: For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

That is the song of the Lamb. His way was not to part with the problem church. He didn't say—"I can't get a blessing from going to planet Earth." He came. And He came for what purpose? Not to be ministered unto, but to minister. And to what? Give His life.

That is the song of the Lamb. That is what you and I are called to do.

The Song of Moses

And what about the song of Moses? In Exodus 32 we find the story of God's church at Sinai. This was not the story of a pure church. It was surely God's church. But it had terrible problems.

Here in Exodus 32, Moses is up on the Mount Sinai, doing what? Receiving the 10-commandments law. Solidifying Israel's covenant with God. Taking the words of Israel before the Holy God: "All that the Lord has spoken we will do."

And what was happening in the camp? While Moses was up making this covenant with the Lord, the people grew restless, and wanted a heathen festival complete with an idol.

And here we see what Aaron—the leader of God's church—essentially the general conference president—did:

Exodus 32:4: And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!"

What blasphemy! What open rebellion! To say that this idol, this golden calf, is who delivered them out of Israel. Think about it, whatever you could imagine you might hear our current president could have said or done—wouldn't it pale into nothingness in comparison?!

Verse 6: Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

What did God think of all this? Do you suppose He was pleased? You know, He was hurt to his core. The leaders of His church led out in apostasy of the worst kind, and the people went along with it and embraced it.

7 And the LORD said to Moses, "Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.

8 "They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!'"

9 And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people!

10 "Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation."

What if God said this to you today? What if God Himself came to you and said: "I have seen the Adventist church, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore get yourself away from it that My wrath may burn hot against it."?

If God came to you and said: "I will make of you a new, pure church." If God asked you to part with the SDA church—and to start a new church what would you do? God's commanding it, right?!

What can you say?

What did Moses say?

Exodus 32:11: Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: "LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?"

Verse 13: "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'"

And again verses 31-32: Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, "Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written."

The same thing happened in Numbers 14 and again in Numbers 16. Three times, over a period of about twenty years, God offered Moses the position of fathering a new, righteous nation, to replace the wicked one that He would destroy.

But what was really going on with these offers?

Signs of the Times, May 13, 1880 says: God saw that the children of Israel … were continually disposed to rebel … and grieve him by their continual rebellion. He proposed to Moses to consume them, and make of {Moses} a great nation. Here the Lord proved Moses.

What was God doing when He commanded Moses to separate? He was "proving" Him.

He would test the perseverance, faithfulness and love of Moses, for such an erring and ungrateful people. {ibid}

This offer was a test of Moses' perseverance. And today, when God's people lack purity, when there are problems, what do we need? Perseverance.
Perseverance, Faithfulness, and love for such and erring and ungrateful people.

Moses would not consent to have Israel destroyed. He showed by his intercessions with God that he valued the prosperity of God's chosen people more highly than a great name. {ibid}

What is the song of Moses? It is, when God's church has problems—when you feel inclined or even feel called to part with the church: you persevere. You stay. You intercede. You persevere to bring purity back to God's church. You stay not to be ministered unto, but to minister.

That is the song of Moses. That is the song of the Lamb. That is the song of the 144,000.

It is a song of perseverance and love. Perseverance with the problems. This is the song of those who will be part of the pure church that Christ will return for.

Past Pure Churches

What does this have to do with Persecution's Paradox? It is this: There will be a pure triumphant church.

We know that there have been pure churches in the past. Some examples of pure churches in the past are the apostolic/early Christian church; the Waldensees; the early churches of the reformation; the Millerites in the months leading up to 1844.

In every age there have been witnesses for God—men who cherished faith in Christ as the only mediator between God and man, who held the Bible as the only rule of life.

The Waldenses were some of these witnesses. They lived in the rugged alps of Northern Italy. And during the dark ages—during the time when Satan had nearly extinguished light of truth—globally—the Waldenses kept the faith.

They were a pure church.

Pure, simple, and fervent was the piety of these followers of Christ. The principles of truth they valued above houses and lands, friends, kindred, even life itself. These principles they earnestly sought to impress upon the hearts of the young. From earliest childhood the youth were instructed in the Scriptures and taught to regard sacredly the claims of the law of God. Copies of the Bible were rare; therefore its precious words were committed to memory. Many were able to repeat large portions of both the Old and the New Testament . In their purity and simplicity, they resembled the church of apostolic times. They held the Bible as the only supreme, infallible authority. Their pastors, followed the example of their Master, who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." {From GC 66-69}

They were a pure church.

They were also a persecuted church. Again and again were their fertile lands were laid waste, their homes and their simple churches were destroyed. Where there had once been flourishing fields the papal armies left a desert. Where there had once been the simple homes of an innocent and industrious people, nothing remained but rubble.

They were pursued across the mountains, they were hunted down in the valleys. And yet, even their enemies declared them to be a peaceable, quiet, pious people. Their grand offense was that they would not worship God according to the will of the pope. For that crime, every humiliation, insult, and torture that men or devils could invent was heaped upon them. {Ibid. Adapted}

Throughout the years of persecution they remained steadfast. And the times of greatest persecution, were the times of greatest purity for the Waldensian church.

Logical Conclusion

And there's a trend that's easy to see as we look back over history: Persecution of the church leads to purity of the church. Persecuted churches are pure churches.

So, today we see problems, and we long for a pure church. We think back to the times when the church was pure: The early Christian church; the church in the Waldensian valleys; the church in the early days of the reformation; the Millerite church.

What did all these have in common? The pure churches of the past were all persecuted churches.

And looking in Revelation 7, what do we find about the pure church at the end of the world?

Revelation 7:14: These are they which came out of great tribulation.

Now, one could put two and two together and say that: if the past and future pure churches are persecuted churches, therefore to be pure, a church must be persecuted.

This is true. Persecution purifies a church.

The next logical conclusion would be: If I and those around me in the church today, if we are going to be pure, we need persecution. In other words, when persecution comes, it will give us the energy and motivation, or whatever, to get our acts together.

However this second conclusion is dangerous. It is false.


Persecution does not perfect the person. Persecution purifies the church, not the individuals.

Why is that? Isn't the church a collection of people? If persecution makes a pure church, wouldn't persecution logically make pure people?

Only if we don't think about what persecution actually does: The reality is that persecution purifies by purging.

If you have car that has air in the brake system (which by the way can cause enormous problems), what do you do about the air in the brake lines? You purge the system—you bleed the brakes to get the air out. From the dictionary: To purge means To remove whatever is impure or undesirable.

Persecution purges. Persecution purges the church by removing the people who are impure or undesirable. Persecution of the church as a body, does not change the hearts of the individual members. It merely shakes out those who are not already pure. The purpose of persecution is to remove those who are dross and leave those who are true.

Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, p. 81 says: The time is not far distant when the test will come to every soul. The mark of the beast will be urged upon us. Those who have step by step yielded to worldly demands and conformed to worldly customs will not find it a hard matter to yield to the powers that be, rather than subject themselves to derision, insult, threatened imprisonment, and death.

This is talking about the time of persecution. And what is happening during this time?

In this time the gold will be separated from the dross in the church. {ibid}

What is being separated? The people who are dross are being separated from the church—leaving behind those who are gold.

True godliness will be clearly distinguished from the appearance and tinsel of it. Many a star that we have admired for its brilliancy will then go out in darkness.
All who assume the ornaments of the sanctuary, but are not clothed with Christ's righteousness, will appear in the shame of their own nakedness.

Persecution purifies the church by sifting out the dross—by taking away the chaff. If the entire church was dross, then all would be sifted out. Only those who are already pure will remain.

Therefore, persecution does not purify the person, it only purifies the church body.

Saved By Persecution?!

The truth is that we are not saved by persecution—we are saved by Christ. And Christ available to us today!

Satan has made the argument that Christ is not enough—that humans cannot be saved through Him alone. If you and I are relying on some catastrophe to boost us into heaven, what is it that saved us?

Hebrews 11:32: And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

Here we have a listing of those who have suffered persecution.

33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:

A persecuted, but pure church!

36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:

37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;

38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

Think about this! What if Satan brought forth the argument that, "These people relied on the persecution to give them energy to overcome."

"God's people have never been pure in a time of peace. And they cannot. They will not." Wouldn't that be a fair argument?

If we cannot be true in a time of peace, then we have not stood the test.

40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

We must stand the test on every point. We must stand when we are ridiculed. We must stand when we are hungry. We must stand when we are weary. We must stand when we are delayed. We must stand when we are persecuted. And we must stand in times of peace.

God's faithful people throughout the ages, are relying on us to stand the test, so that Christ can return to take us home. If the only time you or I will be serious is when times are hard, then you and I have failed to be true Christians.

First Pure, then Persecuted

There is, in fact, a principle that we see throughout history:

Churches are first persecuted, then pure.
But, as individuals we are pure first, then persecuted.

2 Timothy 3:12: Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

It does not say, all who suffer persecution shall be godly in Christ Jesus. That's backwards! It says those who have become pure and godly, shall be persecuted.

John 15:19: If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

Don't we see it? If we are not pure, then why would the world persecute us? We are first pure, then persecuted.


But don't trials purify us? Ahh. Yes. But when we're speaking of persecution, we're not talking about trials to us as individuals. We're talking about persecution of the church as a body: The persecution of the church as a whole, removes those who individually are not pure.

And persecution of the church as a whole is coming, soon!

As individuals, it is not persecution that purifies us. It is trials that purify us.

James chapter 1 says: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him…. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience … that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

And the good news is that we have trials—today! We don't need to wait for some big persecution of our church to come to get ready. We've got what we need already!

Think about it: Do you have trials?

Could it be that the sun always shines when you need sun?

The car always go when you say go.

Your friends adore you.

You children obey you.

Your parents give you everything you want.

You have money in the bank.

And Satan is too busy to bother you?

We don't need to wait for something like persecution to come along and purify us, because we have trials.

And the reality is: if persecution comes—woe on us if we are not pure already! What will the persecution do to us as individuals when it comes? It will separate out the dross and the chaff.

The Waldensian people were pure first, then persecuted. Quite a few of the people of the Waldensian churches lived pure, godly, holy lives long before the persecutions started. It was the fact that they were pure that brought the persecution. And that persecution separated out the dross and the chaff until the entire church—not just some of the members—was pure!

The people of the early Christian church lived holy lives. If Peter and the disciples had just gone back to their nets—if they had quietly attended the synagogue each Sabbath—if they had taken up their old ways of cursing at their nets and swearing in the market place, they would never have been persecuted as followers of Christ.

It was their purity that led to persecution.

Prepare Now.

There are problems in the church. Parting with our church would be wrong. We need to persevere—and work to bring back purity.

Persecution will purify the church, but it does not purify me. If I cannot be pure in a time of peace, then I have failed. Persecution purifies by purging out people who are not already pure. And for us today, the last thing most of us need is a time of persecution. It would be the end of us.

We need to prepare. Today.

When the persecution comes, it's too late to begin the work of purifying.

Those who have step by step yielded to worldly demands and conformed to worldly customs will not find it a hard matter to yield to the powers that be, rather than subject themselves to derision, insult, threatened imprisonment, and death. In this time the gold will be separated from the dross in the church. {5T 81}

We must prepare today!

Jeremiah 12:5: If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

When the wind starts blowing, and the rain starts falling or the snow begins blowing: it's too late to start building your house.

Are you preparing now? We are told, "Get ready! Get ready! Get ready!" Now.

Now, while we're in a land of peace. Now, while our trials are merely footmen. Prepare now.

God is telling us:

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation…. To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 2 Corinthians 6:2. Hebrews 4:7.

Don't wait for some calamity. Don't save your energy for when you hear that persecution is coming shortly!

Don't even think that when persecution and times of difficulty will come along that they will give you that boost you need to get you ready for Christ's return. Persecution will give you a boost alright—a boost right out of God's church—unless, you are already clinging tightly to Christ—unless you have been already been purifying yourself.

Today, in the land of peace, wherein you trust, don't be weary. Run with the footmen—the little trials. Put away bitterness, vendettas, spiritual laziness, selfishness, Pride. Be serious today.

Join me in taking hold of Christ today. Cultivate faith, trust, and perseverance. Make use of this time of peace to become pure. And when persecution comes, you will stand! You will be part of the church triumphant!

Will You?

Today, let's persevere and be serious. This week let's press earnestly with the work of getting ready. Let's prepare for persecution. We don't want to be purged. Instead, let's "do it": let's purify our hearts. Let's intercede for the problems around us. And learn the song of Moses and the Lamb!

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. . . To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Will you?


Schane Johnson said...

I really appreciate your take on the problems in the church. May we not be among those who are shaken out, but come forth from the 'Persecution' tried and true!

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