Standing firm in a Godless age
Persecution Comes: in 1st-century Rome and in now 21st-century Scotland.
"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun". (Eccl.1:9)
In a re-run of history, the events surrounding and impacting upon the early Christians in Rome are replicating themselves in Scotland today.
Although Nero as Emperor (54 – 68 A.D.) was later to change his spots, in his early years he did some good things. Initially he gained a reputation for political generosity, promoting power-sharing with the Senate and ending closed-door political trials.
However as he consolidated his rule and his megalomania grew he – like Hitler nineteen centuries later – became the cruel tyrant; playing the most vicious of roles. He is best remembered for his debaucheries, political murders and extreme persecution of Christians.
During the interim period of his tenure, as Nero’s behaviour metamorphosed and his harassment of Christians began to rise, a prominent Jewish believer felt called to pen a letter to those of his former faith (Judaism) who had come to follow Christ. But why did the writer confine his thoughts and address to the Jewish disciples?
Conform or stand firm
As believers under Nero began to suffer in terms of employment prospects, loss of freedom and threats to property, the choice for Gentile disciples was clear, albeit stark: either stand firm or deny their faith. However for Jewish converts there was an alternative and tempting option.
At that time Judaism (which they had left) was licenced by the state as one of the recognised religions: it was ‘Religio licita’. In contrast Christianity was deemed to be an unlawful sect - 'Religio illicita’. In this context the Jewish believers could easily escape the mounting persecution by denying their new-found-faith and reverting to Judaism.
It was in this context that the writer penned the letter which subsequently became part of the Bible – known as the book of ‘Hebrews’. In his writing the scribe urged the Jewish believers to hold on to their faith in Christ rather than revert to the then politically-acceptable form of religious belief. But what has all this to do with modern-day Scotland? Everything in fact.
Rome then: Scotland today
"...these are the ‘bigots’ and ‘hate-mongers’ of our age who need to be silenced at all costs".
With the national Church of Scotland (in common with the Episcopal Church and numerous others) now virtually a puppet of contemporary and morally-bankrupt values, these churches are the ‘Religio Licita’ of our age. They are conveniently seen to embody the ‘true and acceptable’ face of Christianity: the reasonable, respectable and accommodating exercise of faith and churchianity in an enlightened 21st-century environment. But as for those who adhere to the standards of morality, belief and practice outlined in the pages of the Bible – well these are the ‘bigots’ and ‘hate-mongers’ of our age who need to be silenced at all costs.
It was and is, in this context, that – in the closing months of 2018 – posters and notices started to appear in the public places of so-called ‘One Scotland’. The motifs and language employed pointed in a very clever but unmistakably way to the identity of the sermonising trouble-makers in ‘Scotland’. And it is these enemies of society and the state that should be reported for any perceived ‘hate speech’; in particular “hate” emanating from 'religious bigots'. (With ‘hate speech’ being anything which the man or woman in the street, the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Crown Office/Procurator Fiscal Service deem to be so.)
Accordingly, the choice and temptation facing Bible-believers is the same today as it was for the Jews in Rome – shelter under the state-approved, politically-correct acceptable face of compromised churches or, alternatively, hold fast to an authentic faith in Christ, and – if things continue in the present direction of travel – face serious consequences if and whenever expressing Biblical truth.
"Religion is like a nail; the harder you hit it, the deeper it goes in”.
Government and Police in unholy alliance
The aforementioned posters aim to silence and/or criminalise any who dare to articulate what they believe the Bible truly teaches, and already churches and preachers are self-censoring lest they pulled up on a ‘hate speech’ ticket. So for committed believers in Scotland (but not only Scotland) it is ‘Make Your Mind Up’ time.
However, the Scottish Government on its Nero-like path of growing oppression may have yet to learn a lesson from the committed atheist Emalyan Yaroslavsky. In the Russia of 1929, and while head of ‘The League of Militant Godless’, he came to avow “religion is like a nail; the harder you hit it, the deeper it goes in”.
Indeed one of the fastest growing Christian communities in the world is in China where an oppressive regime permits a state-subordinated and compromised ‘Three Self’ church, but drives committed believers underground. And it’s ‘underground’ that the faithful and true church is mushrooming; perhaps bearing out the argument of the early theologian Tertullian that persecution actually strengthens the church.
"The call to each and every committed Christian believer is to 'stand'"
A recent surge of police action against these ‘unsanctioned’ churches in China has raised concerns the government there is getting even tougher on this form of Christian activity. (The head of one organisation which supporters persecuted Christians around the world has observed that the afore-mentioned poster campaign has produced a heightened awareness of the clear and present danger in 21st-century Scotland.)
Perhaps this news has prompted Jeremy Hunt, the UK Foreign Secretary, to recently order a review of the plight of persecuted Christians around the world? Perhaps the review will expose the UK government’s failure to offer asylum to Asia Bibi? Perhaps the review might even turn its attention to what is happening in 'One Scotland' today'?
Certainly the call to each and every committed Christian believer is to “stand” (Eph 6:13). Pray that we will.
Endnote: The Barnabas Fund has supported Christians who face prejudice and discrimination globally since 1993, but regarding the above-mentioned ‘poster issue’ has stated that it has “never before felt it necessary to make a formal complaint of this kind in the UK. This form of state-sponsored prejudice is something that Barnabas is more used to encountering in countries where Christians are marginalised and persecuted minorities.”