Tribulation – Today
The 20th century ushered in a new wave of antipathy and persecution for Christians and the 21st century has seen this continue unabated. In this section we will look at the principal sources of tribulation for Christians in the world today.
Communism, or more strictly known as scientific socialism, began with the ideology developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the mid-1800s. It was and is an atheistic ideology which sees religion (and Christianity in particular) as a collection of superstitions which serve only to give illusory comfort to the oppressed working class. The goal of the socialist revolution was (according to Vladimir Lenin) to create a man-made ‘paradise on earth’. This was to be achieved through the propagation of ‘scientific atheism’ and the creation of a classless society. Religious belief, while not prohibited, was to be seen as backward and an obstacle to the socialist goal. Clearly Communism, as it practised in countries such as China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea can never accommodate authentic Christianity and is why Christians in these countries are continually persecuted. The former Soviet Union was also a communist state which relentlessly persecuted Christians who would not compromise their faith. To communists the teaching of Christ to love your enemies is absurd, illogical and counter productive to the socialist goal. Consequently Christians are seen as an impediment to socialist society.
Up until the middle of the 20th century Muslims, for the most part, co-existed with Christian minorities peacefully. Then a puritanical and militant form of Islam arose intent on fulfilling the Islamic goal of a world-wide caliphate. Despite some superficial similarities with Christianity, Islam is profoundly different on almost every level: who God and Jesus is, the authority of the Bible, the way of salvation and in ethics.
The goal of Islam is to bring in Sharia law throughout the world. Islam (as revealed in the Koran) is seen as the final revelation from God to mankind, given to Muhammad, replacing the preceding revelations given to Moses and Jesus Christ. This is why Muslims who become Christians face antipathy and persecution in Islamic societies – apostates from the ‘true’ faith and therefore worthy of death. It explains why historically Islam has been so resistant the gospel of Christ.
Yet the last few decades, coincident with a resurgence in puritanical Islam, has seen thousands of Muslims come to Christ despite the great personal cost many of them have had to pay. Islam has grown considerably in western countries, particularly in Europe where in some cities Muslims now account for 40% of the population. As these populations have grown so has the desire and push for Sharia law to be implemented. Open Door’s ‘World Watch List‘ reveals that of the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous to follow Jesus, 34 are Islamic.
In recent years, especially in India and Nepal, Christians have been persecuted as Hindu followers sought to ‘purify’ their nation of ‘foreign’ religions – Christianity in particular. While tolerating Christianity, severe penalties and persecution are imposed on those Hindus who want to be Christians and on Christians who evangelise them.
4. Secular Humanism
This has arisen most predominately in western societies and all but replaced the Judaeo-Christian basis of society. According to the secular humanists man is responsible to no one but himself, there is no God who created all things and to whom we are accountable. All cultures and religions (or none), though different, have equal moral value. Tolerance and diversity are key words in secular humanist thought. There is no absolute right or wrong, only what happens to be the consensus opinion of the time. Therefore to criticise another belief (however civil) is considered an affront to social harmony. In the secular mindset to say Jesus is the only and exclusive way is an offence. Therefore, though secular humanism is supposedly neutral to different religions, Christianity, because of its exclusive and uncompromising message, has become the focus of criticism and attack.
Secular humanism is an atheistic ideology rooted in the the theory of evolution as proposed by Charles Darwin. Prior to the publication of ‘The Origin of Species’ in 1859 most naturalists (the biologists of today) saw the ordered complexity of living things as clear evidence of the Creator. But as a consequence of Darwin’s theory of a purely naturalistic mechanism from molecules to man, God became redundant. Darwin’s theory was seized upon by those looking for a reason to throw off the Biblical and Christian basis of society in the name of scientific enlightenment.
Consequently Christians who hold to Biblical creation are regarded as blind, naïve zealots, opposed to science and akin to those who believe in a flat earth. Evolution is regarded as an indisputable fact, since anything less is seen as a concession to creationism and the existence of a Creator. So strong is the belief (and I call it a belief because it is not based on direct observation) in evolution within scientific and educational institutions that Christians who dare to question it or merely point out some weaknesses in the theory are regularly censured and even dismissed from employment.
I am not anti-science. I have a great love and respect for science, having worked in scientific establishments for nearly 40 years and so have a good understanding of how operational science works in the real world. It is science based on prejudice and a naturalistic world-view that is the problem.
As a consequence of Christianity being removed from the public sphere and replaced by cultural and moral relativism, Christians are finding themselves on the wrong side of the law for no other reason than being faithful to Christ in word and deed. Antipathy and persecution of Christians in Western society has begun – but in a different way.
In Britain a Christian baker was charged with discriminating against a gay man because he would not make a cake with a message supporting gay marriage. In Germany many Christian parents who home school their children have been fined. In one case the children were taken from the parents because they were deemed to be indoctrinating their children with unsocial views.
In Australia a church pastor (a Pakistani Christian who fled Pakistan because of death threats) was charged with religious vilification and taken to court after giving an educational seminar about Islam.
There are numerous other examples (some links are listed here) of Christians being discriminated against and taken before courts because they have spoken the truth or acted according to their faith. I expect that discrimination and persecution of Christians in such ways will only increase in the days and years ahead. This does not mean we should passively accept such persecution but we should realise that we are in a spiritual battle and need to stand and speak for what is true and right according to God’s word. The most important thing, I believe, is that we will have an opportunity to testify for the truth and our faith in Christ – whether we win or lose.
5. Spiritual Deception Today
There has always been false prophets and teachers within the church, virtually from its infancy. Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus that ‘after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock’ (Acts 20:29). Peter and Jude likewise warned about false teachers within the church (2 Peter 2:1-3 and Jude 1:4).
How are we to know what is false? The answer is to test all things by God’s word – the Bible. For that reason we need to read it diligently, humbly and prayerfully for ourselves and apply it to our lives. A common feature of false teachers is their claim to a new revelation, which has been hidden except to them. Such teachers then seek the following of others who believe the ‘new’ revelation. The difficulty in recognising such false teaching is because they typically mix truth with error and unless we are discerning will swallow the lie with the truth. By emphasising certain scriptures, while neglecting others, they mislead, often through teaching that compromises with sin or by a different gospel and a different Jesus.
The 19th century saw the emergence of a number of movements, while diverse, shared the belief, termed Restorationism, that Christianity should be restored to its apostolic purity. Organisations such as The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, Christadelphians and Seventh Day Adventists formed at this time (see Wikipedia article ‘Restorationism’). Each claim authority through unique revelations, teachings and authority which will be considered in more detail later.
The Grace Revolution
One deceptive teaching today is spreading under various titles such as “The Grace Revolution”, “God’s One Way Love”, “God’s Inexhaustible Grace” and “Radical Grace”. The basic premise of such teaching is that once we receive God’s love and grace nothing we do or don’t do from then on, can in anyway impair our relationship with Him. They teach that Jesus has done it all for us, ‘It is finished’ and we need do no more than celebrate in the knowledge of His grace. There is no need to go on repenting of or confessing our sins because all sins – past, present and future – have been forgiven. No need to forsake sin and strive to be holy because we are already fully sanctified – God only sees Jesus’ righteousness in us.
Understandably such teaching has great appeal: it relieves us of personal responsibility to live a moral life. But it is a dangerous deception. For while rightly teaching the greatness of God’s grace without which we would all be lost (and I for one can truly say) and that we can in no way earn His grace, it distorts the truth and neglects the many encouragements and commands throughout Scripture: that in response to His grace, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are to ‘deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age’ (Titus 2:11,12).
Now in reality this teaching is not new (as is claimed by those who promote it) as the saying goes “There is nothing new under the sun”, but has been doing the rounds in various forms since the days of the apostles. I remember in the 1980’s a popular bumper sticker with the words ‘Christians aren’t perfect – just forgiven’ which in part is true. But the full truth is we are not ‘just forgiven’ for Jesus said our goal is to be perfect (meaning complete or mature) as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48 and James 1:4). Of course complete perfection will not happen until Christ returns and we are finally freed of this body and the temptation to sin. But in the meantime we are to strive towards that goal as many other scriptures encourage us to do in the power and strength that God gives us in Christ.
While such teachers/pastors say many true and good things and make some valid criticisms of contemporary church culture it is the subtle mixing of truth and error while neglecting or ignoring other truths of God’s that is the problem. It is not enough to teach some truths of God’s word but all of it, impartially. As has been said: “When a half truth is presented as the whole truth, it becomes an untruth.” This is a quote from one pastor:
“The message of the Christian faith is that because Jesus was strong for us we are free to be weak. The Gospel of grace, in other words, frees us to let people see us at our worst so that they can see God at his most gracious best.”
It sounds good, and like the ‘Christians aren’t perfect…’ bumper sticker, is in part true but makes a false implication. Failure is not a virtue! Imagine someone who has been a victim of sexual abuse from a church member reading or hearing ‘The Gospel of grace….. frees us to let people see us at our worst so that they can see God at his most gracious best’. Would they embrace such a ‘gospel’? I think not! Jesus was ‘strong’ for us but how? Yes, He secured our forgiveness and made us right before God through his death on the Cross, but what is omitted is that we also were crucified with Him so our body of sin be rendered powerless. We have died to sin, been freed from sin and made servants of righteousness through Christ’s death and resurrection. In other words we have not only been freed from the penalty of sin but also its power.
So to say ‘we are free to be weak’ is in reality saying we are free to sin – which is simply not true, because in Christ we are not weak. As the apostle John says: No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:9). John is not saying one born of God is no longer able to sin but that he is not free to do so. A child of God becomes a servant of righteousness, not of sin.
Like all false teachers and cults, they quote the Bible to make their particular twist on what is ‘the Gospel’ but fail to teach the ‘whole counsel of God’. It is not sufficient to quote some of the Bible but all that is relevant. We cannot pick and choose which parts of the Bible suits us. And when truth is mixed with error we need discernment, for false teaching if not checked within the church will spread, and like leaven and cancer, corrupt and even destroy her members. What do we need to equip us to discern false teaching? Simply this: know your Bible, listen to the Holy Spirit and as Jesus said “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).
The UFO Deception
Before I came to Christ in the early 70’s I began to ponder the possibility of extraterrestrial life. After all, if life had evolved on this planet, surely there must be other life forms elsewhere in the universe. Reports of UFO sightings captured my interest. I began collecting press reports and searching library catalogues for books on the subject. I became convinced – there was intelligent life elsewhere in this universe for there were a great number of sightings which exhibited intelligent signs and could not be explained in terms of known phenomena. There were accounts of individuals such as George Adamski who claimed to have had direct contact with extraterrestrials. Eric von Daniken, author of Chariots of the Gods, presented seemingly convincing evidence that we had been visited by extra-terrestrial beings in our past. I became convinced that God of the Bible was in fact a super intelligent extraterrestrial. During this time I joined and was an enthusiastic member of a UFO research group in Perth, Western Australia.
But when I came to Christ I gained a totally new perspective on everything and began to wonder how UFO’s fitted into the picture. So I re-examined the evidence with the Bible as my reference point and came to these conclusions:
1. UFOs were a real phenomenon. There was sufficient evidence to show that many are not explainable in terms of natural or man-made objects.
2. However there is no concrete scientific evidence of life elsewhere in this universe. Despite the many attempts and billions of dollars spent to find extraterrestrial life, such as SETI – the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – and the many space probes to Mars and other planets, no evidence has been found or detected. The Bible records God creating life on the Earth and nowhere else.
3. UFOs, while exhibiting signs of intelligence by their movements, appear to execute manoeuvres which defy the natural laws of physics. For example, they have been observed to turn 90 degrees almost instantaneously while moving at apparent speeds in excess of 1000 km/hr.
4. Alleged messages from the “occupants” of UFOs had decidedly religious overtones. Further, much of what was stated was contradictory to the Bible. They often spoke about God and Jesus – but not the God and Jesus we know as revealed in the Bible.
5. Consequently, I concluded, as many other Christians have also, that the UFO phenomenon is real but a spiritual, occult deception by fallen angels which causes many to fall into bondage with a different Jesus and a different gospel.
Most people, as a result of the prevailing scientific opinion that there must be life elsewhere in the universe (based on the theory of evolution), are open to the idea that one day, even now, we will make contact with extraterrestrials. It can be expected that any such supposed contact would have an immense, life-changing impact on those involved. Any words of advice from these supposed extraterrestrials, with presumably greater intelligence and wisdom than man, would be believed and taken very seriously – as the words of God. Therefore the danger of the UFO deception is very real.
For more on this subject I’d recommend the books UFO: End-Time Delusion by David A. Lewis and Robert Shreckhise and Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection by Gary Bates. You can view a trailer of the documentary based on the book here.
Attacks On the Bible
The Bible, more than any other book, has been the subject of controversy and criticism. For centuries (up until the 16th century) the Bible was virtually unattainable by most people, and if it was it was most probably written in Latin, not their native language. Then with the advent of the printing press and the Reformation, the Bible became readily available or accessible. In more recent times (since the 19th century) the Bible has been attacked through criticism: that it is not the inspired words of God and is not accurate scientifically or historically. To demonstrate the inspiration, reliability and truth of the Bible would require much more than I can say here, but I will briefly deal with two common attacks.
1. Scientifically. As referred to earlier, the Darwinian theory of molecules to man has become the modern creation story and the Biblical account relegated to the status of myth. However a straight forward reading of Genesis 1 – 11 cannot be harmonised with the theory of evolution without grave injustice to the Biblical account and the authority of Scripture. When the authority of Bible is abandoned in favour of man’s own wisdom and ideas, when ‘religion’ is dismissed in favour of ‘science’ it is replaced, not by truth, ‘enlightenment’, but by another religion: secular humanism. Once man decides what is truth apart from the Bible, then the relevance of the Bible quickly falls and it becomes merely a book of ideas open to reinterpretation according to human wisdom. Critics argue science has proven the ‘fact’ of evolution. This, in reality, is a statement of faith, not science since the supposed factual events of evolution are no longer observable and nor are they testable. For that reason it is strictly not science but historical conjecture. For more on this see Genesis and Creation.
2. Historically. While there have been many attacks by academics and historians, there has been one recently which proved to be hugely popular and very influential, but in the guise of a thriller novel: Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”. It sold over 40 million copies and made the author a multimillionaire. While written as a work of fiction Dan Brown claims the historical basis of his novel is fact: that the New testament accounts of Jesus Christ are fraudulent, that Jesus was not the Son of God but a mortal prophet, married Mary Magdalene and their descendants became kings of France.
As expected Dan Brown’s theories raised a storm of controversy, but the troubling fact was some Christians’ faith was shaken by his claims while others accepted them as historical fact. When the movie based on the book came out in 2006 a friend and I handed out a small pamphlet drawing attention to the false claims of Dan Brown. On one evening I was outside the theatre when an angry woman stormed across the car park with an embarrassed young daughter in tow incensed that I had rejected Dan Brown’s theories. My friend overheard one woman say to another “I told you Mary was the leader of the Church”. Such is the power of false ideas sown into an undiscerning public. You can read the pamphlet “The Da Vinci Code – Fact or Fiction?” here.
Dan Brown’s latest book ‘Origin’ continues the conspiracy theme, only this time targeting the creation account of Genesis. Again, a mixture of truth and error which will deceive the undiscerning. In 2005, TIME magazine named Dan Brown as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, whose editors credited him with “keeping the publishing industry afloat; renewed interest in Leonardo Da Vinci and early Christian history; spiking tourism to Paris and Rome; a growing membership in secret societies; the ire of Cardinals in Rome; eight books denying the claims of the novel and seven guides to read along with it; a flood of historical thrillers; and a major motion picture franchise.” The interesting and disturbing fact is that Dan Brown’s novels have been so influential in shaping many people’s perception of the church, by exploiting scepticism, suspicion and ignorance of true Christianity. Consequently Christians need to be equipped and have answers to the many false ideas arrayed against the truth.
The greatest danger Christians will face in the days ahead will be spiritual deception. Discrimination and physical persecution are to be expected, are readily identified and the challenge to us will be how to respond. Spiritual deception however will not so readily be identified or expected for much of it will come from within the professing Christian church.
There has been many movements over the last 100 years or so to bring about unity among the numerous Christian churches and denominations. The rationale, of what has become the ecumenical movement, has been that unity will bring about a greater witness of the gospel of Christ to those outside the church. On the face of it this seems a good and honourable goal as Jesus Himself said:
“…that they may be one” (John 17:11)
Yet a number of important questions need to be asked:
- What exactly do we mean by unity and most importantly what is the unity that Jesus wants to see?
- How is unity to be achieved?
- Is unity to be achieved at the cost of compromising the truth?
These questions will be considered in the next section where we will look at what the we can expect in the future.