From Charlie Glenn
1 Peter 4.12, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."
Does this Scripture passage say anything relevant to our situation? After all, we who attend Church of the Cross live in a secure and prosperous section of a country in which religious persecution – at least of Christians – seems inconceivable, and most of us have been blessed with a good education and prospects in life.
I want to suggest, however, that we need to take this and similar warnings, including some by Jesus himself, very much to heart.
First, because of the solidarity we should feel with millions of fellow-Christians around the world who are facing persecution and sometimes death because of the faith we share. The great churches of the Near East, churches where the apostles preached and that continued their witness for twenty centuries, are being driven out of existence.
Atrocities occur regularly in Africa and in South Asia, crosses are pulled down in China. We forget too easily what it means to be part of the Body of Christ. We need to pray for witnessing Christians and work to relieve their suffering.
But we should also not be complacent about our own situation. Much of my work lately has to do with religious freedom in North America and Europe, where a militant secularism is determined to drive out of the public square religion in any form that challenges the norms of contemporary culture. This is not just about Christian political engagement; more and more voluntary associations and institutions like Christian schools and social agencies come under attack if they remain faithful to their mission.
In effect, we are being told: keep your opinions to yourselves and don’t seek to act upon them. And, indeed, faithful discipleship will always set Christians at odds with many aspects of whatever culture they live in. Thus the warning in today’s Epistle.
There are two ways in which such conflict can be avoided. One, the sectarian temptation, is to remain in the sheltered space of private lives and gatherings among the faithful behind closed doors. The other, the temptation of the mainstream churches, is to conform ourselves to the prevailing values of our society.
But if we affirm the Kingship of Christ over every inch of Creation, then we are called to be a confessing Church in and for the world, whether in politics, or scientific work, or artistic expression, or commerce, or social engagement, or the human care of human beings and of the environment, or any other sphere to which God has called us.
We should do so on the basis of an understanding of God’s intentions for Creation that sets us at odds with much around us, providing the basis for solidarity with unbelievers engaged in the same efforts, a solidarity that is open in a loving way about our distinctive convictions.
Sometimes, though, these convictions will force us into unpopular positions with consequences for our careers, our friendships, our social reputation, even our legal standing. It is then that these verses and many similar passages in Scripture will come alive for us, as an encouragement to stand firm in the faith to which we have been graciously called and to rejoice at the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of our Lord.