One passage of Scripture that has fascinated me since childhood is Acts 5:41: “The apostles left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” After spending a night in jail for the crime of preaching the good news about Jesus, Peter and the other apostles were hauled into court, charged never again to speak publicly about these things, and severely beaten with whips. They left the court, amazingly, rejoicing at the privilege of suffering for the name of Jesus.
A general state of persecution of Christians persisted for two centuries after Jesus ascended into heaven. Fifteen of the first 30 popes were martyred or died in exile, and untold numbers of lesser known Christians suffered similar fates.
Then something radical happened. Around AD 313, Christianity became the favored, rather than persecuted religion. Alas, not many centuries after this blessed relief, the organized church became the persecutor instead of the persecuted. Horror of horrors, the church itself extinguished dissenting voices, often by extraordinarily cruel means, as humanity slogged through the Middle Ages.
Reformation and Enlightenment brought a return to sanity as the realization dawned again that the Gospel was a message of hope and deliverance, not of retribution for failure to obey. But then the cycle repeated, as once again the delivered became the powerful, and power again adopted new rounds of bias and persecution.
This unfortunate cycle seems regularly to repeat itself. Today in much of the western world, Christians are just beginning to suffer for their faith. As in the days of the Apostles, courts and legislative bodies are revising religious liberties, trampling long-cherished beliefs, and restricting when and where the name of Jesus can be honored. The emerging realities are presenting increasing complications for the church in general and institutions of higher education which seek to honor Christ and welcome all, in particular.
I ask myself: Am I as eager as the early apostles to rejoice at the privilege of suffering for the name? I pray that I am. Gandhi often famously said: “There are many causes that I am prepared to die for, but no cause that I am prepared to kill for.” I know that I would rather die than kill for my Christian convictions. I do wonder what price God may ask me to pay. Whether in favor or out of favor, our calling is to witness to the forgiveness of sins won by Christ and to love, even when unloved. May God strengthen us to be faithful in this calling.