As I was driving today I had the radio on scan. It filtered through the stations skipping to the next station automatically. Station after station came and went. I finally stopped it on a talk show.
I listened for a time as the host was telling anyone who would listen including me that our country is moving full steam ahead in the wrong direction. He predicted the worst and called Christians to rise up and reclaim our nation.
This was not the first time I have heard such fear mongering. Not too long ago someone warned me that our government would soon “come after churches that don't toe the party line.” Another told me that our government was out to destroy the Christian faith. I think this sounds great.
The church is at her finest when she is oppressed and persecuted. Conversely, it is when the government tries to control the church that the church is at her worst. When the church becomes a tool for the government this is when the message of the gospel is compromised.
The church flourished in the Roman Empire when it was considered a rogue cult. Its members were called atheists because they did not believe Caesar was a god. They were burned, maimed, raped, fed to wild animals, and crucified.
It was when Constantine legalized and institutionalized Christianity, that the church began to wane. Over time, Rome became a “Christian nation." Eventually the cross of Christ became the symbol used on the banners and weaponry of the Crusaders.
The cross, the ultimate symbol of violence for the Roman Empire, had now become the symbol of violence for the Crusades. Those who fought heard the battle cry of Pope Urban II, a leader of the Holy Roman Empire, who said, “Deus Vult!” ("God wills It"). With God on their side, the state and the church embarked on a holy war.
The apartheid regime in South Africa used to give Bibles to their military personnel and tell them, “This is your greatest weapon.” Eugene DeKock, the captain of the death squads for the apartheid regime, recalls having “Bible studies” before he and his men would raid villages killing unarmed men, women, and children.
One part of church history that is often ignored is that it is often the state-sponsored religion that kills the church, not a fascist government. Our current post-Christian world has little to do with Christians being oppressed, and more to do with twisting the message of Jesus into an idea that itself is oppressive. The church, Christianity, and Jesus himself are made ugly by the imperial dreams of the nation’s leaders.
In contrast, when religious intolerance, fascism, and the removal of rights are the reality for a nation, Christianity grows. Throughout church history, it is in the darkest places that the light shines brightest.
In 1950 China became closed to missionaries and Christianity. It is estimated that there were a million Christians living in China at that time. Today estimates say there are 100 million Christians in China. On the continent of Africa — a place ravaged by war, famine, and disease — the church is flourishing.
I recently met a fellow from Afghanistan who was a Christian. He told me that he had to “be secret” in his country just to stay alive, but that the Church was growing. I asked him how I could pray for him. He said, “Pray that I would have courage to share my faith, because my country needs the love of Jesus.”
In those countries, no one is on the radio or social networking sites demanding their rights, or attacking the government for making Christianity illegal. This is because they understand the Kingdom of Heaven is incompatible with the empires of this world.
If we disagree politically, fine, but we need not fear anything. Our king is alive and well. And, should all this does happen … stand back, for the church in America just might be at her best.
Michael Hidalgo is the Lead Pastor of Denver Community Church, and lives with his wife and children in downtown Denver, Colo. He blogs regularly at A View From a Point. Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelhidalgo.
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