There’s been a lot of talk lately about Christians being persecuted. In our own country, followers of Christ are being sued for standing by their beliefs. In other countries, they are being thrown in prison and killed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way for you to avoid the persecution that has been so common throughout the history of Christianity.
Of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, the church in Sardis is unique. It’s one of the few churches where persecution was not mentioned. In the six short verses devoted to Sardis, there is no mention of believers losing their homes, health or lives because of devotion to Christ. Most of the other churches are enduring trials. They are losing members to tyrannical governments bent on shutting down the church. But not Sardis. They managed to avoid the hardships that have been common for so many followers of Christ. And so can you if you just follow the Sardis example. Here’s how.
1. Look the part.
Jesus told Sardis that they had, “the reputation of being alive” (Revelation 3:1). So focus a lot on your reputation. Build huge buildings that make people think that God is really working at your church. Use social media and mail outs to remind people of how “exciting,” “relevant” and “vibrant” you are because of your upcoming sermon series on sex or the fact that you’ll be having the county’s largest egg hunt. Your church might not really be doing all that great but so what. In a world where appearance is king, reputation always trumps reality. Always.
2. Know who to please.
Jesus told the Sardis church that their works were not complete in the sight of God (3:2). If it’s persecution that you want to avoid, you should do the same. Make sure that your works are complete in the sight of man. Bow to the same idols that everyone else in your culture bows to. In your sermons, Bible studies and doctrinal statements, say essentially the same thing that your local public school would say but sprinkle in a few Christian buzz words here and there. Just don’t go overboard. You wouldn’t want to be seen as salt in a decaying world or light in the darkness. That might offend people. And if you want to avoid persecution, you’ll do everything you can to avoid offending people. Even if it kills them. But hey, as long as it doesn’t kill you, right?
3. Stay the course.
Sure you’ve made mistakes. We all have. But keep at it. You never see politicians apologizing and changing for some action they did and look at how well it works out for them. Do the same thing. Repentance is messy. When people see you repent, they remember that you aren’t as good as you would like them to think that you are. Also, repentance tends to be contagious. If one person genuinely repents, others might do the same. And then the whole church changes into something that resembles, well, an actual church. Remember, you’re trying not to get persecuted here so you don’t want to look anything like a church. That means just say no when it comes to repentance.
Follow these three simple steps and you’re sure to navigate your way through a culture that is growing increasingly hostile to the faith that you claim to hold so dear. But, in full disclosure, you will have something worse on your hands. The Author of that faith you claim to hold so dear will be opposed to you.
“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Revelation 3:3 (ESV)
Jesus is never opposed to his church (Romans 8:1). So why would he say that he will be opposed to the unrepentant members of the church in Sardis? Because it is possible to look the part and not actually be a part of the body of Christ. Those who truly belong to him will obey him. Even if it means persecution. And they will remember that the temporary opposition of men and governments is worth it all compared to eternal communion with Christ.
“Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:4-6 (ESV)
Allahu Akbar is not the worst thing that a Christian can hear just before enduring some form of persecution.
The worst thing that a professing Christian could hear is that he is no different than anyone else.