Recently a smartphone app developed for the Georges River Region’s John 3:16 Mission next year was rejected by both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. It simply helps people share the gospel using John 3:16.
We appealed to both stores. Google eventually allowed the app, but Apple wouldn’t, rejecting us three times, with three different reasons. The last, ironically, was that it had “no lasting value” (as opposed to apps like the Candy Crush game). As I recounted the story a few times, several people mentioned the "P" word: persecution.
What counts as "persecution"?
I've been hearing that more and more in recent years in relation to being a Christian in Australia, or in Sydney at least. Think, for example, the same-sex marriage debate, the secularist opposition to Special Religious Education, religious freedom and even issues amid the abortion debate. We are now being persecuted.
Really? We are far from that, I would say. But behind the sense of persecution, I think, is a touch of panic – that we won't be able to preach Jesus or live out our faith freely. That we will be marginalised and mocked, even more than we are now.
Further, there seem to be louder voices exhorting us to believe and preach what is more palatable – to conform to the norm – so that people will listen to the gospel. If we'd only change our position, they say, then people would come back or start coming to church and turning to Christ. Pewsitters instead of persecutors.
Keep preaching Jesus. God is sovereign.
I, however, want to encourage us all to stay the course, not panic and keep preaching Jesus. Why? Because God is sovereign! And because God is sovereign, the gospel cannot be thwarted, no matter what happens.
On the political and social front, even if we “lose” on any or all the issues, and the cynical me says eventually we will, God is still in control. The gospel will not be thwarted if we don't have some of the things we have had in the past. God will find another way for people to hear the message of Jesus.
God is still in control
Now, I'm not saying we don't fight. We should. We are. We must, graciously and lovingly, but firmly and relentlessly. But whatever the outcome, God is in control. We should stand up for religious freedom but it's not as though the lack of it can contain the work of the Holy Spirit. I imagine him giggling at the thought.
But the power of the gospel is not the power of religious freedom, nor the power of conforming views on marriage, nor the power of social acceptability. The power of the gospel is in God, through his Son, by his Spirit. No human hindrance can stand against God.
There will always be a way. Some ways might be harder or more inconvenient. Some may be riskier and some simply more creative.
There will always be a way
There may even come a time when to live and preach Christ means you are breaking the law and you get locked up. Then we can use the P-word. But even if that happens, the gospel still will not be thwarted. So keep preaching Christ, with or without persecution, with or without panic. God's got it.
We still fight for the "right" but if it does not come to pass, while there are consequences, the gospel will still ring out. There is urgency at particular moments (like when we as Christian voters are presented with the Abortion Bill aka Reproductive Health Bill), but never panic for the witness of the gospel.
Never panic for the witness of the gospel
What would you do if put in prison to preach Jesus? Would you still do it? Dumb question. Hypothetical. No one knows until the moment it happens. Despite what you would or wouldn't do, it still does not thwart the work of the gospel.
Sometimes, I think we fight for the right to preach Jesus more than we actually do it. The days are short, so let's use our religious freedom to preach Jesus. No matter how bad, no matter the consequences, no matter the hardship, we preach Christ… and live his way.
The Rt Rev Peter Lin is Bishop of the Georges River Region.