The Suffering Church

In my studies through the book of Romans, I have come to Chapter 5:3-5 which reads as follows:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (ESV).

I was reading the exposition of this passage from James Montgomery Boice’s 4 volume commentary on the book of Romans.  He mentions an article by the late Dr. Jonathan Chao, who was a missionary and church expert to his native country of China.  The article tells of an American student who came to Hong Kong to study the Chinese church.  Before he had left the States a friend had asked him, “If God loves the Chinese church so much, why did he allow so much suffering to come upon it?”  The question was based on the fact that since the rise of communism in China, the church had suffered greatly in China.

The student confessed that he had no answer at the time.  But after he had traveled to China and had made extensive and meaningful contacts with a number of Chinese Christians, he discovered an answer that he put like this:  “Mr. Chao, I am going back to America and ask my friend this question:  If God loves the American church so much, why hasn’t he allowed us to suffer like the church in China?”

You see, in what is known as the “Missionary Period” which took place in the relatively peaceful years of the 19th and early 20th century, there were approximately 840,000 Christians in China.  Today, however, after 50 plus years of the most intense persecutions and suffering, the Chinese church, according to Chao’s calculations numbers around 50 million.

After reading that, I turned to my wife and shared that with her and then followed it up by saying, “After reading that, it kind of makes me want to pray for persecution and suffering here in our Church’s.  What do you think of that?”  Her response was not a resounding “Yes, I think that is a wonderful idea.”  I do not think I have ever heard a pastor pray for suffering or persecution on his or her church.  Most times, it’s a prayer asking God to pour out his blessings.  But, did you ever stop and think that some of God’s most tremendous blessings are born out of intense suffering?

Then, I open up my blog roll this morning and read the following from Ed Stetzer’s Blog which I’ll share in part:

Church Birth Control

Seems to be that churches must be on some powerful birth control. They are not reproducing. And I don’t get why.

It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s essential. And we all know how to do it. But somewhere along the way, church reproduction and multiplication became unusual or strange in North America. And I am not happy about it.

The Church is the most powerful institution in the world. Where no electricity and running water exist, you will still find a church that is planting churches. When governments grow corrupt and economies crash, the Church still stands and plants more churches. Nothing in the world and nothing in the last two millennia of history can compare to the Church. It advances best by exponential and explosive multiplying. But not here.

That is so true and all I can say is that I spent a large portion of my prayer time this morning asking God to move on His church here in America, even if it means persecution and suffering.  One of the things I specifically asked Him to do was to send suffering to our churches.  Why would I dare pray something like that, you might ask?  Because eternity hangs in the balance and we all will spend it somewhere.  If it takes a wave of suffering in the American Church for us to get off the fence, then I want that.  If I personally have to suffer so that others can come to know Christ, than I want that.

For too many years, American Churches have had the blessings and we have become too comfortable with that.  My generation knows nothing about suffering for the Gospel and I am convinced that until we start learning about that, our churches are going to continue to loose influence and ground in our culture.  How else will the American Christian and the American Church develop endurance and character and hope?  This passage in Romans says that it will only come by suffering, and our rejoicing in that suffering.  Maybe I’m blind, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of “rejoicing in our suffering” lately.  Seems to me, when suffering or any type of persecution comes along, as a whole, we do our best to get out from under it.

To me, that seems immature on our part and leads me to wonder if the American Church isn’t really much more than a bunch of whinny baby believers with a few pockets of maturity sprinkled here and there.

Disclaimer:  Thom Cole does not speak for any church.  These are just his random thoughts and observations.

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