When Muslims in Nigeria or Sudan attack and kill Christians, burning down their churches, we are horrified. When China oppresses Christians through their legal fiction of “the law to protect religion,” we are appalled by the evil, subtle as it is.
But the most evil and most overlooked of all is when established Christian denominations oppose the advancement of the Kingdom of God by persecuting those who follow Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I believe on the Day of Judgment Muslim zealots will be treated with more grace and forgiveness than those who claimed to know the Lord Jesus but who actively persecuted Christians who taught about and relied on the Person of the Holy Spirit to accomplish their mission.
I wish this form of persecuting Christians were a rare event. Tragically, it is wide-spread and growing. This is true most notably in those denominations that once mobilized the world-wide advancement of the Gospel—the great models of the Christian faith.
This persecution originates from two polar-opposite sources: first, from the strictly Reformed who consider themselves “truly” so. And, secondly, from the liberal progressives who reject Reformed doctrine entirely.
This week my focus is on the “truly” Reformed. I cite here the example of the Associate Reformed Church (ARP). It is a great denomination with its roots going back to the Scottish Covenanters. In 1643, after the signing of the Westminster Confession, the Covenanters left the Church of Scotland for the New World in order to avoid signing an oath to the monarch. Their allegiance was to Jesus Christ alone! And they embodied a vital Reformed faith.
My own roots! My grandmother was ARP, and my own daughter Elizabeth was nurtured in her faith at their wonderful school, Erskine College, in South Carolina. This small denomination has had great impact for global missions larger than their numbers. Indeed, one of their missionaries today has borne amazing witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Turkey. In that Muslim nation, this missionary has shared the Gospel with Muslims the way St. Paul witnessed to those in spiritual bondage in his day. “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:4 NIV)
Through this missionary’s testimony and teaching, Muslims have experienced all forms of Jesus’ healing love and power by the Holy Spirit, who has set them free from demons and drawn them into saving relationship with the Lord Jesus. Intellectual arguments based on the Bible as the Word of God, expounded using excellent Reformed theological doctrines, do not win many people in Muslim lands to Christ. This faithful missionary invited the Holy Spirit to pour out the Father’s love in Jesus’ name upon Muslims so that they would actively experience the presence and power of Jesus. The result? Many trusted Him as Savior and Lord!
This missionary’s work was extraordinarily fruitful in terms of leading Muslims to saving knowledge and experience of Christ as well as making them His disciples.
Was the good news of Muslim converts to Christ received with joy by the denomination’s Mission Board back home? No! This work of the Holy Spirit does not fit with their dispensational worldview which dictates that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased when God gave us the Bible. Their “truly” Reformed theology disallows the dynamic working of the Holy Spirit today. So, instead of joy, this missionary and his co- worker were met with what could only be called persecution. The Board cut off all support for his missionary work. They recalled him to the USA and gave leadership of the vital growing prayer center that he had poured his life into building to someone with more “acceptable” beliefs.
I know this is true! All true because this missionary came limping back from the mission field to the Community of the Cross for prayer and recovery. He has now been accepted by a denomination that welcomes the gifts of the Holy Spirit: the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. They are growing in numbers and in outreach while the ARP with its glorious Reformed past is becoming a stagnant backwater of Christendom in a Reformed fortress that does not let in any breath of the Holy Spirit for evangelism. Not to those in their own neighborhoods, much less to those in bondage to Islam.
When the church persecutes its own members who are alive in the Holy Spirit, centered in Jesus Christ and grounded in the Bible as their authority, what hope is there for that denomination?
Sadly, other Reformed bodies are no different. I’ll discuss the persecution by the liberal progressives next week.