When the Persecuted Become Persecutors

martin luther

Since that legendary day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door’s of the Wittenberg church building, the last 500 years have been filled with movements amongst God’s people that have brought change, reformation and transformation amidst churches, cities and nations never to be forgotten. It’s not that great stirrings never happened prior to the great Protestant Reformation. It’s just that, for the better part of half a millennium, following the breaking away from the state-institutionalized church of Rome, God’s people have been perpetually prompted towards reformation and transformation.

The unfortunate thing is that, when such movements of reformation have stirred over the past 500 years, at times, there has been an extreme amount of persecution against such groups. And much of it has been offered by religious leaders within the ranks of the church. Perhaps that is part of the nature concerning persecution – the establishment of the day will always persecute. Such was the reality as Jesus walked the dusty roads of Judea, Samaria and Galilee.

We have all probably heard of the stories of what happened to Luther following his 95 theses (at least through the movie). In the end, he was not murdered. However, suffice it to say, Rome and the local law would have looked the other way had his head turned up on a silver platter.

And how many other movements can we name that have endured some sense of persecution along the way? What about the Anabaptists who were quite adamant that the Scripture taught what theologians call credobaptism, or believer’s baptism. Some Anabaptists were killed by both Roman Catholics and Protestants, since the status quo of the day was paedobaptism, or baptism of infants.

I’m aware of not a few stories of ridicule and exclusion of those within Pentecostal and charismatic circles. Over the first 70-80 years of the 20th century, these folk were ostracized for the most part. They were the whackos, the theologically untrained, and perhaps stuck with graver labels.

Or think of what happened when people like Copernicus and Galileo who, in the 16th century, challenged the prevailing geocentric view of the day, which said the Earth was at the center of the universe. The church blushed at the idea of a heliocentric universe with the sun at its center. For leaders of the day, this “new” view challenged what seemed to be the clear teaching of Scripture and the church. And so persecution was heaped, I mean heaped, as these new-thinkers were labeled heretics. Today, we could not imagine such a reaction.

You see, this is what I have noticed in recent years: Whereas, at one point in time, a particular group or circle or denomination stood at the edge of a significant move of God, all the while receiving great ridicule and possible persecution for such, at some point down the line that newly formed group easily finds themselves in the role of the persecutors.

Think about it.

What of the Lutherans who were on the proverbial cutting edge some 450 years ago as the Protestant Reformation took its place in world history? What was their overall voice regarding those who couldn’t embrace the full Ausburg Confession, practiced the charismata gifts and offered believer’s baptism?

What about the Methodists who had such a great man of God, John Wesley, as their initiator? A man truly used by the power and grace of God. The Methodists played a significant role in Christian evangelical piety over the latter part of the 1700’s, even into today. Who might they be shaking their heads at these days?

What about the Pentecostal and charismatic movement of the 20th century, which brought about a renewed focus on the empowering work of the Holy Spirit, attested to in all the gifts God has given to his church? What do many of them think of, say, the emerging church?

The list could go on and on. Each group and/or denomination was used significantly at some point in history. Some shorter, some longer.

But now, some have lost a bit of their salt, the light has faded, and their potency zapped.

My point is that, here we are almost two decades into the 21st century. Maybe not a special point in history by any means. Or maybe it is? Phyllis Tickle seemed to think we’ve entered a significant period, since the church tends to every 500 years.

Hence, we’re here as a new generation of Christians perhaps rethinking some points of the faith. Just as the Reformers, just as the Methodists, just as the Anabaptists, just as the Pentecostals, just as the charismatics.

We sense that some things need to change.

Now, of course, it might be easy to write off much of what’s been going on the past decades – Christians valuing the environment, seeing evolutionary biology as having something to offer us, holding to shared mutual leadership between men and women, practices of what we might call the missional (or emerging) church, and so forth.

Perhaps we write them off.

But I am certain Martin Luther and friends had to painstakingly walk through this ostracization. Wesley and comrades were ignored or ridiculed by the Church of England. The Anabaptists had to consider whether persecution and death were worth it. Pentecostals and charismatics know what it means to be regarded as the lowest caste amongst Christians.

Where do we stand?

Were we once the persecuted, all the while standing on the cusp of something special from God? Yet now we stand, about-face, afflicting those involved in something fresh today, mainly because it doesn’t fit within our prescribed paradigm.

I’d ask us to turn our chairs toward one another, listening and learning one from another. They need respect and dignity, just as our fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers.

And my challenge to any new movement, specifically as it re-evaluates its place within God’s storied drama, would be to stay connected to the church historic. We may even find the best thing is that we listen to those who have gone before us.

It’s time to create a bit of space for one another, to listen respectfully. It means we need to create space for new movements and expressions of the faith, all the while calling these folk to stay connected to the church historic. A good place to start may be the Apostle’s Creed.

For those in the midst of re-thinking points of the faith, time will tell if we’ve really come onto something. For those plowing forward with the historic faith, may we find ways to walk with those pioneers of the 21st century.


20 thoughts on “When the Persecuted Become Persecutors

  1. Seems you missed a step, brother – Christians and the faith prior to Constantine’s highjacking were the ones being persecuted. Count me as Anabaptist in my thinking – the support for baptising infants comes from Augustine – at the point of a sword, mind you – and not from Christ. It takes a bit of twisting of His words to come up with a justification of the practice.

    So long as the Church (read as the organization or institution, not the individual believers) insisted on injecting itself into areas where it had no knowledge (science in most specialties), it sets itself up for ridicule, and where it should be speaking up (human rights, governance, ethics, and related fields) it is a muffled voice at best.

    Great post! Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Saturday Shortcuts | Planned Peasanthood

  3. I found you at Rick’s Saturday Shortcuts. And found your article interesting. Yes, even the early church received persecution and so on through the ages, We here in the USA may indeed come to terms with those who want us killed. Radical groups have with a flick of one finger, removed Bibles and prayer out of the schools, and now removing Jesus name from prayers in the Military. They take baby steps then giant steps and Christians are too nice to revolt, and just watch this happen. Real persecution has yet to be seen here in American, but that is not to say that it will not come.

  4. You and I would not get along. I cannot wait for the purifying persecution that is most assuredly coming to this continent. People like you are the very reason the castrated western church is the irrelevant lapdog of the world that it is. I will not be turning my chair toward evolutionists, perverters of God’s created order or rank apostate heretics like Wright.

    His winnowing fork is in His hand and He WILL sweep this garbage out of His church bride before the marriage supper of the Lamb. I am thrilled to be your obliging object lesson. You’re welcome.

    • Tiribulus –

      Thank you for your kind & gracious comment. I’m sorry you don’t think we could share prayer and the Lord’s table together – or even a pint or cup of coffee. We can possibly learn from each other and get along as we listen with intent to become more like Christ. That is truly my desire. I am still learning – a lot.

  5. @Scott: This is a poor historical piece, just ad hoc at best! I hate to see such ignorance with the historical Luther! And placing Pentecostals and the Charismatics in some kind of lowest caste place in Christendom, is today at least, not true! If YOU feel the heat here, it is mostly due to your postmodern positions, and of course the ordination of women. > Simply NOT the historical position of the Church Catholic/catholic!

    And btw, we must remind ourselves of the ill doctrine of Menno Simons, who did not believe in the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and also saw the “flesh” of Christ from a Valentinus gnostic position. And too btw, all of the ‘top-tier’ Reformers had great problems with much of the doctrines of the Anabaptists, or the so-called Radical Reformers! Calvin also did, as too even Zwingli (who btw was actually the first Reformed theologian, proper). And early died in a battle against the Roman Catholic Forest Cantons. He also believed that the civil authorities had the right and responsibility to legislate in so-called religious matters, Law and Gospel… (Rom. 13: 1-7).

    • Robert –

      I’m not really sure how to make out what you are communicating in the first paragraph. Where was I ignorant with Luther? Did I place Pentecostals and charismatics on the lowest caste?

      Do remember that what the church catholic strongly held to has sometimes needed changing. That’s been the journey for thousands of years, and I think it will continue for my children, grandchildren, etc. But maybe everything has been fully and finally settled on all issues. I hope to one day join that group.

      • @Scott: “I suspect Pentecostals and charismatics know what it means to be regarded as but the lowest caste amongst Christians.” (Your statement)

        I am not like our friend “Tiribulus”, I am not judging you personally, though as you know I don’t like modernity & postmodernity theologically! And indeed the Church Catholic is still “sojourning” in and thru this fallen world, that’s why I am myself still Reformed and Reformational! (Ecclesia semper reformada…always reforming!) Surely the Church is a Sinful but somehow Redeemed Body! My lot is with the classic Reformers! (And btw, I see old Tom Wright as more and more as a modern emergent! Sure he’s brilliant, but brilliance does not make faithfulness!) I have a early copy (and have read it) of his “Justification”, etc. (IVP Academic, 2009 hardback with dustjacket)… Let’s just say, I will still go with Luther and Calvin here!) 😉

        *And btw, years back, at first, I was behind Wright generally (his first big three books): The NT And The People of God ; Jesus and the Victory of God ; and, The Resurrection of the Son of God. But later the NPP made me retrack even these books, and I realized.. he was a smooth theologic , but almost a modern gnostic-like to degree! Another new-modernist Anglican sadly! (Again, my call anyway)

      • Robert –

        Yes, but my comment about how Pentecostals and charismatics knowing what it means to be the lowest caste is 1) literary hyperbole and 2) acknowledging what many have felt (especially in the first half of the 20th century) when ridiculed by other evangelicals. I could have said the same thing about Luther-ans, Anabaptists, Native Americans, etc.

  6. Oh Lord help me. My dear old confused friend Father Robert winds up over here too. 😀 Oops, I forget we’re adversaries now LOL!

    There is no journey Scott. There’s THE gospel. The eternal covenant conceived by the Father, achieved by the Son and applied by the Holy Ghost. Been the same one from the foundation of the world. “Journeys” like the one you’re talking about are for hippified, groovadelic modern western pagans who have created a tie dyed Jesus in their own image. I’m sorry too. You seem a rather nice fella, but I’m stuck with these pesky scriptures that keep telling me about this faith once for all delivered to the saints.

    There’s two kinds of people in this world Scott. Those who have been born dead in the first man Adam (not that he actually existed or anything to you) , and those who have been raised by God Himself in the last. They’re not usually that hard to tell apart if those pesky scriptures are to be taken seriously which you most certainly do not.

    Yes, God is merciful. And tender and kind. He really HAS made it this simple for us.

    Repent my friend. I beg of thee. Forsake this,,,, whatever it is you’ve constructed in His place, and serve the one true and living God while there is yet time. He can be found right there in that bible. You only live one more second by His gracious providence. He is not the great sugar daddy in the sky, prancing hand in hand with a gleefully tolerant and open minded church on a mutual “journey” with her through history. He has declared HIS Word. We either believe it or die.

    (you’re welcome again)

    • One wonders what you make of Luther and Lutheranism? I mean, are they outside the fold too.. because their not “neat” Calvinists? And note again, I am more of a “neo-Calvinist” (like Frame and even Poythress), though too my Anglicanism puts me beyond them also!

      Btw Greg mate, first it was challenging CMP, then me to some degree, and now your after “Scott”! Hmm, I guess its just you and the purity of the Westminster Divines, eh? Sad, but “fundamentalist” Calvinism is not the road to heaven either, at least pressed in your version! Again sorry mate, but legalism is always just “LAW”, without Law & Gospel btw. There is a big difference!

      • Father Robert asks: “are they outside the fold too.”
        No sir. There have also been many fine Anglicans. HAHA! I have also made it ABUNDANTLY clear to you that one need not be a Calvinist to be saved. OR to be mightily used of the Lord.
        (don’t try this slight of hand with me you. I can produce the evidence in 2 minutes)
        What they MUST be are worshipers of the God of the bible who display the essential vital signs of the life of the risen Christ. Baptists, Methodist, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, even sane Charismatics (all 4 of em LOL!) can be within the fold of saving grace. As I say. God is THAT merciful.

        So keep your “Tiribulus believes “ONLY HIS people are Christians” lie to yourself. You know better.

        This Scott guy is a flaming God denying liberal. I could list a dozen historically orthodox doctrines and moral views off the top of my head that he would either flatly deny or refuse to affirm and he knows exactly what I’m talkin about. Whatever that is, it is NOT Christianity.

  7. Father Robert says :My lot is with the classic Reformers!
    Ohhhhhhhhhhh no it’s not 😀
    You’re a drifting eclectic with no lot with anybody (except maybe Karl Barth). Just like our pal Scott here, except you haven’t drifted QUITE as far. We’ve been over this man. Barth and reformed orthodoxy are utterly antithetical to one another. I demonstrated that how many times? Only those in sterile institutions surrounded by nice friends in white coats and who have abandoned themselves to anti Christian diialect logic can seriously advance the absurdity of both being of the same God.

    • Well I am NOT going to take this up with you personally on Scott’s blog, we have already done that on mine. I believe others can see clearly where your coming from, and its not “grace & mercy”, either, and certainly not real “Calvinism”! (Whatever that might be btw?)

      Indeed Scott and I have many disagreements, but he was himself a “Calvinist” at one time, and raised a Presbyterian. So I am sure he quite understands that “Letter” itself. And I am NOT going to judge his salvation like you do! Terrible habit btw, that you have here! You have some rough roads ahead I am sure, if you are Christ’s, and I think you are. But God will not leave any of his true people in such legalistic places, before HE drops HIS hammer! But God’s time alone will tell?

      In closing, YOU need to understand that YOUR not the Apostle Paul, nor somehow one of God’s “prophets”! And “Calvinism” certainly did not drop out of the sky! And surely even for a “Calvinist” (as this neo-Calvinist) we can say but what Paul himself wrote: “For we know in part…” (1 Cor. 13: 9)

      *And oh yes, you have demonstrated quite little but great ignorance and legalism! But what else is new with “fundamentalism”, even a Calvinist version!

      • ” (Whatever that might be btw?)”

        And the abiove statement says far more than any rebuttal I could ever give.

        I couldn’t get you to go near scripture with a ten foot pole then and I’m pretty sure nothing has changed. God makes the standards. Not me and once again. The literal whole of historic reformed orthodoxy testifies with me and you know it. No I am not the apostle Paul, but bless God he did leave us his “θεόπνευστος” writings that give us crystal clear standards and instructions. As a guide though the grotesque apostasy as displayed on this blog they really ARE crystal clear.

        Ya gotta take am seriously though for that to make any difference. It’s wunna them there “things”.

      • My point about both “Calvinism” and even “Lutheranism”, is that though both share the name of perhaps their founders, they both are much more about the Holy Scripture, though both have put their mark on their respective places theologically! And one thing is certain to me at least, neither have the corner on the Good News and the Gospel, and most certainly not the fullness of God’s predestinating love and mercy! Though I am somewhat close to both, at least both the men! But again, the purity and fullness are always found in “Christ Jesus” Himself! As Melanchthon put the matter in a classic sentence: “To know Christ is to know His benefits.” And as the great P.T. Forsyth said: “Theologically faith in Christ means that the person of Christ must be interpreted by what that saving action of God in him requires, that Christ’s work is the master key to his person, that his benefits interpret his nature.” (The Person and Place of Jesus Christ.” (London, 1946)

  8. Regardless of the fact that I am entirely unimpressed with Scott’s worldview, it is nonetheless his blog and out of simple respect I will not comment in this thread again unless he for some reason wanted me to.

    For His glory and His alone.
    Greg – Detroit, Michigan USA

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