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Why So Much Persecution?


The following article quotes William Penn, an early Quaker, with regard to persecution. Modern Day Quakers are highly respected around the world; but there was a time when they, like the Jesus Christians, were sorely persecuted for their faith.

A woman once asked us why we Jesus Christians thought we were getting so much persecution. I confided in her that I thought it had something to do with us being Christians. Her expression showed that she was personally offended by such a claim. After all, she too was a professing Christian, and she was not being persecuted.

In her defence, another friend took up the same refrain. He referred to another professing Christian, and said, "Could you imagine others being upset with her the way people are upset with you?" Well, no, I couldn't, I said, but did that mean that popularity should become the touchstone of righteousness?

William Penn, in his essay "No Cross, No Crown", writes about early Quaker practices, such as refusing to remove one's hat in the presence of someone regarded as socially superior. He says that these things were not things that Quakers necessarily had to do, but that it seemed fitting if they were to treat everyone equally. ("We feared to use lawful things, lest we should use them unlawfully.") The outcry that it brought from the supposedly social superiors, including hundreds of arrests and many years of imprisonment, was what convinced them more than anything that what they were doing was right.

For these early Quakers, persecution which seemed out of proportion to the act that brought it on, was clear evidence of the rightness of the act. ("If we had wanted a proof of the truth of our inward belief and judgment, the very practice of them that opposed it would have abundantly confirmed us.")

The Bible warns against being persecuted for doing evil, but it encourages us to rejoice when persecuted for doing good. (1 Peter 4:15-16) We talk about Jesus going around doing good, and then being hated and persecuted for it. But why do people react like that?

Penn went on in that same essay, to say that there is an authority that comes with doing good. Pride on the part of others causes them to be jealous of this spiritual authority. And their lust for such power makes them hate us and want to see us destroyed. ("How specious soever might be the pretences of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram against Moses, it was their emulation of his mighty power in the camp of Israel, that put them upon conspiracies and mutinies. They longed for his authority, and their not having it was his crime.")

Absalom's campaign for the rights of the people against the tyrannies of his father, King David are touched on by Penn. He says that this was a pretence, hiding Absalom's ambition. How typical of what we have encountered from those who say we seek to control and manipulate. They indict themselves and their own desires to control and manipulate.

Penn wrote of the paradox, in that those who cease to seek greatness actually achieve it, and when they do, others become jealous. How often do we slip into measuring our greatness by how many members we have, or by how many books we have been able to distribute? But, in fact, our greatness really lies in the simple truth of the message which we have proclaimed.

Recently, some who have known us almost exclusively through our political activism have turned on us when they learned of our Christian faith. (If they can find nothing better to attack us for, we are attacked for having kept our Christian faith "secret", thereby tricking them into working with us!)

So we have, in fact, achieved a greatness (or authority) which is disproportionate to our size. Our authority is that of Jesus himself, of whom it was said, "He spoke as one who had authority, and not as one of the scribes or Pharisees."

When we go in the name of Jesus (i.e. backed up by what he said, and not just saying "Lord, Lord"), we have this same authority, as he promised we would have. Kings and armies are forced to hide from the dazzling power of that Light which we hold forth.

(See also Peace that Disturbs, Divine Authority, and Solid as a Rock.)

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