This past Sunday should have been an encouraging day, as I gathered with Christians for worship and fellowship. But then I came home and saw on television the news coming out of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Another mass-shooting, this time at a First Baptist Church where at least 26 people were killed and many others wounded.
Something Is Wrong!
Like most people, I am sad and shocked as well as a bit angry. I neither know what motivates a person to indiscriminately commit mass-murder, killing innocent people without any regard for their lives, nor do I understand why a person would do such a wicked thing. I also find it very alarming that such violence has become a regular occurrence in this American society we live among. Surely our society is sick, suffering from a soul-disease, of which the symptoms include our addiction to violence in everything from entertainment to all sides of politics as well as these mass-killings. But as a pastor and minister, I am concerned for churches.
Concerned for churches… I’m sure you are too. However, we may not share the same concerns. Yesterday, I saw many posts and comments on Facebook about what church leaders are planning to make church gatherings more safe and secure. Some commenters, presumably Christians, talked about carrying their firearms or hiring trained security officers. How American! And sadly perhaps, how unChristian!
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for taking reasonable measures for ensuring safety and security. But if that is our first response, our gut response, or our only response to the threat of potential danger, then we have lost the faith that Jesus calls us to have.
An Unfamiliar Church
In the early part of Acts, the apostles Peter and John are arrested and told to quit preaching Jesus. As followers of Jesus, who was crucified right there in Jerusalem, booth the apostles and the church understood where this could lead. So the church responded by forming a safety committee to consider ideas about how they might avoid such dangers.
According to Acts 4:23-31, we are told that the church began praying. And what they prayed for just might astonish us because they didn’t pray that God would protect them or keep them safe in any manner. Instead, praying to the “Sovereign Lord,” they petitioned him saying, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Could we pray such a prayer? Would we pray such a prayer?
I’m sure churches are praying but is prayer the first response or is it just an appendix added on to the committee meetings about safety and so on.
I often hear Christians lament the growing trend of secularism in America that has also resulted in the marginalization of Christianity. But whose fault is that if we are more worried about safety than praying for God to enable the church to speak his word more boldly? Whose fault is it if we are more worried about how to stop a potential threat than we are about asking God to stretch out his healing hand and perform signs and wonders through the name of Jesus.
Faith and The Threat of Danger
As suggested earlier, I am not opposed to taking reasonable measures of safety and security. However, our response to the threat of danger must be one of faith and therefore an expression that is both coherent and in continuity with our ancestors in the faith — some of whom expressed their faith in Jesus through martyrdom.
We know that throughout history, followers of Jesus have suffered persecution as Jesus promised. So we should not be surprised that evil people will target Christians with violence and other kinds of wickedness. The question that matters is how we respond and part of that response is the prayer for boldness that the Christians in Jerusalem prayed. For should we be called by Jesus to suffer for his sake, we will never have the faithful courage to suffer as a martyr unless we have the faithful conviction of a martyr.
May the Lord give us eyes to see and ears to hear his word! And may the Lord strengthen his church, filling us all with the Holy Spirit, that we may live according to our faith with great boldness!