Often we hear tell of the persecuted church in countries where either the government or society in general does not tolerate the Christian faith. These occurrences will often include tales of imprisonment, torture and even martyrdom. When a believer is face to face with extreme persecution, there can be no middle ground. Either that person will have to renounce their faith or suffer the consequences. Christ calls us to rejoice when we suffer for His name's sake.
When the underground Church in China begins discipling new believers, they first take the time to prepare these new converts for suffering. (See this article by Todd Nettleton) Given the context of that culture, this only makes sense. But what about other cultural contexts? What do we teach new believers in a country where persecution exists, yet in a milder form? This is a situation that is experienced in Thailand where I serve.
Thailand has freedom of religion and openly accepts Christian missionaries into its borders. People are free to express their faith and to convert from one religion to the next if they so choose. Churches have the right to gather in peaceful assembly. No one is forced to bow to idols they do not revere. Yet below the surface, there is a fear people have when they consider the Christian faith. Questions of acceptance go through their minds. Will their community ostracize them? Will their family reject them? To be Thai is to be Buddhist. If a person converts, are they still Thai?
When a Thai person does convert, how are they to handle this new situation? I have seen Thai converts hide their faith from their family for years. I have also experience Thai Christians who were bold and upfront immediately. In some cases, they were no longer welcomed in the family. In others, whole families have been won to Christ. What is the best approach? Is there only one approach?
Scripture is filled with many references to persecution. (Matthew 5:10-12; John 15:18-21; 1 Peter 4:12-19) The early Church expected to face suffering of the worst forms. They also rejoiced when it occurred, for they knew that Christ's suffering was for them. This should be the Christian's attitude no matter what form of persecution comes our way, whether it be mild, moderate or extreme. If we ask those under severe duress to endure and rejoice, how can we ask anything less of those who suffer lightly? In whatever way we are persecuted, let us rejoice and stand boldly declaring to all that Jesus is Lord!
"So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:15,16 ESV)