Well, it turns out I’ve been holding “Exodus Week” here at Subversive Influence… don’t know how many (if anyone) noticed a theme this week, but each day I’ve posted something about people leaving the church but not leaving their faith. I didn’t plan a theme week, but halfway through I picked up on it, and made a point for Friday and Saturday of keeping the theme running. It wasn’t difficult.
Acts 8:1 says, “And Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” From this point in Acts, the pace picks up dramatically… where they had been hanging around in Jerusalem, now the gospel moves outward into the world, to the “uttermost” parts. Now we have conversion accounts from farther-reaching places, and miraculous healings and demonic encounters. The opposition increases from all sides, but the gospel increases rapidly in this context. A diaspora occurs, but instead of weakening the spirits of the early Christians, the gospel increases and so does their resolve.
While some may wince at the comparison, I see this exodus from the church as a kind of new, or postmodern diaspora, a spreading of salt and light into the world. The modern church had become like in some ways like the very early Jerusalem church in that brief period between Acts 2 and Acts 8, where those who were baptized from all over the known world in Acts 2 had been attracted to Jerusalem for a festival. Outside of Jerusalem at that time, unless you knew someone who had been there, you pretty much had to come to Jerusalem to hear the gospel. What changed it? The martyrdom of Stephen was the obvious major catalyst. Stephen appears before the High Priest, and recounts Jewish/Church history for them… and in a not-so-flattering manner. He dies with words like those of Jesus. In his reaching back into history, his appeal is to maintain the spirit of a seemingly forgotten historic faith.
Though I continue in this comparison, I am cautious at this point to say clearly that I do not to equate the criticisms against the emerging church and the other difficulties we may face with those of the early Christians. Our troubles cleanly pale even in a dim comparative light.
In many ways, the emerging church is in this same tension… trying to break beyond the walls, to remain true to a historic faith that seems now-forgotten. Persecution results, misunderstandings abound, and a diaspora takes place. From John’s gospel we infer that the Christians were eventually put out of the temple formally and completely… but far from crushing them, they took heart, encouraged one another, and persevered. Is it ironic that the same Saul who unleashed such persecution would eventually be on the receiving end of it, and write,
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, â€œI believed, and so I spoke,â€? we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-18, ESV)
And so by any means, the gospel is spread by those who have it to those who do not… but through persecution and diaspora, perhaps we must once again pass.