“And Other Things the Global Church Knows that We Don’t”
This book came to me by recommendation, much as books like The Insanity of God and God is Red, due to my passion for world missions, specifically in what are sometimes called “closed” or “limited access” countries. It’s a book that describes how the loss of religious freedom actually has a purifying effect on the hearts of true believers, and it’s a healthy read for every Western believer.
In The Privilege of Persecution, authors Dr. Carl Moeller and David Hegg explore and develop this oft-ignored reality of the Christian life: the fact that you have the freedom to worship, a church that’s massive in both structure and membership, a dozen bibles in as many translations, and as many Bible apps and books as your little heart desires does NOT mean that you are a stronger Christian than a believer in, say, a Muslim-majority nation who must secret his faith over scraps of handwritten Scripture by candlelight at the risk of his own life. In fact, the authors explain, very often religious freedom blunts a believer’s sharpness for Christ and the constant inundation of Truth numbs him to its life-transforming power. When stripped of all the blessings of religious freedom, or worse, when mistreated and abused for his faith, a person’s spiritual depth and commitment is finally and honestly revealed: and were such revelations brought to bear in American society today, most of would be shocked at our own shallowness.
While the authors could at times be knocked for their sweeping generalizations of cultures around the world, their premises are incontestable: oppressed believers outside the West often display a faith far stronger than the average believer worshipping in freedom, because their faith in Jesus Christ was not a one-time, “urgent prayer request” deal, but rather is something they continue to exercise every moment of every day. Perhaps my favorite illustration from the book makes this reality clear: “The persecuted live in an abrasive environment. They are never allowed to get too comfortable. Their weapons of worship and prayer remain sharp through constant use and a supportive community, where iron sharpens iron. And, since they’re constantly being rubbed by the steel wool of their culture, the rust doesn’t ever have time to accumulate.” (Kindle Loc. 96) Beautiful and true, and something to which every one of us rusty and dull believers should aspire. The authors continue: “If every time a pastor or teacher shares the Word of God he runs the risk of arrest, or attack, or the threat of harm to his family and loved ones, then teaching God’s Word becomes a real, palpable faith decision as well. And each time we choose to obey God’s call on our lives, we get a little bit sharper, a little less rusty.” (100)
Throughout the meat of the book, the authors delve into six specific areas where the Western Church could learn from the Persecuted Church. These areas are: God and His Word; Worship and the Church; Prayer and Dependence; Community, Culture, and Evangelism; Leadership, Authority, and Power; and Generosity and Stewardship. As a man who’s served faithfully in foreign cultures for many years, I can attest to most of these, though it should be noted explicitly that every area and situation differs.
In speaking of those to whom he’s sent, the author writes:
“They were poor, and needy, and largely under-trained and under-resourced. They greatly needed us, and we felt so good about ourselves when we rode in on our western ideas and resources to rescue them. That’s what I thought until I got on a plane and flew to meet them, in their homes, on their soil, in their churches. It didn’t take long to recognize that they had a deep and humble dependence on Christ that fueled a faith that was extraordinary.” (44)
When I first went overseas, I had a desire to share my growing knowledge of the Word with a people that lacked training. Was this arrogance on my part? Was this evil? Was this an issue of “white power” or Christian colonization or the exportation of my Western ideas? Of course not! It was a response to God’s call on my life! It was the natural outplay of “to whom much has been given, much more will be required!” It was my obedience to Matthew 28:18-20 in general and the God-given burden on my heart in specific. I regret not a moment of my overseas work, though I must agree with the authors in part that as much as I could teach the nationals about the Word, the more they could teach me about faith in practice.
If you’re unable to get into the Third-World home of a persecuted believer to witness his faith firsthand, then I recommend you pick up this book (or The Insanity of God) and let the authors take you there. If reading with an open and teachable heart, you’ll witness your own faith in Christ increase and your dependence on the trappings of your religious freedom decrease. You’ll walk away sharpened and gleaming, and hopefully with a desire to help the other believers in your circles to become the same.