This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Forgotten Christian Values: Suffering (Part 3)

In the last two posts, from the New Testament and from other early Christian writings, it's clear that they valued suffering for the cause of Christ.  The early Christians saw suffering as a blessing, as something to be desired, as something even to be pursued.  Sharing in Christ's sufferings was part of Paul's explicit life goal.  The early martyrs even saw their gruesome martyrdoms as demonstrations of Christ's victory over evil in the world--they would not give in or give up by acknowledging Caesar as Lord nor would they renounce their identity as Christians even on pain of torture and death.

Do we have that same view of suffering?  Does the twenty first century church view suffering as valuable?  

i'm going to go out on a limb and answer with a resounding, NO!

i'm sure there are examples of modern missionaries even in the CoC who are doing dangerous work in dangerous places for the cause of Christ.  But here i mean to ask this question while looking at the average major city in America having at least a handful of CoCs.  Thus i consider such missionaries to represent a minority.  What about the belief and behavior of the majority?

i believe there are a variety of ways in which we clearly value the avoidance of suffering over and above doing work for the Kingdom of Christ.   

First, many Christians won't go on missionary trips where the destination could be dangerous.  Or if an otherwise safe destination becomes dangerous due to circumstance, people cancel mission trips instead of going.  How many stops along his missionary journeys did Paul cancel on account of "it might not be safe there"?  i can think of two occasions where God providentially intervened to prevent Paul from missioning in a particular place (Acts 16:6, 7).  But this was God's intervening, not Paul's assessing his personal comfort levels about the safety of a given place.  That's a significant difference.

Second, many Christians still stay out of what they consider to be "bad neighborhoods" or "bad" parts of town.  What makes those parts of town bad?  Let's be honest.  Quite typically when someone says "That's a bad part of town," to what characteristics are they typically referring?  High poverty levels. Low property values.  Large minority populous.  And perhaps, high crime rates.  (But i put that at the end on purpose, because that's the order in which i typically find it to be true when i hear that statement made about a neighborhood.)  So in some cases, "That's a bad part of town," is just a socially acceptable way of expressing prejudice and prejudicial fear.  But suppose that everyone honestly referred to crime rate statistics.  Are you more likely to witness a crime or be the victim of a crime in that part of town?  Maybe you are.  

Third, many Christians still stay away from "shady looking characters."  If a person looks unkept or uncleanly or poor or, sadly, belongs to an ethnic minority, many Christians go to great lengths to avoid them.  Drive the other way.  Look the other way.  Pretend you don't hear them.  Pretend you don't see them.  Choose a different driving route altogether. Avoid certain stores and parking lots.  Etc.  i once heard someone say in no uncertain terms that she felt she was in no way obligated to help a man who needed it because of the possibility he might harm her.  Is it true that someone you try to help might harm you?  Sure.

But so what?  Does that mean God doesn't care if you ever help those people, minister to them, or bring the gospel to them?  Would Jesus avoid that neighborhood?  What neighborhood would Jesus call a "bad part of town"? How many people did Jesus refuse to help because of the possibility they might harm Him?  How many "shady looking characters" did Jesus go out of His way to avoid? 

In the gospels, Jesus appears to spend a great deal of His time with those deemed "tax collectors and sinners" by the religious people of His days.  Could these "tax collectors and sinners" be the social equivalent of all those "shady looking characters" who we think live in "the bad part of town"?  Think about it, how many times did Jesus hole-up in an upper middle class gated community hoping to keep out and avoid society's lower rungs?  Perhaps, then, following Jesus, imitating His life, requires us to get way, way out of our comfort zone.  Perhaps, then, the possibility and even the actuality of being harmed by a shady character in a bad part of town while you're trying to do the work of Christ is simply a part of discipleship--a part of suffering for the cause of Christ.  

There's yet still another area i think reveals the difference between our attitudes toward suffering and that of the first century Christians.  i'll save that for the next post.


Tim Archer said...

It's interesting to see how many times words referring to suffering occur in the New Testament. I remember counting over 50 times in the epistles alone. I also think about Paul and Barnabas' words to new Christians in Acts 14: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22)

It's worth observing, however, Paul's actions on two occasions in Acts 9. Both in Damascus and in Jerusalem, when he learned that his life was in danger, he left. There do seem to be times when prudence is in order.

Grace and peace,
Tim Archer

reborn1995 said...


That's interesting what you point out about Paul. Do you think prudence is all it was?

i don't doubt that you're probably right, but i think it might be difficult to say what was particularly different in the instances where Paul fled versus the instances where he seemed to march unabashedly into dangerous situations.

Acts 9 does record the beginning of Paul's career. Could he have changed his MO later on? Grown in courage?


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