Bill C-4 “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code” (Conversion Therapy) has passed the Canadian Parliament and has been given royal assent. It is now law. There is grave concern that it is so broad and so vaguely worded that it may make it illegal for pastors, youth pastors, and Christian counselors to help those who wish to resist homosexual temptation from doing so. I have written more about this bill here.
In this brief article, I want to step back and look at the bigger picture. We must realize two facts. The first — that Western Christendom is over — is widely acknowledged. The second, however, is that the post-Christian West is quickly reverting to the paganism that characterized pre-Christian Rome. Many think that once the culture rejects Christianity, nothing will take the place of Christianity as the culturally dominant religious force. We expect neutrality, toleration, and openness for the preaching of the gospel. But this is a naïve refusal to learn the lessons of history. Our culture is going from being pro-Christian to being anti-Christian.
We need to prepare for persecution. I believe we are woefully unprepared, psychologically and theologically, to deal with the freight train that is bearing down on us. And because we are unprepared it is going to be a lot worse than it needs to be.
Let me suggest some issues on which we need to be engaging in serious theological reflection.
I. First, we need to clarify our understanding of the mission of the church. The priorities must be to worship God, to nurture and care for souls, and to evangelize. These are the essentials. During the long centuries of Christendom, it was inevitable that the church would become occupied with many activities. The church has been involved in education, medical work, feeding the poor, political activism, running charities, relief in development overseas, missionary activities of many kinds, and the list goes on. The walls, however, are closing in, and our sphere of public influence is shrinking. We will need to be clear what we can give up and what we cannot. Worship, the care of souls, and evangelism are non-negotiables for the church.
II. Second, we need to start thinking about how to communicate once the usual means of electronic communication are no longer safe. In a surveillance society we are likely to find ourselves no longer able to use social media or even the internet. This will not happen overnight, of course. We can go to different, less popular apps and use private groups when we get banned from large social media and website hosting platforms. But at some future point, we will have to deal with the fact that government agencies will be able to monitor all cell phone and internet communications. When that time comes, we will need to be organized in small groups that meet face to face.
III. Third, a major problem will be knowing who to trust and who not to trust. A major tool of persecuting states and other entities (such as large corporations) will be propaganda designed to divide the church and make groups of Christians hate each other. I am not saying we should not be critical of liberal theology or compromising Christians. But I am saying that we should not be gullible about the interest the persecutors have in dividing Christians and making them persecute one another. This issue requires much wisdom.
In the New Testament we read of some who betrayed Paul when the chips were down, and in the early church some betrayed the faith by betraying believers to the Roman authorities. So none of this is new. In China today the government likes to confuse believers in the illegal house churches by claiming that they are not being persecuted for their faith, but only for breaking the law and they point to the legal church as proof that worshipping God does not require breaking the law. Psychological warfare is a form of persecution, and it can lead us to doubt the rightness of our principles. This is why we need to think about these issues now while there is time and leisure to think clearly.
IV. Fourth, we need to think about how to handle the need (or temptation?) to keep our true beliefs hidden in order to go to university, be members of a profession or a union, hold a position in the public service, etc. To what extent is a Christian required to be vocal and public about his or her faith? Is there value in witnessing in private conversations (which can still entail risk) but not speaking out in public venues? Or is that compromise? How do we form consciences on such issues so that Christian individuals will be able to serve Christ effectively?
V. Fifth, we need to think carefully about how we pass on the faith to the next generation in a world which is hostile to the faith. It will become increasingly dangerous to send our children to public schools. How committed to home schooling are we? What about church-based schools? What about home-schooling cooperatives? Are we prepared as parents to encourage our children to enter lower status and lower paying trades instead of knowledge-based, socially elite jobs that require university education? Personally, even though I have a Ph.D. from Canada’s leading university, I would be very happy if none of my grandchildren go to university.
These are just a few of the issues we need to consider; a much longer list could be constructed. I believe that we need to face the fact that many will fall away from the faith and many will join the persecutors in blaming the church for being too stubborn, too inflexible, too proud, too old-fashioned, etc. None of this is new.
One practical suggestion I would make is for every Christian to read at least one book per year about the persecuted church in other countries and in past eras and for Christian small groups to have conversations (and even debates) about specific issues. We can learn much from those who have gone through what we are about to go through (see the list below for some suggestions). We can only pray that someday Christians of the future will want to read books about how we handled persecution to find inspiration and strength themselves.
Dr. Craig A. Carter is Professor of Theology at Tyndale University College & Seminary in Toronto, Ontario. He also serves part-time as Theologian in Residence at Westney Heights Baptist Church in Ajax, Ontario. He is the author of four books including, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Precritical Exegesis (Baker, 2018).
Dr. Carter’s suggested reading:
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