We are guaranteed that as followers of Jesus we will be persecuted (Jn. 15:20) – ‘a servant is not above his master, if they persecute me, they will persecute you’.
Persecution is the lot of the church but there seems to be an aura around ‘the Persecuted Church’ as if somehow ‘purity’ through suffering has given it creditability but is not persecution something that is happening to the body of Christ all the time? This is what Jesus seems to suggest.
Persecution is not the acid test of whether the Church is the Church; that is simply bad theology. Belief in the God of Jesus Christ and the ethics that derive from that belief are the litmus test of how we live our lives. In other words, ethics is concerned about how we live out our faith as credible witnesses in a hostile world.
The simple question of ‘are you a Christian?’ may lead to a death sentence in those lands that forbid Christianity. Those who bear the sword or gun in those situations aren’t bothered by ethics but simply carry out the sentence on the question of belief. The situation in Europe is different because of the protection of the law.
The law forbids violence, and protects all its citizens equally. For some time it has been a matter of ethics, living the life, rather than belief, talking the talk. I think the Church in Europe is treading warily, knowing who she believes in, and making appropriate public gestures that receive public opprobrium and rebuttal.
The difference is that in those lands where Christianity is forbidden, violence is permitted, whereas in Europe, violence is not permitted. My belief is that the situation in Europe is changing and atheistic aggression is building up against all religious belief.
But to make a distinction of one part of the body of Christ from another on the basis of persecution is simply wrong. As St. Paul says, ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it’ (1 Cor. 12:26).