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PERSECUTION AGAINST THE LOCAL CHURCH TODAY!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, September 20, 2009

“And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem…” (Acts 8:1).


The famous American preacher Joel Osteen, on his weekly TV program, makes it seem like Christianity is all “happiness and joy.”  But that is wrong.  Anyone who becomes a real Christian can tell you that Christianity is not all “fun and games.”  There are enemies of Christianity in the media and in daily life.  Today, throughout the world, Christians are being persecuted for their faith in Christ.  Click on www.persecution.com to read the truth about the world-wide persecution of Christians. 

Even in the “free world” Christians are constantly being attacked and ridiculed today.  And it’s even worse in other parts of the world. 

I have often pointed out the love and joy people experienced in the local church at Jerusalem.  But they also experienced many problems.  We must never think that we can have a joyful, happy local church without ever experiencing persecution in one form or another.  It would be a mistake to portray the church at Jerusalem as a place of happiness and joy – without saying that they also experienced persecution!

“And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1).

Dr. John Gill (1697-1771) pointed out that the words, “and at that time” could be translated “on that day” (Dr. John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume II, p. 211). Dr. Gill thus says that the persecution began on the day

…on which Stephen was stoned. As soon as they had put him to death, these bloodthirsty wretches were…greedy after the blood of others; and being now in great numbers, and filled with rage and envy, fell upon the members of the church wherever they met them, and killed them…not all the members of the church…for we afterwards read of devout men that carried Stephen to his grave; and of the church having made havoc of by Saul; and of men and women being… committed to prison by him; but all the preachers of the word, except the apostles; for they that were scattered, went about preaching the word…among whom were Philip, who went to Samaria; and Ananias, who was at Damascus; and others that went as far as Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch: and particularly they are said to be dispersed throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria; where their ministry was so greatly blessed, to the conversion of souls, that there were quickly many churches planted and formed in these parts as appears [Acts 9:31] so that this persecution was for the furtherance of the Gospel… And this scattering by reason of the persecution, was of all the preachers, except the Apostles; the twelve Apostles, who [stayed] at Jerusalem to take care of the church; to encourage the members of it to suffer cheerfully for the sake of Christ and his Gospel (Gill, ibid.).

“And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1).

We should expect persecution also.  It comes to us all in one form or another. Sing, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.”

Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shalt be.
Perish every fond ambition, All I’ve sought, and hoped, and known.
Yet how rich is my condition, God and Heaven are still my own!
   (“Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” by Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847).

I. First, persecution can come from outside the local church.

That is what happened to the church at Jerusalem. The persecution came to them from those outside the church, from those who were against it. Jesus often foretold this. He said,

“But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake…”
      (Matthew 10:17-18).

Again, Jesus said,

“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake” (Matthew 24:9).

The Apostle Paul said,

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12).

Here Paul reminds Timothy of a very important thing: Every true follower of Christ sooner or later will be persecuted… From Christ’s time until the present, all true Christians have faced trials and suffering of some kind (The Applied New Testament Commentary, Kingsway Publications, 1996, page 872).

Jesus said,

“Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake”
      (Matthew 10:22).

Again, Jesus said,

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19).

New Christians here in the West, and throughout the world, are often surprised to find that people actually hate them for being Christians. I remember that this came as a great surprise to me when I first became a Christian. But I was taken by surprise because I didn’t know the Bible very well back then.  Yet Jesus made it very clear.

“Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake”
      (Matthew 10:22).

The Communists in China tell true Christians that they have been “brainwashed.” They often put Christians in “re-education” camps and try to get them to renounce Christianity. We are not surprised to hear about that – but we are surprised when non-Christian friends and relatives here in America say the same thing – and try to pull us away from the church. We should remember what Jesus said. “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22). It isn’t just the Communists in China who persecute true Christians. Persecution is now experienced by good Christians in America and other countries in the West also, and it is growing rapidly today!  

“And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1).

In this time of persecution true Christians need to be ready to suffer many forms of persecution.  We need to take up our cross and follow Christ no matter what it costs!  Sing, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken!”

Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shalt be.
Perish every fond ambition, All I’ve sought, and hoped, and known.
Yet how rich is my condition, God and Heaven are still my own!

II. Second, persecution can come from inside the local church.

Please turn to Acts 20:29-30. These are the words of the Apostle Paul to the leaders of the local church at Miletus. Let us stand and read these two verses aloud.

“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).

You may be seated.

Dr. Gill gave this comment:

Not only false teachers from abroad [outside] should [would] enter among them, but some would spring up out of their own communities, such as had been admitted members of them, and of whom they had hoped well…to rend away members from the churches, make schisms and divisions, form parties, set themselves at the head of them (Gill, ibid., p. 342).

In his book Church Split, Dr. Roy Branson says,

In the majority of cases a church splits because a group in the congregation opposes evangelism…When a church starts reaching others and growing, each original member…must do one of three things: Support the evangelistic thrust of the church, sink to oblivion, or rebel by resisting or leaving (Dr. Roy L. Branson, Jr., Church Split, Landmark Publications, 1990, pp. 169-170).

Yes, church "splits" like this can come from inside the local church. It breaks our hearts when church divisions come, but we can expect it. Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). The local church is a wonderful place to be, but it isn’t free from various forms of persecution.  The only place where there is no persecution is in Heaven! 

“And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1).

Sing “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.”

Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shalt be.
Perish every fond ambition, All I’ve sought, and hoped, and known.
Yet how rich is my condition, God and Heaven are still my own!

III. Third, persecution shows the great value of the local church.

Many couples live together without getting married today. They are afraid of committing themselves to each other for fear that there will be a divorce. This is very sad because marriage is a God-given institution.

Notice that this same generation, that will not be committed in marriage, also has trouble being committed to a local church! That should not surprise us, because marriage and church membership are compared to each other in the Bible in Ephesians 5:31-32:

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

In this passage of Scripture the husband and wife are compared to Christ and the church. The marriage of a man and woman is compared to Christ and the local church.

An unconverted person who does not want to be married, or stay married, is also not going to be able to enjoy the stability of membership in a local church. Those who find local church membership difficult will also find marriage and children difficult. I have seen so many people leave their local church after they have a child or two. And then many of them get divorced. They just couldn’t handle it – family or church.

But what joy these people miss! Those who cannot stay married and raise children miss one of the great joys of life. Those who cannot join together in the local church miss one of life’s greatest pleasures.

The pressures that come against local church membership do not show that it is unimportant. Quite the opposite! The pressures and persecutions that come against membership in the local church show how very important church membership really is!

“And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1).

Why did this happen? Because the Devil attacks the local church! The Devil does not want you to find salvation, happiness, and make lasting friends in the local church! The Devil wants you to be blown away like a leaf in the wind.

No matter what happens, let each of us put our roots down, and be committed to each other in marriage – and be committed to each other in the local church!

That is one of our themes: “Why be lonely? Come home – to church! Why be lost? Come home – to Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” Sing that song, that Mr. Griffith sang, “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.” It’s the fifth song on the song sheet.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, Watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home.
Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home.

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies, Mercies for you and for me?
Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home.
Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home.

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, death-beds are coming, Coming for you and for me.
Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home.
Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home.
   (“Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” by Will L. Thompson, 1847-1909).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers’ sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Acts 8:1-4.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” (by Will L. Thompson, 1847-1909).


THE OUTLINE OF

PERSECUTION AGAINST THE LOCAL CHURCH TODAY!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem…” (Acts 8:1).

I.   First, persecution can come from outside the local church,
Matthew 10:17-18; 24:9; II Timothy 3:12;
Matthew 10:22; John 15:18-19.

II.  Second, persecution can come from inside the local church,
Acts 20:29-30; John 16:33.

III. Third, persecution shows the great value of the local church,
Ephesians 5:31-32.