A recent cover story in World Magazine described the growing suppression of religious freedom among America’s servicemen and women. Chaplains are being harassed, their prayers censored, and their quoting of Bible verses forbidden. Members of the rank and file are warned against speaking openly of their faith, even in casual conversation. As long as the words “Jesus Christ” are spoken as profanity, they’re presumably acceptable; but if uttered with conscience, the speakers may find themselves in trouble.
All other worldviews can be discussed throughout society ad nauseam, but any conversational vestiges to the world’s most famous Book or the Person who stands at the center of history leads to pressure and pushback. Recently a Catholic student at Sonoma State University was ordered to remove a necklace containing a cross, because, she was told, someone might find it offensive. High school and college football players are warned against Tebowing. Valedictorians are cautioned to say nothing about the values that have most enriched their lives. And the Internal Revenue Service has taken to delving into the contents of a person’s prayers, a violation of everything America previously represented.
People have tried to silence Christians for 2000 years, but evangelism is the very genetic code of Christianity. By its very nature the message of Jesus is evangelistic, a word from Greek terms meaning, “Good Message.” At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, the last recorded words of Christ are: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations….” Each of the four Gospel ends with a call to evangelize the world, and the book of Acts opens by telling us to take the message of Jesus to the “uttermost parts of the earth.”
Christians can’t be silent any more than a miner striking the mother lode, a firefighter warning a village, a physician announcing a breakthrough, or an ambassador charged with a task. You might as well command the thunder not to crack or the oceans not to roar or the birds not to sing. The nineteenth-century Cornish preacher, Billy Bray, said: “If you shut me up in a barrel, I’ll shout glory to God through the bunghole.”
In the book of Acts, the Jerusalem authorities, seeking to suppress the message of Christ, brought the disciples into court and commanded them not to speak at all in the name of Jesus. Peter and John answered with words that established the Christian philosophy of proclamation for all time: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! But as for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20).
Even after they were subsequently flogged, the disciples “rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:41-42).
Historian Philip Schaff explained why the early church grew rapidly despite threats: “Every congregation was a missionary society, and every Christian believer a missionary, inflamed by the love of Christ to convert his fellow-men…. Every Christian told his neighbor… the story of his conversion, as a mariner tells the story of the rescue from shipwreck.”
So it is today. No one can keep the Gospel out of schools unless they remove Christian students from every classroom. On any given day across our nation, thousands of young people wear Gospel wristbands and distribute Bibles and say prayers and share Christ at school.
No one can keep Christianity out of the army unless they expel every Christian soldier. Every day thousands of our finest men and women bow their heads, share Scripture with one another, pray for one another, and tell the Good News that has changed their lives.
History has shown when Christians are imperiled to the point of imprisonment, they take the Gospel with them behind bars. In the days of Emperor Nero, Paul wrote from a dungeon: “I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained…. Preach the Word…. Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 2:9, 4:2, 5).
As I read those words, I’m thinking of a particularly restrictive nation in Central Asia, where, I’m told, most of the current pastors are former convicts who heard the Gospel from fellow prisoners while in the penitentiaries.
The “pass-it-on” nature of Christianity isn’t belligerency. While I look for opportunities to share my faith, I don’t steamroll my message on others. If I steer a conversation in a spiritual direction and the other person isn’t interested, I don’t force the issue. In fact, I’m an introvert by nature. It’s not easy for me to engage in a conversation about spiritual issues, and I’m not going to argue anyone into the kingdom of God. But the message of Jesus overflows from within me. I speak for I cannot be silent. Christians should never be rude, but we can never be quiet.
Secularism and pluralism can be as fundamentalist as any other philosophy, and its adherents may seek to impose their viewpoint by suppressing those of others. But the message of the Gospel is fueled by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and enflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. It can be resisted, but not restrained. It can be hated, but not halted. Christians are tremendously blessed to have a Savior worth living for and a message worth dying for.
The Bible tells Christians to always be ready to give a reason for the hope within us. We may not know all the answers to every question; nobody does. But as long there’s breath in our lungs, we’re like the man healed of blindness in John 9, who, when challenged by authorities, simply said: “One thing I do know. I once was blind but now I see.”