Hearing about pastors being arrested for holding public church services and thereby calling upon their people to disobey shelter at home orders, and reading some of the discourse about persecution vis-à-vis our constitutional right to “the free exercise of religion,” causes me to step back and reflect on things from a broader perspective. One thing that struck me recently is how the attitude of some spiritual leaders today towards government is apparently very different than that manifested by many spiritual leaders during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Early Pentecostals, for instance, who sometimes experienced harassment at the hands of both local law enforcement and the public at large, apparently saw no contradiction between cancelling large public meetings out of respect to civil authority while also continuing to risk their lives while personally visiting the sick. (See: How Pentecostals Responded to the 1918 “Spanish Influenza” Pandemic.)
Perhaps we place too much unbiblical emphasis today on large gatherings as compared with the biblical narrative? The large crowds we see depicted in the Book of Acts gathered spontaneously with little or no specific effort expended by leaders in pursuit of that goal. The focus of the early church in evangelism was the public square (not large gatherings in religious buildings) and their focus in discipleship was small gatherings (often house-to-house). Having worked with persecuted Christians internationally in various countries for many years, I can personally attest to both their yearning for the freedom to assemble publicly and to the exponential growth of their movement(s) through one-on-one evangelism and small gatherings.
Large church or evangelistic meetings are wonderful and can certainly contribute to ministry momentum (I personally enjoy them a lot!), but if our ministry is built around them or if our ministry cannot function without them or if our ministry cannot survive financially without them, then perhaps we have adopted a paradigm of ministry as normative that while not in contradiction to the Bible is certainly not mandated or promoted by the Bible. While I am cognizant of Romans 13:1-2 and Romans 14:4, from my perspective it would be one thing to go to jail because I draw a crowd that spontaneously gathers because their hearts are drawn by the Gospel message as I preach on a street corner during an epidemic, but it would be quite another to go to jail because I call my congregants to assemble publicly in a church facility in violation of legally mandated quarantines. Having said all of that, at the end of the day, Romans 14:5 also comes into play: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (ESV)
 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:1–2, ESV)
 “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4, ESV)
One thought on “Persecution or Not?”
A famous pastor here in Brazil made the comparison between “lockdown” and “persecution” as well. In my opinion it’s total nonsense.
A lockdown will end at some point. Persecution may last for generations.
In lockdown we’re getting out of the house, but we’re still “public” through the internet. Persecuted churches cannot go public in any way.
This is like comparing a person who can’t go to work because of a flu and another that needs to go into ICU because his life is at risk.