If you knew that talking about Jesus would cause people to shun you, would you keep your faith to yourself? What if admitting belief were cause for you to be harassed, beat upon and possibly imprisoned or executed? 

When we think of the courage of believers in oppressive places, we admire their unbending determination to remain faithful and to share the hope they believe in.

As Canadians, we live mostly in freedom to share our faith. We have no death squads or laws prohibiting religion. Nonetheless, there are voices that respond harshly and quickly to one’s sincere belief in the resurrected Christ. If like myself, you have a mix of believers and non-believers in your list of Facebook friends, you will see a range of thought and antagonism toward a person’s sincerely held beliefs, be they Christian, atheist, humanist or other.

Religious people who speak without love or respect may embarrass us; and so we say nothing. Why be confused with those people? It seems sensible to say very little. What would it take for us to be transformed into people who could speak with authority and a compelling message of hope?

Rev. David Wells is the general superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies Of Canada and has said that we need a new apologetic. We cannot speak gracious truth to culture in the language and values of fifty years prior. How else are we to be truth-tellers in an age of strong opposition?

Jesus said,

Luke 6:
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

I do not know if some of my Facebook friends who reject my faith actually hate me. Perhaps some do. They may be more likely to exclude me or occasionally insult. They may think I’m covering up and am actually quite the hypocrite.

In the first centuries of the church there were persecutions by Rome against the early believers. In 110 AD a governor names Pliny the Younger reported to the Roman emperor that, "The contagion of this superstition has spread not only in the cities but in the villages and rural districts as well; yet it seems capable of being checked and set right." [i]

He viewed the Christian faith as a superstition and passing fad that could be challenged and brought to justice. These foolish cultists could be corrected. Pliny the Younger wanted to maintain the political correctness of his day.

How bad were the persecutions against early believers? There are historical documents that tell us of the horrifying tortures and punishments inflicted upon some of the Christ followers. We can read about the inhumane treatment and see its reoccurrence throughout history (including today).

And yet, the earliest Christians were quite bold in their proclamation of the good news of Jesus. They seemed to gain the same confidence that Jesus had in speaking truth and confronting the darkness, even at their own peril. How is that Jesus and the early church could speak in ways that stirred up such hatred, exclusion and insults against them?

If we will speak with gracious truth to our world, we would do well to understand how Holy Spirit is involved. Jesus and the early church were empowered by Holy Spirit to speak freely in an antagonistic culture. These first century hillbillies spoke with authority and it baffled the traditionally educated powerbrokers. How was this even possible and does God want to do it again in your life?

[i] Epistle 10 (to Emperor Trajan), 96 (in Bettenson et al, Documents of the Christian Church, p. 3).