Persecution by the world against Christians comes in many forms. But its central core is the rejection of God and the resulting attack on those who follow Christ and claim He is the supreme Lord and the only way to salvation. Persecution has been growing more prevalent in recent years; however, in order to understand the persecution of today, we will first consider the persecution that has taken place in the past.

Historical Persecution

It is fascinating to study the history of the church in the first century and to see what accusations were made against the early believers—accusations that added fuel to a fire, which would from time to time incite persecution.

The Roman world accused Christians of many abominable acts. However, some of the persecution was due to ignorance of the true Christian faith and practice. For example, Christians were accused of the following acts:

  • Cannibalism: It was heard that the Christians were celebrating the death of someone and were eating his flesh and drinking his blood, thus accusing them of cannibalism. But they were ignorant that the symbol of the Lord’s Supper (also known as Holy Communion) is a picture of Christ giving his life for us and of our receiving Him into our lives.
  • Incest: Having heard about a holy kiss and the practice of calling each other sisters and brothers in Christ, the Roman world made ignorant claims of incest.
  • Anti-social behavior: Most of the Christians were poor and had regular jobs, so gathering for worship was difficult. The lack of church buildings and the nature of the service with its emphasis on the Word of God and teaching of believers generally meant meeting in homes, usually at night. So the Roman world assumed Christians were involved in some clandestine conspiracy.
  • Non-patriotism: Many Christians rejected military service in the Roman army and would not acknowledge Caesar as Lord.
  • Atheism: Christians worshiped only one God. In contrast to the Roman world, which had many gods, Christians appeared atheistic.1

Ultimately it was the early Christians’ allegiance to Christ as supreme Lord that really became the impetus of persecution. The emperors wanted to be acknowledged and worshiped as “Lord” in an effort to hold together the disintegrating immoral, chaotic Roman society through a central figure of authority designated as “god.” But Christianity’s view of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ would not allow such an acknowledgement. Thus, Christians were seen as a threat to the state.

Persecution and rejection of Christianity was out of ignorance in a number of instances, but that was not the only reason for persecution. We must understand what Paul makes clear in Romans 1, that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. It is often the case that the more men suppress the truth, the more violent, antagonistic, and nasty they become. Hatred of God and God’s people becomes a common characteristic of such people. So there were deep and spiritual motives behind the persecution, maiming, imprisonment, and killing of Christ’s followers.

Persecution Today: Why Is It Increasing?

We have noted within the last several years a serious, growing antagonism and hatred being shown toward Christians—specifically Christian leaders such as Ken Ham.2 Ken and the staff at Answers in Genesis believe the biblical view that God exists, His Word is true, and He is the Creator of all things. This automatically leads to complete confidence in the authority of Scripture, God’s inerrant Word. Because of this strong stance, Ken and others like him have become lightning rods for those looking to vent their anger and rebellion.

The truth that God’s Word is inerrant and completely authoritative must be denied and destroyed by those who suppress the truth. They must attack it in order to silence the external and internal evidence God has given mankind of Himself. I have proposed that the increased anger we see in atheists’ attacks demonstrates they are doing all they can to silence the voice of God. The angrier their attacks become, the more they are attempting to suppress the truth. Their anger actually becomes evidence of the truth of God and His Word.

The relativist who absolutely claims “everything is relative” destroys his own view by making this claim, since an absolute statement cannot be relative. In the same way the atheist attacks, slanders, maligns, and curses the name of God and all He stands for, all the while confirming God’s existence. How? Because God Himself predicted and described the nature of the rebel and the character of the attack!

And, of course, the irony is that there can be no “truth,” “unchanging right or wrong,” or “correctness” in an evolutionary, humanistic worldview, which is by its very nature relativistic. Truth, morality, and correctness cannot exist in a relativistic world—they are all absolutes that are incompatible with relativism. And yet even the relativist clings to absolute truth (their claim that “everything is relative” is an absolute statement), morality (they acknowledge that acts such as murder are wrong, inconsistently by the way), and correctness (by telling people everything is relative, they claim their worldview is the correct worldview).

Our Response

Christians are fair game it seems. The blogs and websites attacking Ken Ham, other AiG staff, and biblical Christians are brazen and growing in number. They are vicious, slanderous, and full of lies and hatred. These attacks are classic and age-old. From our point of view, these attacks ironically scream the opposite of their intent: they clearly confirm the truth of God and His Word, which tells us what to expect from a rejecter of God.

One has to ponder how to respond to such attacks. It seems hopeless to debate these people due to their apparent lack of desire to find actual truth (Matthew 7:6; Titus 3:9–10). Aside from that lack of desire, their very view of truth is so skewed it cannot even allow them to find truth! When the post-modern mindset says there is no truth, it contradicts its very existence by saying it is true that there is no absolute truth. They state that it is an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth. Because of this lack of belief in truth, it thereby follows that there is no right or wrong, and nothing is absolute—they are left with only one possibility: they must simply allow truth to be whatever an individual wishes it to be. So by their own standard they must agree with us when we say their worldview is false! So when and if they claim to want to know the truth, we must understand what they mean by the word truth.

I think a good apologetic response would be to instruct Christians as to the nature of the attack and the cause of it in order to give a good defense of the faith. At the same time, the Holy Spirit may use our apologetic response to open the eyes of the antagonists to show them the unwise and incorrect basis of their accusations. But we must do it in love, so we should consider passages such as Matthew 5:44–45, Romans 12:17–18, and 2 Timothy 2:24–26 when responding to such attacks—in hopes that unbelievers will be “quickened” by the Holy Spirit and then be in a position to understand.

What Is the “Nature of the Attack”?

In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul gives us a list of the characteristics of a person who is walking according to the flesh. Certainly, an atheist does evidence these characteristics, though he may not demonstrate all of them fully. The “flesh” Paul refers to is the nature and qualities that all men are born with in an unsaved and unregenerate state. This is what Adam and Eve passed on to each and every one of us.

First, Paul warns us that there is a war between the Spirit and the flesh and that there is no reconciliation possible between them: “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another” (Galatians 5:17).3

The Apostle Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). However, this is not possible for an unsaved person and is only available to a reborn, saved person. Only a Christian can walk in the Spirit because only Christians have the Spirit (Romans 8:9).

An atheist, who denies God and exhibits his rebellion and suppression of the truth God has given, demonstrates those qualities and characteristics Paul lists as the fruit of the flesh:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. (Galatians 5:19–21)

Take note of the several characteristics that would underlie any attack: impurity (brazen, filthy speech punctuated with profanity), enmities, strife, outbursts of anger, dissensions, and factions. Do we see this in blog after blog? Yes. The character of a God-curser—a man or woman who holds his fist up against God (the tell-tale sign of open and covert rebellion and the suppression of the truth)—is seen in the attacker’s behavior.

We do not expect to see the fruit of the Spirit, the character of Christ, in atheists. In the same way we do not expect to see atheists affecting the culture regarding things that come from a Christian consensus (such as compassion, care, and love). American atheists were not the generators of such things as education, hospitals, or the Red Cross. These primarily flowed from Christians demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23)

An atheist might argue that love, joy, peace, and even all the fruit of the Spirit could be found in non-Christians and Christians alike. But who could give a godly and true meaning of love besides the infinite, all-knowing Creator God? Love is found in God giving us His Son that we might have eternal life (1 John 4:9). Outside of Jesus Christ there is no godly love, joy, or peace.

Conclusion

So a word of caution! Be careful not to entangle yourself in debate with a person whose heart’s desire is to deny and destroy God. It might be helpful to point out that his behavior evidences and is exactly what we expect in the Christian worldview he so desires to destroy. However, our ultimate purpose in “debating” (speaking with) an atheist must be to share the gospel in love:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16)

The gospel is the message we have been sent to spread, and thus when we speak with unbelievers, it should be our goal to present the gospel and explain what Christ did on the Cross and in His Resurrection.

It is important to remember that we must pity these fellow human beings who have not seen the light of Christ, for they cannot stop their behavior or alter it. While unbelievers may not fully express their depravity, as a rule they fail to be civil and demonstrate the character of a God-fearer. They are in the state that we would still be in if it were not for God’s grace (cf. Titus 3:1–7).

A verse quoted often at Answers in Genesis, 1 Peter 3:15, is actually given to us as a correct response to persecution—or even vehemently nasty and angry atheists (look at the context, verses 14–17). Gently, with wisdom and a godly testimony, we should prayerfully point that person to Jesus Christ:

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15)

Pastor Don Landis is the president of Jackson Hole Bible College and general editor of The Genius of Ancient Man (see geniusofancientman.blogspot.com for more information). He teaches two weeks of practical apologetics—addressing issues such as described above—as the conclusion of the one-year biblical foundations course at JHBC. Visit jhbc.edu to learn more about this unique school.

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Footnotes

  1. “Program 3: Accusation,” The Trial and Testimony of the Early Church. DVD (Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1990). Back
  2. For example, “Assistant Manager at Cincinnati Museum Center Derides Creation Museum,” “Biblical Creationists Facing Opposition in Scotland,” “Angry Atheists Display Intolerance of Christianity,” and “Intolerant Atheists Viciously Attack Christian School.” Back
  3. Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.Lockman.org Back