The early church faced opposition as they tried to evangelize the Roman world. Emperor Nero came to the throne and instigated the first wide-spread persecution of Christians. Many were arrested and torn apart by wild animals in the Coliseum as the masses looked on in sport. Others were daubed in pitch and set afire as human torches for Nero's garden parties.
But the church faced persecution, too, from the religious leaders. These were the same men who opposed Jesus. Instead of joining as his partners in the work of God, they saw him as a threat.
Jesus had forthrightly warned his followers this would happen. "I send you out as lambs among wolves," he said (Luke 10:3).
The church faces opposition today from an increasingly secular society putting restrictions on her work. Surprisingly the fastest growing religion in America today is Wicca, or the religion of witchcraft. Apparently all the witches weren't removed in Salem, Mass. so long ago!
But the church also faces opposition today from religious leaders who see the work of Christ as a challenge to the status quo.
A pastor was fairly new in his church when he talked with a long-time member.
"I've been coming here for 63 years," the man said.
"I've guess you've seen a lot of changes," the pastor said.
"Yes sir, I have," the man said, "and I've been against every single one of them!"
I've never believed in change for change's sake, but neither have I ever believed in maintaining a tradition for no good reason.
It would've been a complete change in life for Donna and me had we pursued an opportunity in Virginia some 20 years ago. I still remember the chair of the pulpit committee who took me into their beautiful sanctuary for the first time. The man was a retired military officer. "Michael," he growled, "if you come to this church you'll come out that door on Sunday and sit in that chair."
In those days I was enough of a rebel that I probably would've used a different door and chair on my first Sunday just to show him this tradition was meaningless. Now as a more "mellow" man I would probably click my heels and salute like an MMI cadet and say, "Sir! Yes, sir!"
I've thought about this incident many times over the years. With the world going to hell in a handbasket, what difference does a door and a chair make? The church must never be so committed to long-standing tradition that we fail in our larger mission. We may, indeed, turn out to be opponents rather than proponents of the work of God's kingdom, and be wolves rather than lambs. -30-