One of the strangest concepts I have heard Christians repeat over the last few years has been that Christians should pray for persecution.
Here’s the logic:
- The American churches are weak and full of unregenerate members. Persecution tends to scare off those unregenerate members.
- The church has thrived historically under persecution.
- Therefore, the church should wish for persecution.
I understand the thinking, and I definitely understand the motivation. I, too, desire to see the church purified and thoroughly filled with those who are actually born again.
But there are several arguments against this point of view, and not just the pragmatic argument of survivorship bias (we only note the persecuted churches that have thrived because, well, they actually existed – as opposed to those that could have started and thrived if there were no persecution).
What are the biblical reasons why you should never, ever pray for persecution?
It’s directly in opposition to what Christians are commanded to pray
When Paul writes to Timothy how one should conduct himself in the church of God (1 Tim. 3:14-15), the very first instructions for church conduct are about men praying. And the content of their prayer has this intended result: “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2).
By praying for persecution, you are directly violating an apostolic command for the churches.
Not only that, it violates the repeated example of believers in the New Testament:
When Herod arrested Peter to put him to death, the church prayed fervently for his release (Acts 12:5).
The martyrs of Revelation 6 cry out to God, asking how long it will be before God takes vengeance on those who are doing such things (Revelation 6:9-11).
Paul asked for prayer not that he would be persecuted, but that he and his fellow gospel workers would be rescued from such persecutors (2 Thessalonians 3:2).
Praying for persecution is not in the New Testament playbook, whether by precept or example.
It won’t purify the visible, institutional church.
Recently, the Russian government has passed legislation preventing evangelism by evangelicals outside of their churches. Does that do anything to the Russian Orthodox church? No. The institutional, state-approved (or state-sponsored) church will will be there in any place where Bible-driven churches are persecuted.
Some of the most intense persecution in history has come at the hands of what most people believed to be the official church (think: the Marian martyrs). The visible church will not be purified by persecution but may in fact be further corrupted by it.
More than this, the issues for which a church may be persecuted are often very negotiable to those who are in that church. Are they coming after you for a certain ethical view? Just compromise a bit and everything will be fine! If anything, rather than purifying you, it may just force you into the very lukewarmness that is the main concern.
None of these things actually accomplish the goal of a pure, regenerate church to present to the world. That comes by real churches actually being pure themselves, which leads to the next reason not to pray for persecution…
It downplays the function of church discipline
The church is to remain pure by policing itself, not by persecution scaring off all the fakes.
God may use persecution to expose people, but the solution to the scandal of the evangelical church is not to make it harder to continue to fool the world that you’re a Christian, but for people to actually seek the repentance and godliness of those already in the church.
In contrast to biblical church discipline, praying for persecution takes a pessimistic view of the ungodly in the visible church. Scripture, on the other hand, encourages us to take care to look out for one another so that we will NOT fall away (Hebrews 3:12-13).
Persecution may do a better job of raising the percentage of regenerate members in the church you are part of, but it doesn’t necessarily raise the actual number of believers. Church discipline, on the other hand, is meant for restoration, not only to expose the unregenerate but also then to convert them (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
It tends to reduce righteousness, not to make it thrive.
Proverbs 28:28 says, “When the wicked rise, men hide themselves; But when they perish, the righteous increase.” Regardless of the idealized view of persecution, with all other things equal, the presence of righteous people is hindered by wicked rulers, who will presumably discourage righteous conduct.
An environment that allows for the free practice of Christianity is not a hindrance but a blessing, whatever wrong advantage some may take of it.
The church thrives despite persecution, not because of it.
Yes, when the Jerusalem church was spread geographically in Acts because of the persecution led by Saul, they then went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4).
But it is equally true that after Saul was converted that the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria not only “enjoyed peace” but also was “being built up”, and “it continued to increase”!
Persecution does not cause growth. Growth happens by the Spirit of God as God uses his word to do his work in people.
So next time you start to think it may be good to have a little bit of persecution, remember these principles, and pray instead that the church would grow in the power of the Spirit as the word of God spreads rapidly and deeply.