Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering.
~ Hebrews 10:32 (NIV)
Our Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”
Every pastor and Bible teacher works hard to understand the meaning of the scriptures. They learn biblical languages, look up concordances, and consult commentaries, all in the hope of shedding more light on the key questions of interpretation:
1. Who wrote this text and what did they mean by it?
2. Who initially read this text and what did they make of it?
All good interpretation begins with the tools that answer these two primary questions. We are taught that these tools lie in the realm of scholarship, and most pastors take to their studies and their libraries accordingly. But there is another vitally overlooked tool that gives a key to the meaning of the scriptures. The persecuted church of today represents the closest we can come to the original writers and readers of the scriptures. You see, most of the Bible was written by persecuted people for persecuted people. By interacting with them, we gain unique insights into the original meaning of the scriptures. We really need their help because what is obvious to a persecuted, biblical Christian is no longer obvious to us. We inhabit a completely different universe. We need the persecuted to remind us of what life was like for the original New Testament community. The persecuted enable us in some small way to recover the “original eyes” of the first writers and readers of scripture, and that can impact interpretation.
I remember a dear pastor from the West preaching about Jesus stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41). His whole talk was on how Jesus could still the storms raging in our lives. He named storms like loneliness, misunderstanding, humiliation, persecution even. And he said, “Jesus can deliver you from every one of these storms, just like he did the disciples of old.”
He was about to go on when an old man stood up. He was from a Middle Eastern country and had seen much suffering. He said gently and respectfully, “My dear brother, if you had been persecuted you would know the primary meaning of this passage. The point of this story is not that Jesus takes the storm away, but that there is no need to fear the storm if Jesus is in the boat.” Everyone stared at him in silence. He added, “This passage is given to us for our comfort in the face of terrible storms, to know that Jesus is in the boat with us so that the storm will do us no harm.” So that persecuted Christian—because he was persecuted—knew the meaning of the passage better than the preacher, because he was one for whom the passage was written.
RESPONSE: Today I will read my Bible through the eyes and perspective of the persecuted.
PRAYER: Lord, may Your Word come alive as I interpret it with the help of the persecuted church.