Preparing for Persecution was the title for the sixteenth annual ‘God’s Glory: Our Joy’ Conference, held in Warrington on 10th October. The subject is rapidly becoming more relevant, and this was certainly demonstrated during the day. Persecution is far worse for many believers in other countries, but we shut our eyes to what is happening in the UK at our peril. All Christians need to be aware of the perils which evangelical believers are increasingly facing in the UK today. It is impossible here to give a sense of the unusual quality and depth of the teaching we received. God was speaking to his people. This teaching needs to be heard by all believers.
Three of the four sessions were Biblical exposition and preaching. In two of these, Andrew Swanson centred on the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5 and 10. All Christians expect persecution, even if this is only on the level of personal criticism, ostracism and verbal abuse. Many experience this in their streets, families or workplaces. It is the badge of being in God’s kingdom. Those who will live godly lives in Christ will be persecuted. A sinful world will persecute those who do righteousness. Satan is behind it all. Yet God is bringing it to spread the word, and refine and strengthen his church. We must watch and pray, and rejoice if counted worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name. Nor are we to fear the consequences- death is not something those who fear God should fear.
Bill Hughes preached also on Mt. 5, verse 10-12. Christ’s describes in the Beatitudes a Christians’ character- and then what happens to those who display this. They are persecuted- this is inevitable. God’s people have been persecuted from Abel on for their worship and witness and obedient lives of righteousness. God will reward such with the Kingdom. Some suffer for other beliefs, but they have no reward from the Lord for this. We don’t need to seek persecution. We can legitimately move to avoid it. But if it comes, we must avoid self- pity and bitterness of spirit- rather, we should rejoice.
In many ways the highlight- simply because of the subject-matter he was asked to cover- was the paper given by Mike Judge, pastor at Chorlton, Manchester, but previously at the Christian Institute. He outlined in comprehensive detail the chilling progression of persecution in the UK since 1960. The trickle is rapidly becoming a flood. Then, Mike said, behind the legislation can be discerned certain themes. There is an attempt, by militant feminists and their allies to destroy the Biblical idea of the family and indeed gender. There is the concerted attempt to prevent Christians doing anything to express their faith except to meet in church buildings on Sundays and keep certain ideas privately in their heads. This comes from a complete lack of understanding about what a Christian really is, and what this means for life. Increasingly the Bible is being vilified as extreme, and preaching its application concerning sin or other religions is being persecuted. Preachers, schoolteachers, and parents will bear the brunt of the Government’s wrath for daring not to toe the liberal line. Education, whether within the school or by the church, appears to be the next big battleground. Christian schools are already being targeted; Sunday schools, camps, and teachers who won’t promote homosexuality could be next.
The fellowship of kindred minds at this conference was excellent as always. Surely we need to take practical steps to pray for and in concrete ways support one another at this time, and to unite in prayer to God for mercy. A novel feature of this conference was a follow-up meeting on the Friday afterwards, for church leaders to discuss how their churches might help one another in the days ahead.
The teaching given at this conference would benefit far more believers than the 120 or so present in Warrington in October. Could not other such conferences be arranged elsewhere in the UK?