When the Exception Becomes the Rule
I cannot imagine the terror of the worshipers in that small Texas church last Sunday as the gunman walked up and down the aisle seeking new targets. But for those who survived, the awful nightmare continues. Their building is riddled with bullet holes, the blood is likely still being cleaned up, and half the congregation is dead. How do they go on as a church? Where can they find the heart to sing? When will the horrible scene quit continuously replaying?
Mass shootings are now common, and it is hard to imagine a more dreadful test for a church to face. But Jesus warned his disciples the days are coming when violence will be the rule, rather than the exception. Rogue gunmen will be replaced by entire governments intent on persecution.
“But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name…You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me.” (Luke 21:12, 16–17)
Many Christians throughout history have already endured this crucible, including those in Germany during the Nazi regime. While churches today (including EBC) must give thought for how to respond to visitors bent on trouble, pastors in Germany had to prepare their congregations to face the test of Hitler’s holocaust.
No one did this better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I am halfway through an excellent new biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Even while he worked to oppose Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s, Bonhoeffer also foresaw that believers must prepare themselves to “be faithful unto death.” (Revelation 2:10) The following decade proved him right, and Dietrich helped many stand firm and gain life (Luke 21:19) before he himself was also executed.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we must intentionally cultivate a faith that anticipates the crucible of testing, whether a random exception or systematic oppression. It is our privilege to share in his sufferings, even as we anticipate delighting in his glory.