Category Archives: Persecuted Church

Rod Dreher – Orthodox and Not

Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, Rod Dreher.  New York: Sentinel, 2020.  Hardcover, 240 pages.

Rod Dreher’s latest book has gained as much interest as his previous work, The Benedict Option.  This new offering explains the new world we’re in, the “brave new world” looming on the horizon, and how it all connects to the recent past of Eastern Europe.  Live Not By Lies also wants to provide guidance for Christians as we descend into the darkness of “soft totalitarianism.”   It looked like a promising read.  However, it turned out to be less than what I was hoping for.

The strength of this volume is in its first part:  Understanding Soft Totalitarianism.  This part is more descriptive, historical, and analytical.  Dreher explains that totalitarianism is about complete state control over actions, thought, emotions, and even what is and isn’t true.  Soft totalitarianism “is therapeutic.  It masks its hatred of dissenters from its utopian ideology in the guise of helping and healing” (p.7).  Soft totalitarianism “masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavoured demographic groups to protect the feelings of ‘victims’ in order to bring about ‘social justice’ (p.9). 

Dreher helpfully draws historical lessons from the Eastern European experience of totalitarianism during the Cold War era.  He interviews people who lived through that horror and who see disturbing parallels developing in western democracies today.  Chapter 3, “Progressivism as Religion” is the best chapter.  It explains how the Christian faith and totalitarianism, particularly manifested with today’s woke leftists, are “best understood as competing religions” (p.56).  So far, so good.

The subtitle is “A Manual for Christian Dissidents.”  Dreher desires to help Christians dissent from the deepening soft totalitarianism.  This is the focus of the second part of Live Not By Lies, How to Live in Truth.  In this section too, there are valuable insights to be gleaned from the experiences of others who’ve endured communism in Eastern Europe.  Nevertheless, this is the weaker section of the book. 

I say that for two main reasons.  One is because I’d expect “A Manual for “Christian Dissidents” to offer authoritative guidance based on what the Bible teaches.  The Bible is mentioned here and there.  There are paraphrases from a couple of Bible passages and one direct quote.  But the Bible doesn’t appear to be foundational to Dreher’s manual.  The lived experience of people who were dissidents during the Cold War seems to be more so.

The second reason I found this section of the book weak is because of what it does, and doesn’t do, with the gospel.  In some places Dreher mentions the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  However, there’s no mention of salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone.  In fact, there are places where that biblical teaching is denied by some of those interviewed by Dreher (e.g. Alexander Ogorodnikov on p.196).  Moreover, the book doesn’t emphasize how it’s the true gospel of Jesus Christ which can actually transform not only individual lives, but also entire nations.

These points won’t be surprising to those who know something of Dreher’s background.  He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1993 and then to Eastern Orthodoxy in 2006.  Sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church led to his departure.  However, Dreher continues to have a mostly positive view of Roman Catholicism. 

That leads me to one of the other major issues in Live Not By Lies:  its false ecumenism.  When Dreher says “Christian,” his definition includes Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.  It’s a definition that can’t be swallowed by a confessionally Reformed Christian.  I can grant that many of the people interviewed in this book are religious, as is Dreher.  I can grant that, in sociological terms, they and their churches are often described as “Christian” in the broad sense of being distinct from other religions.  I can grant that totalitarian persecutors don’t care about our theological differences — they will persecute the devout Roman Catholic as a “Christian” just as readily as they will the Bible-believing Protestant.  What I cannot grant is that any person who holds to the gospel-denying tenets of Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy is truly a Christian in the biblical sense of the word.  As an Orthodox believer, Dreher holds otherwise.  This is a dangerous lie which we ought not to live by.    

His Orthodoxy surfaces at certain points in the book.  Dreher describes “mystical awakenings” by which God is supposed to have revealed himself (p.197).  He speaks of a prisoner who “was able to be an icon” to others (p.204) and an Orthodox father-son duo canonized as saints whose icon hangs in Dreher’s home (p.178).  Dreher quotes a Romanian Orthodox priest who says, “You, my friend, are the unique bearer of your deification in Jesus Christ…” (p.160), referring to the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis.

Finally, Dreher’s focus is on more recent totalitarian movements.  However, a Reformed reader can’t help but think of other historic forms of totalitarianism, especially those connected with Roman Catholicism.  I think of what the Huguenots endured in France during the two centuries following the Reformation.  What Reformed believers need today is a “manual for Christian dissidents” primarily based on Scripture, but also explaining how our Huguenot brethren dissented in their day.

Live Not By Lies is worth reading, but with discernment.  It requires a cautious eye and a thoughtful mind.  To be sure, Dreher has helpful insights to offer.  But it has to be recognized that he’s not coming from a Reformed perspective, not even a Protestant or Evangelical perspective.  He has an understanding of what it means to live not by lies that’s not entirely acceptable to a Reformed Christian.  For us, living not by lies means we need to live by the truth of God’s Word as our ultimate standard.  Living not by lies means we need to uphold the truth of the biblical gospel – that there’s salvation through Jesus Christ alone.  Living not by lies means we need to experience unity with other believers only on the basis of a biblical faith.


A Powerful World War 2 Resistance Story

Faith and Victory in Dachau, Jack Overduin.  St. Catharines: Paideia Press, 1978. 

Back in 2018 and early 2019, dark times seemed to threaten Christian education in the Canadian province of Alberta.  The radically left-leaning NDP government of Rachel Notley was pressuring Christian schools to abandon biblical teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity.  There were threats of not only defunding, but also removing the accreditation of Christian schools.  All of this was thankfully averted by the sound defeat of the NDP in the April 2019 provincial election.

Today other threats are looming in both Canada and Australia.  In both countries, there’s impending legislation in relation to so-called “conversion therapy.”  Canada’s legislation is being discussed in federal parliament (Bill C-6); in Australia the legislation is being put forward in the state of Victoria, but with potential impact across Australia.  Such legislation would make it illegal even to pray with someone who struggles with their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Offences under this legislation could result in prison sentences.  This is another thinly veiled attack against Bible-believing Christians, churches, families and education.

In times like this, the temptation is strong to lie down and play dead.  We might hope that we can just quietly go on with our lives and the powers that be will just ignore us in our little corner of society.  However, their agenda is clear.  They won’t stop until they bring us to heel.  That means bringing us to celebrate and affirm their ideology in every corner of life.  It’s a totalitarian agenda.

We need stories from our past to inspire us to resist the temptation to give up and give in.  Jack Overduin’s Faith and Victory in Dachau is one such story.  Overduin was a pastor in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland) during the Nazi occupation.  While he was serving the church at Arnhem, the Nazi occupiers tried to seize control of the local Christian school.  One of the teachers was a Nazi sympathizer.  He made accusations against the principal.  That led to the attempted Nazi take-over.  When the school board resisted, two of its members were arrested and control of the school was turned over to the Nazi education department in the Netherlands.  When this happened, the parents refused to send their children to the school and the teachers refused to teach. 

Rev. Overduin was convinced that he had to provide leadership to his congregation at that moment.  He prepared a sermon on a relevant Bible passage.  As he climbed the pulpit, he spotted two Gestapo agents sitting in the pews.  He had a choice.  He could boldly preach what he prepared and face the consequences, or he could back down and remain relatively free.  He chose the former.  After the sermon the congregation sang, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” the famous hymn by Martin Luther.

Some days later Overduin was arrested by the Gestapo.  The rest of the book describes his initial imprisonment in Arnhem, his transfer to a camp in Amersfoort, a brief time in Nuremburg, and then finally a lengthy stay in the hellish concentration camp of Dachau.  This part of the book vividly describes the brutality of many of the Nazis, but also the surprising humanity of a few others.  Eventually, in late 1943, Overduin was released from Dachau and allowed to return home to Arnhem.

If you have a Dutch Reformed heritage like I do, this book will resonate with you.  It’ll give you a profound insight into how our forefathers resisted Nazi totalitarianism and the price some were willing to pay.  It’ll embolden you to do the same in our day against the totalitarian forces we’re facing.  However, even if you don’t have such a heritage, seeing Christians of deep conviction standing up to resist anti-Christian persecution should be inspirational.

Throughout Overduin made it clear that we shouldn’t look at him as a hero.  His story is really a story about the power of Christ in the lives of his people.  In his grace, Christ gives the power to resist evil forces which seek to destroy the gospel.  He concludes, “My prayer is that this story has made a God-glorifying impression on you, and that you will say with me, ‘How great and good Christ is, how faithful and merciful!’” (p.252).

I need to make a couple of remarks to finish off.  First, in a number of places, Overduin spoke quite favourably about some Roman Catholics he encounters in Nazi custody.  Two of these Roman Catholics die and he speaks about them going to heaven.  In a spirit of Christian charity, I’ll assume Overduin said this because he personally heard these men profess faith in Christ alone as the only Saviour.

My other remark has to do with another struggle against oppression taking place around the same time, this one in the church.  During the Nazi occupation, there was a doctrinal and church political struggle going on in the Reformed Churches.  Synods made heavy-handed doctrinal declarations that were imposed upon the churches.  When ministers like Klaas Schilder refused to fall in line, a synod suspended and then deposed him, even though this was contrary to the agreed-upon Church Order.  This resulted in the Liberation of 1944.  Jack Overduin didn’t agree with the Liberation.  After the Second World War, he continued to be a minister in the so-called synodical churches.  It’s regrettable that Overduin didn’t take the same bold stand against synodical oppression that he took against the Nazis.  Nevertheless, I don’t think that takes away from the value of Faith and Victory in Dachau.  In fact, in my lifetime it’s never been more relevant than it is today. 

Faith and Victory in Dachau is available from goDutch.com.


Quotable Church History — “The blood of the martyrs…”

Today I’m starting a new series on famous quotes from church history.  Most of the quotes will be familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention — but who knows?  Perhaps you’ll learn something new.  We’ll look at who said it, in what context, and whether it’s biblical.

You may have heard it said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  It’s often said to point out that persecution, rather than diminishing the church, often has the opposite effect.  It’s counter-intuitive.  Where do we get this saying from?

The original source is the early church father Tertullian (~155-~240 AD).  He was an African church father based out of Carthage.  He lived in the days of the Roman Empire and so was familiar with persecution and martyrdom.  Tertullian’s most important writing is entitled The Apology, a work in which he provided a defense of the Christian faith to the provincial governors of the Roman Empire.  Towards the end of the document, Tertullian makes the memorable statement:  “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed” (Apol. 50.13, original Latin:  “Plures efficimur quotiens metimur a vobis; semen est sanguis Christianorum.”).

There is some variation in how these words are translated in various English editions.  Many translators have felt compelled to add some words to explain what the seed is going to produce:  faith, a greater harvest, the church, or a new life.  However, the context is clear enough.  Tertullian believed that God uses martyrdom and persecution in some mysterious way to cause the Christian faith to grow in strength and numbers.

Now one might say that this was simply an observation.  Certainly it seems to be often the case, especially if we consider the global picture.  Considered universally, persecution has been helpless to undo the advance of the gospel.  Even if the faith declines in one part of the world, it moves forward in another part.  Christ continues to preserve and increase his church.

Is there any biblical support for what Tertullian says?  Not directly.  What I mean is that there is no single Bible passage that speaks in exactly those terms.  However, Scripture does speak of how God continues to work in us and through us even when we’re suffering.  In Acts 14:22, after being stoned at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas encouraged their fellow disciples by telling them that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  Or you could think of what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  Or later in the same epistle:  “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).  Most of all, we think of Christ and the path he travelled:  from suffering to glory.  The cross appeared to be his undoing, but it was anything but!  His blood was seed from which grows our life in him.

Still today Tertullian’s words ring true.  Persecution and martyrdom are horrible phenomena.  Yet God continues to work not only despite suffering, but even through it.  Nothing will stop him from accomplishing his purposes for the gospel.


The Reformation and Martyrdom

In parts of Europe, the Reformation was marked with the spilling of blood.  In the first half of the sixteenth century, nowhere were more martyrs murdered than in the Low Countries.  Reformed believers experienced intense persecution from the Spanish authorities.  One of those believers was the author of the Belgic Confession, Guido de Brès.  As a leading pastor in the Reformed churches, De Brès was a wanted man.  Finally, on March 28, 1567, he was arrested and imprisoned.  As he waited for his inevitable death sentence, de Brès wrote several letters.  These letters survived and were later published.  The most notable among them is the letter he wrote to his wife Catherine.  You can hear the author of the Belgic Confession speak tenderly as a husband and father.  In these words he comes alive, not only as a human being, but as a redeemed sinner bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.  He went to his martyrdom on May 31, 1567 with full confidence in Christ.  It was through martyrdoms like that of de Brès that God continued to spread the Reformation.  Not only his preaching, but also his martyrdom served as a witness to the Son of God.

Here’s the letter.  See if you can read it out loud without tears welling up — I never can.

********************

Letter of Comfort from Guido de Brès to His Wife

The grace and mercy of our good God and heavenly Father, and the love of His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, be with you, my dearly beloved.

Catherine Ramon, my dear and beloved wife and sister in our Lord Jesus Christ:  your anguish and sadness disturbs somewhat my joy and the happiness of my heart, so I am writing this for the consolation of both of us, and especially for your consolation, since you have always loved me with an ardent affection, and because it pleases the Lord to separate us from each other.  I feel your sorrow over this separation more keenly than mine.  I pray you not to be troubled too much over this, for fear of offending God.  You knew when you married me that you were taking a mortal husband, who was uncertain of life, and yet it has pleased God to permit us to live together for seven years, giving us five children.  If the Lord had wished us to live together longer, he would have provided the way.  But it did not please him to do this and may his will be done.

Now remember that I did not fall into the hands of my enemies by mere chance, but through the providence of my God who controls and governs all things, the least as well as the greatest.  This is shown by the words of Christ, “Be not afraid.  Your very hairs are numbered.  Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?  And not one of them shall fall to the ground without the will of your Father.  Then fear nothing.  You are more excellent than many sparrows.”  These words of divine wisdom say that God knows the number of my hairs.  How then can harm come to me without the command and providence of God?  It could not happen, unless one should say that God is no longer God.  This is why the Prophet says that there is no affliction in the city that the Lord has not willed.

Many saintly persons who were before us consoled themselves in their afflictions and tribulations with this doctrine.  Joseph, having been sold by his brothers and taken into Egypt, says, “You did a wicked deed, but God has turned it to your good.  God sent me into Egypt before you for your profit.” (Genesis 50).  David also experienced this when Shimei cursed him.  So too in the case of Job and many others.

And that is why the Evangelists write so carefully of the sufferings and of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, adding, “And this was done that that which was written of Him might be accomplished.”  The same should be said of all the members of Christ.

It is very true that human reason rebels against this doctrine and resists it as much as possible and I have very strongly experienced this myself.  When I was arrested, I would say to myself, “So many of us should not have traveled together.  We were betrayed by this one or that one.  We ought not to have been arrested.”  With such thoughts I became overwhelmed, until my spirits were raised by meditation on the providence of God.  Then my heart began to feel a great repose.  I began then to say, “My God, you have caused me to be born in the time you have ordained.  During all the time of my life you have kept me and preserved me from great dangers and you have delivered me from them all – and if at present my hour has come in which I will pass from this life to you, may your will be done.  I cannot escape from your hands.  And if I could, I would not, since it is happiness for me to conform to your will.”  These thoughts made my heart cheerful again.

And I pray you, my dear and faithful companion, to join me in thanking God for what he has done.  For he does nothing that is not just and very equitable, and you should believe that it is for my good and for my peace.  You have seen and felt my labours, cross, persecutions, and afflictions which I have endured, and have even had a part in them when you accompanied me in my travels during the time of my exile.  Now my God has extended his hand to receive me into his blessed kingdom.  I shall see it before you and when it shall please the Lord, you will follow me.  This separation is not for all time.  The Lord will receive you also to join us together again in our head, Jesus Christ.

This is not the place of our habitation – that is in heaven.  This is only the place of our journey.  That is why we long for our true country, which is heaven.  We desire to be received in the home of our Heavenly Father, to see our Brother, Head, and Saviour Jesus Christ, to see the noble company of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and many thousands of martyrs, into whose company I hope to be received when I have finished the course of my work which I received from my Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray you, my dearly beloved, to console yourself with meditation on these things.  Consider the honour that God has done you, in giving you a husband who was not only a minister of the Son of God, but so esteemed of God that he allowed him to have the crown of martyrs.  It is an honour the like of which God has never even given to the angels.

I am happy; my heart is light and it lacks nothing in my afflictions.   I am so filled with the abundance of the richness of my God that I have enough for me and all those to whom I can speak.  So I pray my God that he will continue his kindness to me, his prisoner.  The One in whom I have trusted will do it, for I have found by experience that he will never leave those who have trusted in him.  I would never have thought that God would have been so kind to such a poor creature as I.  I feel the faithfulness of my Lord Jesus Christ.

I am practicing now what I have preached to others.  And I must confess that when I preached I would speak about the things I am actually experiencing as a blind man speaks of colour.  Since I was taken prisoner I have profited more and learned more than during all the rest of my life.  I am in a very good school:  the Holy Spirit inspires me continually and teaches me how to use the weapons in this combat.  On the other side is Satan, the adversary of all children of God.  He is like a boisterous, roaring lion.  He constantly surrounds me and seeks to wound me.  But he who has said, “Fear not, for I have overcome the world,” makes me victorious.  And already I see that the Lord puts Satan under my feet and I feel the power of God perfected in my weakness.

Our Lord permits me on the one hand to feel my weakness and my smallness, that I am but a small vessel on the earth, very fragile, to the end that he would humble me, so that all the glory of the victory may be given to him.  On the other hand, he fortifies me and consoles me in an unbelievable way.  I have more comfort than the enemies of the gospel.  I eat, drink and rest better than they do.  I am held in a very strong prison, very bleak, gloomy, and dark.  For its gloominess, the prison is known by the name “Brunain.” [Brownie].  The air is poor and it stinks.  On my feet and hands I have irons, big and heavy.  They are a continual hell, hollowing my limbs up to my poor bones.  The chief constable comes to look at my irons two or three times a day, fearing that I will escape.  There are three guards of forty men before the door of the prison.

I have also the visits of Monsieur de Hamaide.  He comes to see me, to console me, and to exhort me to patience, as he says.  However, he comes after dinner, after he has wine in the head and a full stomach.  You can imagine what these consolations are.  He threatens me and says to me that if I would show any intention of escaping he would have me chained by the neck, the body and legs, so that I could not move a finger; and he says many other things in this order.  But for all that, my God does not take away his promises, consoling my heart, giving me very much contentment.

Since such things have happened, my dear sister and faithful wife, I implore you to find comfort from the Lord in your afflictions and to place your troubles with him.  He is the husband of believing widows and the father of poor orphans.  He will never leave you – of that I can assure you.  Conduct yourself as a Christian woman, faithful in the fear of God, as you always have been, honouring by your good life and conversation the doctrine of the Son of God, which your husband has preached.

As you have always loved me with great affection, I pray that you will continue this love toward our little children, instructing them in the knowledge of the true God and of his Son Jesus Christ.  Be their father and their mother, and take care that they use honestly the little that God has given you.  If God does you the favour to permit you to live in widowhood with our children after my death, that will be well.  If you cannot, and the means are lacking, then go to some good man, faithful and fearing God.  And when I can, I shall write to our friends to watch over you.  I think that they will not let you want for anything.  Take up your regular routine after the Lord has taken me.  You have our daughter Sarah who will soon be grown.  She will be your companion and help you in your troubles.  She will console you in your tribulations and the Lord will always be with you.  Greet our good friends in my name, and let them pray to God for me, that he may give me strength, speech, and the wisdom and ability to uphold the truth of the Son of God to the end and to the last breath of my life.

Farewell, Catherine, my dearly beloved.  I pray my God that he will comfort you and give you contentment in his good will.  I hope that God has given me the grace to write for your benefit, in such a way that you may be consoled in this poor world.  Keep my letter for a remembrance of me.  It is badly written, but it is what I am able to do, and not what I wish to do.  Commend me to my good mother.  I hope to write some consolation to her, if it pleases God.  Greet also my good sister.  May she take her affliction to God.  Grace be with you.

At the prison, April 12, 1567.

Your faithful husband, Guy de Brès, minister of the Word of God at Valenciennes, and presently prisoner for the Son of God at the aforesaid place.

 


In Their Sights

Pastor Campbell Markham

Last week I was watching a documentary where a fairly well-known British actor visited Lebanon.  As he walked down a city street dividing armed Sunni and Shia factions, he intimated to us (the viewers) that at that very moment he and his crew may very well have been in the sights of a sniper from one side or the other.  It must be terrifying to consider that you might very well catch a piece of lead from a sniper’s rifle.

Here in Australia, Christians are in the sights of the enemy.  We see more and more evidence of deliberate targeting of believers.  Last week, The Australian broke the story of two Christian preachers from Hobart, in the south of Tasmania.  Campbell Markham is the pastor of the Cornerstone Church, a congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of Australia.  David Gee is a member of the same church and he periodically does street preaching in Hobart.  Markham and Gee have been named in a complaint to Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal.  Markham is alleged to have offended homosexuals with some things he wrote on his blog in 2011.  The complaint against Gee cites statements he made while preaching at a speaker’s corner in the Central Business District of Hobart.  These statements offended atheists and homosexuals, prompting the complaint.  It is not clear whether both complaints originate from the same individual, though it appears that way.

It’s important to note something here.  The Cornerstone Church is not the infamous Westboro Baptist Church with hatred as its creed.  Rev. Markham is not a foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalist, and neither is David Gee.  These are simply men who believe what the Bible says about marriage and God’s design for the human race.  As a Christian blogger and pastor, it could have been me in the sights of this complainant.  In fact, for all I know, perhaps I am already in the sights of this activist.

That’s the first thing to take away from this.  No faithful Christian pastor is immune.  If you’re faithful, you will open your mouth and preach what the Bible proclaims without apology.  That makes you a target.  They’ll turn their sights on you eventually.  Even if you’re not a pastor, all it takes is a little question from a boss, co-worker, teacher, or fellow-student.  As soon as you mouth the words, “The Bible says,” the cross-hairs are on your cranium.

The second thing is: we must not let these snipers win.  A sniper makes people take cover.   Under threat of a sniper, no one wants to be out in the open.  Snipers make the fearful hide.  However, we cannot let fear dictate our ministries.  We need the proper perspective to gain courage.  We are at war, but not with human beings who disagree with us and want us silenced.  We’re at war with principalities and powers in rebellion against God.  This war was already decided at the cross.  These skirmishes are like the Allies sweeping through the Netherlands long after D-Day.  The Second World War was decided on June 6, 1944.  But it wasn’t until 1945 that victory was fully realized.  That’s our situation.  We’re on the winning side — the gospel will move forward.  We ought not to be afraid, nor should leaders in this battle run for cover.  We need to remind ourselves:  there may be a sniper’s sight on me, but my Commander has my back and victory is in his grasp.