THE CHURCH – THE TARGET OF HATRED AND OPPOSITION

The Bible makes it clear that when the church is truly the church it attracts hatred and opposition in the same way and for the same reason as Jesus Christ himself attracted hatred and opposition.

The confrontational presence of the church in the world, and the intrinsic distinction between the church and the world, provoke the hatred of the world.  

  • The darkness hates the light [John 3:19-20].
  • Being aligned with the name of Christ attracts the hatred of the world [Matthew 10:22 ; John 15:18 -25; 1John 3:13 ]
  • Both allegiance to the name of Christ and engagement in the mission of Christ attract rejection and persecution [Matthew 5:10 ,11; 10:17 ; John 16:31 -33; 1Corinthians 4:9-13; Galatians 1:13 ; Philippians 3:6; 1Thessalonians 2:13 -16]
  • Being the church in the world may result in violent death [Revelation 2:10 ,13]

From these texts we understand that the world’s hatred of the church is grounded in the fact that the identity and allegiance of the church is diametrically opposed to the identity and allegiance of the world. Its identity as ‘light’ automatically angers the ‘darkness’. Its allegiance to Jesus Christ automatically generates the hatred and opposition of those who reject Christ. When the church, in addition to simply being, engages in doing – when it engages in its mission of confronting the world with the name and the claims of Jesus Christ – this hatred of the world against the church is aggravated and becomes potentially violent in some contexts.

But there is another quarter from which the church attracts opposition: the church is in direct conflict with spiritual forces of evil. Behind the conflict between the church and the world is the cosmic conflict between God and Satan, and it is because of this great spiritual conflict that the life of the church in the world is described in terms of struggle:  

  • ‘the gates of Hades’ seek to overcome the church [Matthew 16:18 ]
  • We struggle ‘not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ [Ephesians 6:11 -12]
  • The arch enemy of the church is the devil who seeks the destruction of the church individually and corporately [2Timothy 2:26 ; 1Peter 5:8]
  • The devil interferes with the mission of the kingdom of Christ [Matthew 13:19 ,37-39; Acts 13:8-10; Revelation 2:10 ]

While the hatred of the world is usually overt and physical, the opposition of Satan is sometimes covert, subtly disguised, deceptive in its persuasions.

Given this hatred and this opposition both from the world and from spiritual forces of evil, it is not surprising that the New Testament repeatedly uses terms indicating that consistent effort must be exerted by the church in this context of constant conflict. We are told to ‘be on guard’, ‘run the race’, ‘fight the good fight’, ‘put on the armour’, ‘be prepared’, ‘overcome’, and so on. We are reminded by these exhortations that the church exists in the context of an on-going and ever-present battle that has the potential to wear us down, to undermine our commitment, with a view to luring us so far from Christ that we give in and give up.

Against such a response to opposition the church is commanded: ‘Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’ [Hebrews 12:3].

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2009