“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” — Thomas Paine, “The Crisis” (1794)
After hearing a lecture about Christian Cherokees’ suffering on the Trail of Tears, a retired pastor thanked God for the church’s blessings today. He was glad he didn’t have to suffer the way they did. I mentally chastized this old man for his lack of understanding. Then I realized I was just like him. After watching a documentary on Christianity in modern Jerusalem, I was glad I didn’t grow up there. Instead, I thanked God for being reared in America with its musical blessings – Maranatha and Brooklyn Tabernacle, among others.
How cruel! The blessing of God is not freedom from suffering or oppression. True blessing is testing, facing spiritual opposition both within and without. Only then do we find out who we really are and who God really is, so that we can learn to trust him as God. Persecution produces boldness, “speaking the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14). Only those who are “reproached for the name of Christ” are truly blessed (1 Peter 4:14). Without spiritual blessing in the form of testing, we’re just “summer soldiers.”
Christians living under atheist and Muslim governments can testify of God’s blessings. Russia suffered under Communism for 70 years. The regime tried to stamp out God but failed. Now the church is stronger than ever. China has suffered under Communism since 1950, but the church is thriving. Christians in Muslim countries appear small and weak today, but spiritual testing will bring them forth as gold (Job 23:10).
The church in the West is a different story. We thank God for material blessings, but they’ve made us uncharitable worldlings. Then we have the audacity to boast about our “freedom to worship.” Oh, we attend church on Sunday, but we don’t worship God. Thanks to Hollywood, we’d rather sit and be entertained. We even use dinner theaters to showcase the church to the community. At midweek services, we offer people a choice between Christian doctrine and karate, the letters of Paul and knitting. We pray only 5-10 minutes each day, while our unread Bibles gather dust on shelves. Sinners are dropping into hell, but we’re too busy loving the world. The great light we boast of has become small and dark. Our lives are filled with grey.
God invites us to “let the veil down” and “let the praise go up.” He asks us to “come and dine” (John 21:12). But we don’t come to God hungry or needy. We’re too full of the world’s husks (Luke 15:15-16). The chains of sin bind us to our seats, so we turn God away.
The worldly church doesn’t know God as Savior. Why? The human heart is deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We’re sinners by nature (Romans 3:23). Divine testing reveals these truths, but the church isn’t teaching them. She prefers powerless preaching and sinners’ prayers that convict and convert no one. I fear that unconverted pastors are leading unconverted congregations straight to hell. The worldly church doesn’t know God as Jehovah-nissi, the Lord our banner, either (Exodus 17:15). The Lord is a “man of war” (15:3). Christ overcame Satan on the cross. He is the Victor. What does an untested, free-from-persecution church know about this? Nothing!
We think we have it all, here in America. We don’t know that we’re poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17). If testing in the form of Communism or Islam came here, I don’t think we’d survive. Still, testing would show the worldly church what real Christians look like. All that glitters is not gold and this sinful world’s food can never fill our bellies.
The church today is cursed, not blessed. Materialism and “freedom to worship” are her chains. Until God strips these things away, testing and refining Christians’ faith, the church is doomed. We can’t fight spiritual warfare if we won’t stand up for Jesus Christ. So let us stand and fight. Only then will “summer soldiers” disappear and seasoned warriors arise in their place.