did We Come from?
Where are We Going?
By Mary Van Nattan Stephens
These days it seems that no matter what country or part of the world one comes from or lives in violence, trouble, and turmoil are either present or near at hand. It can become quite easy to have a very limited view, seeing just our own troubles and the fearfulness of the time in which we are living. Christians today are often sadly lacking in a historical view of our spiritual ancestors despite talk about "our historical faith," "historic positions", "Baptist History," and so forth .
The third verse of the old hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" is a potent reminder, however:
thrones may perish,
As many concerns for the future mount, from war to lawlessness to the threat of plagues and diseases, it could be easy to lose sight of where we came from and where we are going. While "endless genealogies" (1 Tim. 1:4) are not useful, where our faith came from historically is very important as illustrated by Hebrews chapter 11.
Can God take care of us in the perilous times we are facing? Why, we would not even be here today if He had not taken care of all those that went before us! And think of what they faced!
There were the early Christians who had both times of freedom and times of great persecution. Some of them found it necessary to flee the place they lived in order to survive. We can hardly fathom what it must have been like to face the Roman Coliseum for Christ. They were literally torn in pieces by lions and gladiators because they would not deny Jesus Christ.
Think of what it must have been like to be a true Christian in the Dark Ages - the disease, the war and violence, the brutality, the Inquisition and persecutions. Yet in all that, the Christians married, had families, met as churches when and where they could, and led other souls to Jesus Christ. There may have been times when they did refrain from marrying and having children for the "present distress" (1 Cor. 7:26), but this did not continue indefinitely. They ate, they slept, and had their causes for rejoicing as well as their sorrows. If God had not preserved His church at that time it surely would have died.
Then the Reformation came and brought with it some light, but this almost immediately turned into persecution again under John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. What things the Anabaptists and others like them went through at that time when they watched with hope as these men separated from the Roman Church only to find some of these same Reformers to be equal or worse enemies to them than the Catholics had been! And yet it was the same, they continued to preach the gospel, to marry and raise families, to meet with the brethren as churches and find ways to feed themselves and others also.
Imagine what it must have been like to live in England, Scotland, and Wales during the Reformation era. A change in the monarchy could mean a change in the state religion too. A Protestant monarch would mean more freedom, but even then there was a good chance of persecution for Separatists and Non-conformists (those not in the Church of England). On the other hand, if a Catholic were to come to power, they would sweep all non-Catholics into the fires of the stake. Life was very uncertain.
Skipping to the New World, we find that the Baptists underwent brutal persecution in the Colonies as well. Baptists in Virginia were subjected to such horrible treatment by the Anglicans that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were thoroughly disgusted with the situation. The persecution of the Baptists in the Colonies is what inspired men like them to seek religious, as well as political, freedom from England. Imagine being run out into the wilderness and put to the mercies of the Indians like Roger Williams was. And yet again, we find God provided these people with the means and help they needed to go on and live their lives and lead others to the Lord.
What thoughts of fear must have gripped the minds of the Christian blacks in the South of the U.S. when the abolitionists began to stir things up and the Southern slave owners retaliated by making the slaves' lives so much worse! Then as war approached and passed and they found themselves free, those that loved the Lord must have turned to Him constantly for the help to face the new responsibilities that came with freedom.
Many Christians were in Europe during W.W. I and W.W. II. Imagine living for God in Nazi Germany! How many of our brothers and sisters faced the gas chambers in the strength of Christ we will only know in heaven. We cannot know how many Christians were left in Japan at the time of the war, but in the late 1880s some missionaries were hoping to turn the church completely over to the Japanese Christians by 1900. Surely there must have been some Christians left forty-some years later. Italy, no doubt, had true Christians as well.
How about the Christians who were in Russia, China, Ethiopia, and other places when the Communists took over? Some of the Russian Mennonites fled overland in sleds to China when the Bolsheviks and eventually Communists rose up. They gave up tremendous farms and fled for the lives of their families and freedom to worship their Lord.
Even to this very time we have the example of the Christian persecution in Pakistan, Malaysia, Sudan, Iran and other places.
Can God take care of us? More correctly, would God help and strengthen them then and not help us now?! Absolutely not! He is the same God that took care of all these, and He can help us too.
I remember hearing a Mexican pastor once on tape. He was telling how he and his wife had had the opportunity to visit Spain. While there he was able to visit a one of the Coliseums. I suppose that it would be impossible to imagine the feelings that might run through a Christian when visiting a place like that unless you have actually done so. It must be rather overwhelming to realize that this was the very spot where our brothers and sisters walked as they went to die for Christ, people Of whom the world was not worthy... Hebrews 11:38. The Mexican pastor climbed up to a high place in that Coliseum and as he was thinking there about all this he called out,
"ROMANS, WHERE ARE YOU? ALL YOU NEROS AND ROMANS!?"HERE'S ANOTHER CHRISTIAN!!!!!!"
GLORY TO GOD! What a tremendous thought! The Romans are gone -- Christians are still here! The popes and Roman Catholic monarchs of the Inquisition are gone -- Christians are still here! Calvin and Zwingli (who persecuted and killed true believers) are gone and the power of their churches broken -- true Bible believers are still here and worshipping in spirit and in truth! The Anglican church is dead on its feet -- true Christians are still alive and well! Communism has lost its greatest powers and its "best" leaders are dead -- the true saints in those countries are still thriving!
Dear Christian, think of this; By the grace of God we are going to make it through whatever is facing us wherever we live, and if not, then we will die and go to heaven; but, there will still be Christians left! If there isn't it will only be because the Church has been called home and Jacob's Trouble has begun! We look ...for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:10 Christians have lived through famine and war, pestilence and disaster, economic and governmental collapse, and still gone on in this hope.
Whatever happens here, this is not the end for us. It is only the beginning; the beginning of our eternal life.
We have a thousand years yet to live on this earth no matter when this present life may end for us.
Think of what it will be like to live in an earth ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ! Think what a pleasure it will be to see Jerusalem purified and established as the worship place of the whole world. What delight there will be in seeing the desert bloom as a rose. And then, even more than that, we have the new heaven and new earth to look forward to as well! What joys and glories await us! We are going to be there!
Suddenly the troubles that are threatening us seem so small!
Whatever nationality we may be on this earth, it is not our home. We are strangers and pilgrims here. 1 Peter 2:11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Our King is ...on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Hebrews 1:3! We are only ambassadors here, 2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ... Ambassadors may find it very difficult to live in the countries they are assigned to, but they are to represent their government until they are called home. The beauty of our ambassadorship is that our King never makes a mistake. He will call His ambassadors home when He sees fit, whether by death or in the catching away of the church.
may trust Him fully-- All for us to do;
Our today may be unpleasant, even horrible, but this is "for a limited time only." We are part of the church that our Lord Jesus Christ established which cannot be destroyed from the earth. This age ends only when we, or those that follow us, are called home by Him to the marriage supper of the Lamb, and the time of Jacob's Trouble begins here on earth. This life is just the beginning for us. We have a future!
Let's remember these things when we feel inclined to wonder what horrible things the future may hold for us and our families. Let's remember where we came from as the church of the living God, why we are here as ambassadors of Christ our King, and where we are headed when this brief life is over.
There is "a great cloud of witnesses" who testify to us that God IS faithful. There is joy set before us too, and Jesus is "at the right hand of the throne of God." Consider Him!
& graphics by Mary Stephens
updated Feb. 2018