The following is a written interview I conducted with Paul Hattaway–author of several books including one of my favorites: The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun. Paul is the founder and director of Asia Harvest and a prolific researcher and author.
This is the third portion of our four-part interview:
Preparing for Persecution
with Paul Hattaway
(Art) I am personally convinced that persecution is coming to America–possibly even within our own lifetimes or those of our children or grandchildren. I am also convinced that unless something radically changes in our faith, most of the American Church will not survive the onset of that persecution when it comes. Something is obviously different between most of the Church in America and the Church in China. What are some qualities of our Chinese brothers and sisters that you see often lacking in much of the American Church?
(Paul) I understand what you are asking, but I want to point out that the Bible says “Everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12). The Bible is always right, and it doesn’t say only Christians in Communist countries or living under dictatorships will be persecuted. It says EVERYONE who desires to live a godly life. I am convinced that anyone who wants to genuinely serve the Lord in America today, in the way the Bible teaches, will not have to wait long before persecution comes knocking. They may lose their job, be beaten up, slandered, and even imprisoned. I have met a number of believers in the US and other Western nations who have experienced severe persecution after taking a stand for Jesus and refusing to compromise.
I also want people to understand the Chinese are not any more special than anyone else. They were not born with some kind of inherent ability to withstand persecution any more than you or me. In fact, when the Communists really started to try to smash the Church in the 1950s, some researchers estimate that about 70% of Chinese “believers” fell away under the pressure. Those who remained faced years of brutality and deprivation, but God was with them in a mighty way and the Lord became very precious to them. Those Christians who endured became the new generation of leaders who have witnessed the greatest revival in the history of Christianity.
Persecution is therefore a promise for ALL believers who desire to live a godly life, who share the Gospel with all people, and who are willing to take up their instrument of death (the cross) and follow Jesus daily. I also realize physical persecution does intensify at different times of history, and it is surely coming to not only America but to Christians regardless of where they live in the world.
As you pointed out, the way things are now, many professing believers and church-goers will abandon the faith as soon as things get hot, especially those people who have been deceived by lying teachers into thinking being a Christian means looking “successful,” smiling all the time, and having an attractive income. There are also millions of “cultural” Christians who think they will never experience persecution because the Lord “loves” them so much He will take them away before they experience any great discomfort. I believe those with such a shallow understanding of the Scriptures will find their faith fails in the moment of trial. Such thinking also goes against even a basic understanding of church history. Does God love them more than he does the Church in China, or the tens of thousands of believers in North Korea in prison camps right now, or the early Christians who were turned into human candles by the wicked Emperor Nero?
Let me offer some encouragement. I am confident there are many believers in America who love the Lord deeply. They understand that if ungodly men killed our Master they may kill us also, and they are willing to cling to Him through the darkest of storms. They have encountered God in a personal way and Jesus is dearer to them than anyone or anything. These are the remnant of God, and are precious to Him. “‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession'” (Malachi 3:17).
(Art) What would you say is the most important message presently on your heart for the Church at large?
(Paul) I believe we need to study the Scriptures much more intently, both collectively and individually–and not only read them, but obey them. We also need to shake off man-made traditions which hinder countless millions of Christians and bind them to dead religion.
I believe the Lord is beginning to dismantle those structures which prevent His bride from being all that He intends. This includes church structures where there is a hierarchal system where a few individuals do all the work and all the ministering, while everyone else sits there watching. The Old Testament pattern of priestly worship was concluded when Jesus died on the cross. The temple curtain that separated people from God was ripped in half, and an amazing new era began where ALL followers of Jesus are now “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
I am not implying the Church should have no leaders. Of course we must! Leadership is an essential part of us maturing in Christ and being equipped to serve Him. What I am saying is that millions of Christians must stop being spectators and become active participants in the kingdom of God, and not be content just to sit within their church structures doing nothing, while the world perishes around them.
(Art) Finally, what message would you like to give to America as a nation?
I don’t presume to have a message for the whole nation. The apple of God’s eye is those people He is in covenant with, not political nations as a whole. It is dangerous when this distinction becomes blurred. Some Christians somehow think that America is a big church, and the president is the senior pastor! Instead of weeping over the nation’s sins, as Christians we should weep over the state of the Church which damages God’s Name among the lost.
This leads to one concern I have for Christians in America. It seems many think the Gospel is about trying to align unsaved people’s lifestyles to the Gospel, without them first believing in Jesus. They think if they can achieve this then America will be righteous. This is a false Gospel. There is meant to be a clear distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous. Let us focus on sharing the Good News, and the Holy Spirit will work in people’s hearts, bringing conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). It is not our role is to try to modify sinners’ behavior. Our job is to preach the Gospel to them, so that some might escape the flames. There is nothing worse than Christians trying to get people to behave like children of God when they have yet to experience His salvation. “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand” (Daniel 12:10).
There is much more that could be said on this important subject, but I will just end for now with a quote from William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. In 1899, just before the start of the new century, the 70-year-old Booth prophesied:The principal danger of the 20th century will be a religion without the Holy Spirit, Christians without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God and a heaven without hell.
May we contemplate these wise words and consider how they might apply to our lives today.
Thank you, once again, to Paul Hattaway for his thorough participation!
- A couple days ago, we talked to Paul about the Chinese Underground Church.
- Yesterday, our topic was on Brother Yun, “The Heavenly Man”.
- And tomorrow, Paul Hattaway will join us one more time to discuss “Reaching the 10-40 Window,” which consists largely of Muslim nations between China and Israel.