I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad to hear that when Christopher Hitchens--the most prominent outspoken proponent of atheism--went on a tour, Christians were willing to debate him. And not only did they debate him, he himself has said that—with very few exceptions—the believers who engaged him were respectful, polite, and totally lacking in condescension. That thrills me to no end.
I’ve listened to Mr. Hitchens engage in debate on several radio programs, and I honestly wish I could say the same thing about him. He regularly came off as smarmy, condescending, arrogant, and insulting to his opponents. But to my knowledge, he never made personal threats or even insinuated that he wishes physical harm to those with whom he disagrees.
Quite frankly, by not threatening violence he actually stood out. Throughout history, the church’s enemies usually have only one form of debate: Argumentum ad baculum. For those of you not familiar with it, that’s “appeal to the stick.” It means “I win the argument because I have the bigger stick.” It’s the threat of physical violence in order to win a debate.
This is the typical way that enemies of the Truth argue. It’s the debating style of dictators, tyrants, and not a few kings. Why engage in a argument when you can shut your opponents down by force?
Most of the time, sadly, this is how people have tended to settle arguments. The idea of the free and open airing of different beliefs and opinions is actually a pretty new concept. The idea that you shouldn’t try to physically force another person to accept your beliefs is pretty radical. To me it would seem that by resorting to this, you’re admitting that deep down you're pretty insecure about what you believe. If a certain religion (yes, I’m referring to a major religion in the world—guess which one!) has to threaten apostates with death, then I think you have a pretty weak faith in your system.
You see that in today’s reading, but it’s pretty typical in the N.T. Paul and his companions were making inroads in the city of Ephesus. Lots of people were becoming followers of Jesus, and of course were abandoning their idols. Did the proponents of polytheism try to engage Paul in open debate about who was right? Of course not! They gathered up some crowds and started a riot.
Why am I making a big deal over this? Because it’s the pattern of how the Enemy of humanity likes to present his case. He’s not interested in a free and open debate in order to see which side has the better appeal to truth. He’s only interested in keeping people away from salvation in Christ. That’s all he cares about. Add to that the fact that he hates us with every molecule of his being (as representatives/ambassadors of the Most High), and you can see why he does what he does.
But why am I pointing this out? Because we need to expect it. If you actually try to stand up for the Name, you shouldn’t be surprised if the other side plays dirty. This is the norm, not the exception. Christians in America can actually present the Good News without fear of government shut-down, but this is a tiny island in history. And if those freedoms are someday--maybe soon--taken away, it shouldn’t shock us. We should be pretty pessimistic about how the world treats us. After all, what did our Savior say? “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
If the Lord continues to give us the incredible freedom we have in the country, then that’s wonderful. But if he decides to hand us over to some persecution, then we need to A) not be shocked as if something strange or unusual has happened to us, and B) trust that he knows what he's doing. Makes sense, right?
Father God, whether you make us popular or not, we’re in your hands. I trust you. When times get tough, help me to trust you better. By your grace.