Is it OK to Keep Quiet About My Christianity?
- Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
- 2013 12 Dec
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have to publicly become a Christian or can you do it in private?
When I was growing up every worship service ended with a call for people to “surrender their lives to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.” People were invited to walk to the front of the congregation and publically declare their commitment to Jesus. They were thus identified as “new Christians”! The impetus for giving this type of invitation to follow Christ was Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 10:32-33: "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
Again and again I heard our pastor say, “Every disciple Jesus called, He called publicly. There is no such thing as a secret disciple. If you come forward now Jesus will confess to His Father that you are one of His children. But, if you don’t come forward He will deny that He knew you!” My pastor was on the right track, but his focusing on walking the church aisle and on the now or never moment was quite obviously off the track.
Though my pastor was on the right track, He didn’t carry the meaning of Christ's words far enough. Walking down the aisle of a church never made anyone a Christian! Becoming a Christian is a deeply personal, carefully considered decision of life-time devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ. This decision is made privately in the deep recesses of the human heart.
Following Christ is both a private and a public affair. Of course, the internal decision may be followed immediately by walking the aisle of a church and openly declaring faith in Christ. But, not necessarily. The internal decision may be expressed in a multitude of ways.
Jesus’ point is that the decision to follow Christ will not stay private. Following Christ results in an inner transformation which produces outward behaviors that reflect Jesus and His Kingdom on Earth.
If the private encounter is real, and our surrender to Christ is indeed a life-changing commitment, then Jesus will gladly declare to His Father that we are truly His children and welcome us into the eternal Kingdom. On the other hand, if the inner commitment is faulty or incomplete, then outside religious behaviors will not fool Jesus. With a broken heart He will tell His Father that we are not His. We will enter into a kingdom where we really don’t want to spend eternity at all!
The primary context of Matthew 10:32-33 is persecution. Jesus taught His followers that they would be called on to testify before powerful authorities to declare whether or not they followed Christ. On that day, true Christians will declare their surrendered relationship with Christ—even at the cost of their lives.
In practical reality, living under the iron fist of the Roman Empire, things were not nearly so clear-cut. There is little doubt that under intense torture the one being pressured can be made to say anything.
A problem arose in the church during the first and second centuries. Some of the Christians broke down and denied Christ under torture. Many in the churches "kicked out" of their churches those who denied Christ by declaring that true believers would never for a moment deny Christ. Others wanted to forgive them and welcome their return. The issue was never resolved.
The Roman Empire in the early centuries was held together through the institution of Emperor Worship. People throughout the empire could worship as many gods as they wanted as long as they bowed down once a year and declared publically, "Caesar is Lord," thus submitting themselves to the power and authority of the Roman emperor.
The persecution was merciless for those who instead declared "Christ is Lord."
I am reminded of Hebrews 11:32-40:
"And what more shall I say? ... There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect."
Perpetua was a young married aristocrat who lived in Carthage, North Africa. At the age of twenty-two she was tried before the procurator who asked, "Are you a Christian?"
"I am" she answered.
Her diary is preserved: “Then he passed sentence on the whole of us, and condemned us to the beasts.... Then, because my baby was accustomed to take the breast from me, and stay with me, I asked my father for my baby. But my father refused to give him. And as God willed, neither had he any further wish for my breasts, nor did they become inflamed; that I might not be tortured by anxiety for the baby and pain in my breasts."
Then, she summoned her brother and spoke to him: "All of you stand fast in the faith, and love one another; and be not offended by our sufferings."
The story is finished by an early Church father named, Tertullian: "For the young women the Devil made ready a mad heifer... Perpetua was tossed first, and fell on her loins....Then, having asked for a pin, she fastened her disordered hair. For it was not seemly that a martyr should suffer with her hair disheveled, lest she should seem to mourn in her hour of glory."
Public Christianity may be costly but glorious! Private Christianity doesn't cost much and is quite an ugly thing.
When we read of what they went through, our persecutions, if we have any, seem quite insignificant.
Well, Anonymous, thanks for asking the question. I hope my answer is helpful to you. May you shine like a city on a hill in the darkness of night.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.