While reading many of the recent accounts of the persecution of Christians in Africa and the Middle East, I began to wonder what it means to be the Church. So, I began to dig through some books on church history and theology that dealt with the church’s witness in the face of oppression. That became a sort of “reunion tour of misery.” What did become clear from history and current events was that, “There are no comfortable Christians!”
The Church is that body of people who have been called by God to live lives of discipleship in faith and belief. The very meaning of being Christian is rooted in the concept of faith as it relates to obedience in discipleship. This is not just adherence to some moral ethic or devotional schedule but an actualization of the call of Christ to come and follow (Mark 2:14):”only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes”. The notion of a “works righteousness” is foreign to this conception of obedience because it is the call that moves the individual into community with the Church and empowers the Church into action. It is here where Christ “bids (us) to come and die”. There is no possibility for Church without risk and no relationship with God without suffering. There are no comfortable Christians!
The Church is a community that engages in an active relationship with God. The engagement in this relationship is through the power of the call of God. This community, the Church, not only includes the people of today but a countless number of people who have yet to be born in Christ and a countless number of people who have died in Christ. In Ephesians 1:3-6 Paul shouts with joy because God, before the foundations of the world were laid, chose and predestined us to be brought into relationship with God. In this relationship which comes from God the Church comes into being. The continued work of God in this relationship is necessary for the Church to live. It is in this community, the Church, that the peace and the fullness of life may be found (peace does not mean comfort). Life in the Church is far from tranquil. The Church’s life is characteristically filled with risk and suffering. It is in knowing that God suffers with those who suffer that we find peace. Knowing that God is suffering with us encourages us to reach out to stop or abate the suffering of others. It is in this suffering that we may be identified as belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ. There are no comfortable Christians!
The Confessing Church has proclaimed the centrality of suffering to the life of the Church by declaring that Christ suffered and died in “the Apostle’s Creed, the `Niocene’ Creed of 381, and the Jerusalem Creed.” “It is the solidarity of the people inviting all to join in the struggle for God’s peace” that we will find the Church. It is in the cries of those suffering that we hear the creeds of our time proclaimed. Only those who suffer will know the comfort of the living God. As the world knows comfort, there are no comfortable Christians!
The Church has traditional described itself as the “True Church” by saying what it is not. This can be seen by looking at the way Augustine defined “the Catholic Church as the heir of a will” in addressing the Donatist position that the only ‘true’ church was in Africa. Here, Augustine defined the Church in terms of what it was not (it was not a regional church). More recently, the Barmen Declaration (1934) stood in opposition to the Nazi government of Hitler “with six affirmations and six negations” defining what the Church was and what the Church was not. There are no comfortable Christians!
The Church is that body of people with whom God suffers. The Church consists of those whom Christ has called “to come and die.” The Church is not a body of comfortable people. The Church does not consist of people called to prosperity and safety. The action that the Church is called to is one that involves real risk and suffering and not just imagined risk and discomfort. The Church’s relationship to the suffering of the world is the Church’s relationship with God. There are numerous directions that God calls us to as the Church and all of these involve real risk. The current growing number of persecuted Christians, throughout the world and especially in Africa and the Middle East, demands that the Church of the West be defined in terms of its relationship to them. This is not the only criteria that the Western Churches must be critiqued in light of but it is of considerable importance. There are no comfortable Christians!
What are we to do? We should continue to pray for the Church especially where Christians are subjected to predjudice, humiliation, violence, rape, and murder. We should advocate on behalf of Christian refugees by staying on top of proposed government reform and contacting government representatives when necessary. We should support various refugee, mission, and relief agencies and missionaries such as Greg and Chris Callison, Presbyterian Missions, The Outreach Foundation, Medical Teams International, and Lutheran World Relief. We should be mindful that the current political conditions throughout the world have negatively affected not only Christians but people of various faiths. We should pray for and care for all people but as Christians we need to be very mindful to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ wherever they are. Let us seek to comfort those who know not comfort!
-  Dietrich Bonhoeffer , “The Cost of Discipleship” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ, John de Gruchy, ed., (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 172.
- Ibid., 26. (quoted only in the Introduction by the editor and not included in the text)
- Frances Young, The Making of the Creeds, (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), 4.
- Robert McAfee Brown, ed., “The Karios Document: Challenge to the Church [South Africa]” in KARIOS Three Prphetic Challenges to the Church, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1990), 63.
- Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 221.
- Robert McAfee Brown, ed., “Introduction: The Recovery of Kairos” in KARIOS Three Prphetic Challenges to the Church, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1990), 8.
-  John de Gruchy, ed., “Introduction” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 26.