Mohler: American evangelicals should expect persecution
“Opposition from the world is an opportunity to witness,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, during a special Heritage Week chapel service, Oct. 15.
"The opportunity of greatest Christian witness is not when we think the world loves us, but when the world quite openly hates us."
Preaching from John 15:18-27, Mohler said, “This passage is, of course, not completely unfamiliar to us as evangelical Christians in the United States. But for most of evangelical history in America, we have not heard them as particularly addressed to us.”
Many Christians know about the persecutions in first-century Rome, the sufferings of Paul, or that of the British Missionary Society. However, Mohler said American Christians have thought the persecution in this passage refers only to those groups, and not themselves.
Most American Christians grew up in a society that was not particularly hostile. Recalling his own childhood in Lakeland, Florida, Mohler said the religious diversity he experienced consisted of Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists.
“That was the culture that I grew up in as a little boy. I don’t think I knew anyone who didn’t go to church,” Mohler said. “Everyone I knew was a Christian of one sort or another, and either went to church or knew they were supposed to go to church, and even when they didn’t, said they did.”
Suffering as a Christian never crossed his mind, said Mohler. “I remember hearing about martyrs and people suffering for their faith and I couldn’t imagine that it could ever happen here. Not in this neighborhood, not in this community.”
American Christians cannot imagine suffering for their faith because they read this passage and take refuge in the word “if,” Mohler said. Christians then believe that suffering is not a normative experience because “if” brings conditionality to Jesus’ words.
The “if” collapses in light of John 15:20 and the crucified Jesus. Jesus declares that suffering and persecution is the normative experience for all Christians because the world hated him, Mohler said.
Other problems with the passage occur because Christians do not have a proper understanding of hatred. Most people in the world do not seem to hate God, Mohler said. “If you take a poll or survey in America and most people will say, know they are supposed to say, and probably mean to say nice sweet things about Jesus.”
While Christians do not expect to hear orthodox responses, knowing that worldly views will be unbiblical and insufficient, they do not expect them to be hostile, he said.
“We expect to hear that he was a great teacher; he was a wonder worker; he was a great and kind person who helped people; he was a miracle worker; he was a loyal instructor,” said Mohler.
Christians expect to hear these sort of responses and what makes the Gospel of John so interesting, Mohler said, is that Jesus is the one saying those who hate him do not appear to hate him.
Jesus had a proper understanding of hatred, said Mohler. In biblical terms hatred is a lack of obedience and a refusal to love.
Understanding this passage changes many things for Christians. Hatred is a process, Mohler said. “It starts with a lack of obedience and ends up on a cross.”
Mohler concluded with observations on how the growing threat of persecution in America could alter the purpose of Southern Seminary.
"Maybe the mission of this school is actually to train up a generation of preachers, missionaries, and evangelists who will be martyrs," Mohler said.
Southern Seminary’s Heritage Week this year included the fall trustee meeting, Southern Seminary Foundation meeting, Preview Day for prospective students, and a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry.
Audio and video from Mohler’s sermon are available at sbts.edu/resources.