THE CHURCH’S FIRST SUFFERING

PMT 2014-096 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.Suffering christ

I am continuing a response to the claim that God has called the church to be a suffering church throughout her history. Though the church certain has suffered in her past and does suffer in the present. . . . And though she must suffer in patient faithfulness. . . . She is not called to always suffer on earth. She is faithfully suffering unto glory. Her time of victory will come before the end.

Let us now look at some other verses deemed to require that the church be always and only a suffering community.

Philippians 3:10
Here Paul writes: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” Gaffin comments: “Paul is saying, the power of Christ’s resurrection is realized in the sufferings of the believer; sharing in Christ’s sufferings is the way the church manifests his resur-rection-power. Again, as in 2 Corinthians 4:10–11, the locus of eschatological life is Christian suffering” (Gaffin in Barker, Theonomy, 213). But is Paul referring to universal suffering that is contrary to postmillennialism? Is Christ’s resurrection-power limited to upholding believers in times of persecutional suffering?


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Again, we must understand his statements in terms of Paul’s present condition: He is writing from prison (Php 1:7, 13). As with the case in 2 Corinthians 4, and as Davidson notes regarding Philippians 3, “verses 4–11 are a biographical passage” (New Bible Commentary, 1030). As such, his insights will apply to others when they suffer for Christ; his insights do not necessarily require that Christians will always suffer persecution.

Romans 8:17
This verse reads: “If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” Gaffin comments: “This correlation of future glory and present suffering is a prominent concern in the section that follows. At least two points are worth noting about ‘our sufferings’ (v. 18): (1) their nature/breadth and (2) their terminus” (i.e., the resurrection) (Gaffin, “Theonomy and Eschatology,” 213).

But against Gaffin I would note that this passage concludes Paul’s argument in Romans 6–7. Romans 6 and 7 deal with the internal struggle of the Christian against indwelling sin, not the public buffeting of the Christian against external persecution. Postmillennialism does not expect a time in history wherein we will no longer have a sin nature. As John Murray notes on this verse: “Christian suffering ought not to be conceived of too narrowly. In the passages so far considered, and elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., 2Co 1:5–10; 1 Pe 4:12–19), suffering includes but is more than persecution and martyrdom” (Murray, Romans, 1:213).

Even the next reference to suffering by Paul refers to the decaying condition of the natural world (Ro 8:19) and is not tied to persecutional suffering by opponents of Christianity. Although postmillennialism teaches life expectancy will increase over time (Isa 65:17–21), it also holds that death remains throughout the kingdom era (Isa 65:20; 1Co 15:26). The sufferings of Romans 8 are not evidences against postmillennialism, which promises the elimination of persecutional suffering for the faith. Even as Christ’s kingdom advances in the world, at its glorious height it will be but a pale reflection of the glory of our total liberty in the resurrection when we possess a glorified, eternal body.

I will continue my response to the suffering church argument in my next article. You will just have to suffer patiently until I return!


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4 thoughts on “THE CHURCH’S FIRST SUFFERING

  1. Charles August 11, 2014 at 8:01 am

    I really hope Dr Gentry that there will be no suffering for Christians externally but there’s one verse that contradicts Postmill hope straightforwardly sans explanation. The more I and other Christians share the gospel to atheist and New age practitioners and Muslims, the more we are convinced by the truthfulness of the verse.

    2 Timothy 3:12 – “Yea, and ALL that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

    Paul also suffered persecution from Antioch and other places yet he also reminds Timothy that All who will live for Christ will suffer persecution – ALL means it expands through out the Ages. Not unlike “All this things” in Mat 24 to happen inside a clause of “This Generation.”

    But the good thing is when talking to other Christians who express the same sentiments, They are cheered by encouraging them to press on enduring and sharing because Christ will return Soon without signs to recognize their efforts. To those who are more theologically open, I even conducted an experiment about the hypothetical possibility of Postmillenialism – that Christ will return not anytime but in a very looong long time from now even thousands of years from now as Boetner said until Christianity dominates all men not only spiritually but politically. The response was not so positive and even hostile. –

    One even had an interesting analogy: about Christ as a Powerful General with all the power and capabilities to defeat the enemy at will like the Alexander the Great, or the Mythological Achilles, yet choosed to stayed in his baracks to let his troops fight the enemies and conquer to the point of severe pain and suffering to the point of risking their lives, The General can see the efforts of his soldiers through His satellite but decide not to return to the battlefield because he is enjoying the courage of his men and only decided to give them motivational hope through his trusted messengers that he will be there to fight with them but instead for now just offered psychological motivation and additional supplies, the troops are pumped up waiting for the general to finally come to their aide physically, they fight gallantly with that promise. the enemies seems to increase in number and grow more powerful as time goes by but they hold on Faithfully to his promise, after a long time of fighting, casualties greatly increased, others loosed hope fighting yet others continue to hold on to the hope that the messenger relayed. After a very loooong time of fighting for years, decades, centuries they again asked the messenger when will the general come to physically aide them and finally liberate them. But the startling message was: “NO he will not come to your aide physically until you dominate and take down All the enemies by yourself and conquer their cities for our general. Did he not gave you All the supplies you need.?????”
    Because of that many grew cold and just decided to surrender to the enemies and live peacefully in their terms under their authority.

    For me that really made full of sense.

    My conclusion was Christians are more motivated in sharing the gospel and living faithfully for Christ if they know that He will return any moment to liberate them. But Most if not All Christians are so reluctant and violently reacting in holding to the Idea that they will have to work so hard to convert the world only then Christ will return. Postmill is a very good ideological frame work but it’s really counter intuitive since even the most seasoned Christians agreed that it’s really hard to fully conquer once self, getting rid of every filth in thought deeds and words while the environment seems to be against you all the time, Talk about “internal” and “external” enemies. If changing oneself is that hard how much more dominating the world politically and culturally for Christ. It’s almost an impossible task unless Christ the Mighty powerful conquering general make the reforms himself.

    I attest to it that Christ Physically coming any moment is a very Excellent evangelical tool in winning souls for Christ rather than talking to would be converts about the possibility that Christ will return hundred or thousands of years from now, that they have to work as soldiers conquering the world for Christ. When Christ himself could do it at will.

    I hope you could publish my post cause it’s really coming from the collective sentiments and thoughts of most people and numerous faithful Christians I’ve encountered most of the time.

    Thank You Dr Gentry and may Gods Grace be with us all!

  2. Kenneth Gentry August 11, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Thanks for reading. But let me warn you against using metaphors for your theology. The Powerful General metaphor is interesting, and could well be encouraging. But the question is: What does the Scripture teach.

    The 2 Timothy 3:12 verse needs to be read in context. In the context Paul is instructing his first-century co-laborer Timothy regarding what he should expect. Notice the two verses preceding: “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!” (2 Tim 3:10-11).

    Besides, Paul also says in this passage of personal testimony and directed exhortation to Timothy — verse preceding these words: “But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also” (2 Tim 3:9).

  3. Charles August 11, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    You’re welcome Dr. Gentry, Thanks also for publishing my post. 🙂

    Regarding 2 Timothy 3:12, Yes I actually kept that in mind before posting, to always keep in mind the context. And based on reading I think the purpose is not only for personal testimony and instructions for Timothy but to remind us Christians throughout the ages. My basis is the clincher at (v16) “All scriptures are “profitable for doctrine and Instruction for righteousness….” so it applies to us in the 21st century as Paul noted in I Corinthians 10:11- ” These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”

    The thing that inspires me is that we Christians even though we may suffer persecutions and tribulations, We are not subject to God’s wrath. I Thes 5:9.

    By the way I really did a thorough research and reading regarding the Great Tribulation as a reply to your encouragement from a previous article and It could possibly be the 70AD siege of Jerusalem even though. Even though it’s “unparalleled” and “will never happen again”. Some Preterist say it’s the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jer 30:7) so it’s local.

    I just have a question Dr Gentry about how Postmill view the final loosing of Satan.Your view about the Millennial reign as Spiritual Resurrection is similar to the Amils and the HyperPreterist. How about the final hour after the 1000 indefinite years, when Satan was released after being bound from the bottomless pit to deceive the world again. Is that as severe as the “Great Tribulation” that is said to have happened in the local “Days of Vengeance” that happened in Jerusalem?…

    Paul seems to allude the Perilous final days to the releasing of Satan if indeed the Great Tribulation is past. So even if Christians would indeed dominate the world for a long time as Postmill imply, It will still suffer a final severe persecution and tribulation when Satan will be released again. And ultimately Christ will come to finally finish him off. It seems like History repeating itself. It happened in the Great Tribulation as judgment to the Jews, It will happen again in the future but this time final judgement against Satan and his followers. The common clincher is there is always a great Cloud of upheaval to herald the Golden Age when Christ the Great powerful General will finally conquer all foes by himself.

    Again Thanks Doc and I really appreciate posting my message here. GodBless!

  4. Kenneth Gentry August 11, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    It certainly is true that by application this verse in Paul’s letter can apply to today. We are truly witnessing persecution in the world today, especially in Islamic countries. However, the passage does not require that we believe Christianity must always suffer persecution.

    I will provide an article on Rev 20:7ff in an upcoming article. Keep reading!

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