When the church of the Lord Jesus Christ finds its peace and sense of well-being from its protection and patronage by the civil government more than from its confidence in the power of the Lord, we take a serious step into peril. I have heard so many Christians bemoaning the loss of privilege and good opinion for the church in the public arena. The not-so-subtle implication is that we need to be accepted by and provided for by the good graces of governmental rulings and authorities to have the kind of influence and impact we should be allowed to have in the surrounding culture.
G. Campbell Morgan speaks to just this issue in comments he made about the passage in Acts 19, an account of a near riot in Ephesus against the testimony of the church in that ancient city. The grave danger to the church, he says, was not the voices of opposition, the shouts of defiance in the amphitheater, but the single voice of the town clerk advising the crowds to back off and allow the civil courts and normal governmental processes handle the presence of advocates for this new religion which exalted Jesus Christ. The town clerk cared nothing about the followers of Christ, but he did care about public order…restoring quiet to the city.
“Quiet in Ephesus was everything to him, but in the moment in which these Christian men passed under the protection of the town clerk, they were in more danger than when Demetrius’ mob was howling about them…the Church of God is in her gravest peril when a town clerk protects her. Let us be very careful that we do not waste our energy, and miss the meaning of our high calling, by any rejoicing in the patronage of the world. It is by the friction of persecution that the fine gold of character is made to flash and gleam with glory. The Church persecuted has always been the church pure, and therefore the Church powerful. The Church patronized has always been the Church in peril, and very often the Church paralyzed. I am not afraid of Demetrius. Let him have his meeting of craftsmen, and let them in their unutterable folly shout a lie twenty-five thousand strong. The truth goes quietly on. But when the town clerk begins to take care of us, then God deliver us from the peril.” (G. Campbell Morgan, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 465)
While we do not pretend to want to invite persecution, we would do well to ask ourselves what is more frightening to us…to be pacified and patronized and ultimately poured into the mold of the surrounding culture, or to be persecuted and and threatened but ultimately empowered because we have dared take the gospel to the surrounding culture, disregarding the cost? The church in Ephesus eventually deteriorated and was absorbed into the city in such a way that there has scarcely been anyone to name the name of Jesus Christ in that vicinity for centuries and the city itself is in ruins, a silent sentinel to a past that once was a thriving center of the Christian faith. The church in the twenty-first century does not need the approval of the world to be the light of the world. The commission and calling of Christ is all we need for that!