I can’t say how frequently I’ve heard Christians say that persecution makes for a stronger church, even for church growth. Some go so far as to say: we need something to toughen us up, bring it on!
The argument usually then consists of one statement, look at China!
Chinese Christianity certainly looks an amazing creature, and thank God for all those who follow Christ in that great nation. Nonetheless, it’s not much of an argument.
What if we were to look at the Arabian peninsular? Or at Turkey? Places where Christianity once thrived, but is now crushed (humanly speaking, at least). Operation World’s webpage tells me Turkey is 0.21% Christian, declining 1.4% annually. And this place was the cradle for Christianity’s radical transformation from Jewish sect to inclusive fellowship accepting any and every culture (see Acts 13:46)!
What if we look at churches divided by responding to persecution? If I remember early church history correctly, the Novationist division arose partly in response to persecution. The question: if some ‘believers’ deny Jesus when pressured to do so, can churches ever accept them back? Some said no.
The result included infighting in churches. It also led to doubts among those who did not deny Jesus. For instance, if the bishop who baptised me later denies Jesus, does that mean my baptism is invalid? Can I (or you) truly be a member of the church?
A final reason against longing for persecution is what God wants us to pray.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way
1 Timothy 2:1-2
We pray for a peaceful society. It’s in settled society that godly Christian living can and should thrive. Even in an empire whose leaders weren’t Christian, Paul prayed that they authorities would work for justice.
Our comments about persecution have the feel of romanticising something messy and painful. I wonder if it’s easier to paint a romantic picture than it is to pray, live godly, and speak the worlds of Christ.