How Can the Church in the West Embrace Suffering as a Mark of Its Faithfulness? Dr John Armstrong. Act 3 Network

How Can the Church in the West Embrace Suffering as a Mark of Its Faithfulness? By Dr John Armstrong 8-8-16.


This was sent by Dr John Armstrong to Act3 Network friends. It is about how, in the west, the church needs to be marked or characterized by suffering. It is a characteristic we need to grow in.

By Dr John Armstrong. Act 3 Network.  August 8, 2016

Dear ACT3 Friends:

Jesus promised his followers that they would have “peace” yet he warned that in this world “you [will] face persecution (John 16:33). Paul “rejoiced in his sufferings” (Colossians 1:24) and James told us “whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy” (James 1:2). Paul further taught his disciples about suffering and opposition by saying: “All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12). Suffering is as much a part of living in Christ as any mark of the church. In fact, suffering might be one of the most important marks of the visible church.


My years of life inside a safe and comfortable white middle class context have persuaded me, by reading the Scriptures and the story of the faithful who’ve gone before me, that we have privatized suffering to our personal pain and loss. While I do not dismiss this suffering as irrelevant, since I’ve known some of it myself, I am persuaded that this kind of suffering is not what these biblical writers had in mind when they thought of the church as community.


A “mark” of the church identifies and indicates position or status. “As a mark of the church, suffering defies the constraint of definition, for suffering is a universal and inescapable fact of the human condition.” (M. Shawn Copeland, in “The Church Marked by Suffering,” in The Many Marks of the Church, eds. William Madges and Michael J. Daley). Everyone suffers. So how does suffering become a “mark” of the church itself?


The church suffers by its willingness to intentionally stand by those who suffer. We ought to be recognizable by how we stand by those who are poor, afflicted, despised and oppressed. The church has always been most faithful to Jesus, who suffered for others, when she does the same. And like Jesus we must move from intention, in some cases very good intentions, to action. What Jesus says, he does. Our words must move us to act and identify. To do so will lead us to suffer. In this way the church is marked, or identified, by its suffering.


Like Jesus we seek a continually new and active love for God, and in so doing we respond by living a new and active love for others. In a new community of brothers and sisters we belong to a merciful, loving and compassionate God. He embraces us in love and then leads us to share in the griefs and trials of others. This love and suffering leads us to embrace new relationships that are creative and concrete. We are open to ridicule and hostility because we love our neighbors. In so loving, inside the new community, we are continually reminded of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, a remembrance which breaks the power of the intoxicating influence of safety that is cast over us by our culture. We must resist fear and embrace love and if this results in suffering we acknowledge that Jesus promised this and he will be with us in the furnace.


Like Jesus in his flesh we must become a place of refuge, a community of hope. The abused and tortured can find love and acceptance in our social and spiritual context. “Like Jesus, the church must be willing to risk fortune and future for the sake of those who are abandoned to the scrap heap of history. Above all these children, women, and men, must be loved, for in their suffering they bear the mark of the crucified Jesus, who is no one else than the Resurrected Lord” (Cf. M. Shawn Copeland).


The church must be willing to suffer and die in order that others share in the abundant life Jesus came to bring for all. In the words of Paul cited above, the church must be willing to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24) for the sake of the “little ones” who will come into the new community of Jesus. The church in the West must look to Jesus for the grace to be the suffering church who cares for the weakest and the least. This will restore the mark of suffering to our shared life.

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