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persecution-1

Positive Persecution

In a recent study by the Barna Group, it was found that younger generations of Americans (those between the ages of 18 and 44) are more accepting of Pentecostal and Charismatic beliefs than older generations. Younger generations also believe in the Holy Spirit at higher rates. These results reflect the increased spirituality of younger generations.

While these numbers are encouraging, other results are not. Although the young adults are more accepting of the Holy Spirit and other Pentecostal beliefs, they are less likely to understand these beliefs and to put them into practice.

David Kinnaman, the president of the Barna group, interpreted the results this way: “The charismatic and Pentecostal community in the U.S. has reached a conflicting social status – its numbers have established the group as a significant social and spiritual force, yet generational changes and the diffusion of Pentecostalism across many denominations have made its beliefs, behaviors and identities much less focused. For millions of the youngest Christians, the charismatic, Pentecostal and Spirit-filled labels are not as divisive as they were to their parents’ generation. The Mosaic generation in particular is removed from many of the long-standing debates about the validity of spiritual gifts, the role of expressive forms of worship, and about the need for receiving personal direction from the Holy Spirit. As a consequence, the next generation of charismatic and Pentecostal Christians spends less time defending their views to others, but also seems much less certain what they believe or how to put their faith into action.”

Is the Pentecostal church being lulled to sleep by the acceptance current culture? Is persecution good for the church? The results of this study seem to indicate this.

There is an inverse correlation between acceptance and spiritual discipline. When the culture accepts our beliefs with less skepticism, young adults are less likely to practice spiritual discipline. In other words, the more we’re accepted, the less we practice discipline.

In previous generations, when culture wasn’t so accepting of our beliefs, there was a need to be prepared to defend our faith on a daily basis. When someone is throwing rotten tomatoes at you or threatening to hurt you, you’d better be sure that this is the way you want to live. Or maybe persecution served to concentrate the population of Pentecostals, so that only those who were 100% committed to the biblical plan of salvation remained in the church. In the parable of the sower, if the sun would have never come out there would have been twice as many plants at the end of the parable.

So what does this mean for Pentecostal young adults? Kinnaman goes on to say, “It raises the question of what will define the next generation of young charismatics and Pentecostal believers in the U.S. Facing less criticism from within the ranks of Christians, they must focus on being grounded theologically and finding a way to live faithfully within the broader culture of arts, media, technology, science, and business.”

The article on barna.org concludes by stating: Kinnaman also pointed out that because younger Christians are open to the Holy Spirit and to spiritual gifts but hold contradictory beliefs and behaviors, there will be a premium on the theological and spiritual development of the next generation. “Just like young Christians of various traditions, young charismatics are less likely to adopt their beliefs and practices based on deep, considered theological reflection. The future vitality of this portion of the Christian community will depend in part on connecting young charismatic and Pentecostal believers to better training on theology and doctrine.”

In a world where acceptance is high, it seems that there are few challenges to externally force spiritual discipline into young adults. Instead we must find a way to motivate ourselves internally. The future of our movement depends on young adults that transcend the knowledge of spiritual discipline to the desire for spiritual discipline.

We must not see this time of acceptance as a reprieve from discipline. This should be a time when we take advantage of cultural attitudes to push ourselves, and our churches, to explore this wonderful gift that we have been given.

Joel Gray

antichrist

The Anti-Christ Culture

2 Thessolonians 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed , the son of perdition; 4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already wor : only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

Daniel 11:37 Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all.

I have never been a big prophecy guy. Sure I think it’s interesting, but I’ve always held to the “just live right, go to Heaven and everything else will take care of itself” philosophy. So while others discussed tribulations and red heifers, I devoted my time to the investigation of culture. However, recently I have come to see an interesting intersection between these two philosophies. A symbiotic relationship between end time prophecy and cultural studies has become glaringly obvious, and at the focal point of this juncture exists a man, who at this point, is only known by the title of the “antichrist”.

To many young adults, the antichrist shares mental shelf space with the boogie man and Bigfoot. He is an apparition used by preachers to scare us into good behavior, but we have trouble fixing him in the reality of our day-to-day lives. However, in the book of 2 Thessalonians, Paul gives a concise description of the antichrist and the context of his appearing. He starts off by saying that before the antichrist makes his appearing, there will be a great falling away. It is safe to say that this falling away is the precise reason why ministries like Hyphen were created in the first place. This falling away is happening right now, and we are doing everything possible to stem the tide.

Paul goes on to say in verse 7 that the “mystery of iniquity is already working.” In other words, he is saying that there is a hidden force of sin that is moving in our world. The agenda of sin has always been to lead people to hell, but what if sin also has a veiled purpose – to bring about the time for the antichrist to appear? What if the changes we are seeing in culture aren’t just byproducts of carnality, but instead are targeted issues meant to create an atmosphere in which the “son of perdition” could be elevated to power? If this is true, then we should see specific spirits being advanced in our culture that would fall in line with the antichrist’s characteristics.

This is where Daniel 11:37 comes in to play. Daniel gives three qualities of the antichrist. He says that:

  1. He will abandon the God of his fathers.
  2. He will not desire women
  3. He will not regard any God, and will magnify himself above all

Many theologians agree that Daniel is saying that the antichrist will be a homosexual, apostate Jew with a healthy ego. So what does this mean for our culture? It means that for the antichrist to be accepted we must live in a world that will celebrate secularism, homosexuality and narcissism, and this is exactly what we are seeing in our world right now.

Secularism

The abandonment of God has been the central fixation of the church for quite some time now. Since the early days of the postmodernist movement, the idea that a divine metanarrative can explain the universe has been under attack. Being an atheist is no longer a marginal view point, in fact it is celebrated in many circles. A recent Barna group study found that less than 0.5% of millennials have a biblical worldview.  Secularism isn’t a new movement, by any stretch of the imagination, but it has never been celebrated the way it is today.

Homosexuality

If you are unaware of the heightened acceptance of homosexuality in our world in recent years, then you have been living under a rock! What once was seen by the majority of Americans, even those who weren’t overtly religious, as a perversion, has now become a normal part of society.  At least part of the rapid increase in approval has been credited to the positive portrayal of homosexuality in the media. It is no longer just a punch line, it is now front in center on all forms of media. Recently, college football player and NFL hopeful, Michael Sam revealed to the world that he is gay. Potentially he could be the first gay, professional football player. Many expressed disbelief that an NFL locker room would be receptive to a gay teammate, but an ESPN survey found that 86% of players would be OK with a gay teammate. It’s safe to say that if a football locker room would accept a homosexual player, then this is a spirit that has been firmly entrenched in our world.

Narcissism

Lucifer may have been the originator of pride, but social media has elevated this sin to an art form. Sites like Facebook have allowed us to create pages that we fill with all the details of our lives. In order for social media to work behaviors that would have been considered narcissistic 30 years ago, are now practiced daily. To post anything on social media you have to believe that people are sincerely interested in the details of your life, and that what you have to say carries merit to others. In effect, we have created online shrines to ourselves, and we get disappointed when others don’t visit our temples. In fact, narcissism has been elevated to the point that sociologists have labeled it an epidemic. This spirit is wreaking havoc in arenas that stretch from the church pew to the workplace.

So what does all this mean? It means that the time is right for an atheistic, homosexual politician to arrive on the scene and garner millions of followers on twitter. Even if you aren’t a prophecy person, this should arrest your attention. The rapture isn’t some mythological event in the far off future, it is real and it is soon approaching. As we instruct our young adults about Christian living, we need to remind them that God is coming, and that eternity is real. We are living in the last days, and it isn’t something we should just gloss over. You can teach that we should be more than a fan, and encourage them to experience crazy love, but don’t allow Heaven and Hell to become outdated concepts.

Paul called the work of these spirits a “mystery”. This word means something that is hidden that only God can reveal. We need to pray that God would reveal the true work of these spirits to us and our churches. It is only through the renewing of our minds that we will be able stand in these last days.

- Joel Gray, Director of Resources & Training