PMT 2014-096 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
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.
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.
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!