Christians should be "dangerous for the Lord Jesus Christ" in an age when people are increasingly hostile to the gospel, Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham said March 6 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"What is needed today is courageous Christian faith," Graham told a chapel audience at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus. "… As we live now in this 21st century in a world full of terror and turbulence, we find ourselves in the midst of a future that may include persecution as we've never known it."
Fears of persecution, however, will not deter courageous Christians, said Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church.
"Once you settle the issue of life and death, once you realize that your security is in the Lord Jesus Christ, there are things that are worse than death — and one of them is cowardice," Graham said.
"When you get into the fire, Jesus will get in there with you, and His presence will be more real to you than any other time."
Faith in Christ in the midst of persecution, Graham said, was no more evident than in the lives of the three Baptist hospital workers who were killed in Jibla, Yemen, in December, and more recently a Baptist missionary killed in the Philippines. SBC missionary Bill Hyde, a graduate of Southwestern Seminary, died March 4 from severe head and leg injuries after a bomb exploded outside of an airport terminal in Davao City, Philippines.
These workers, Graham said, understood that "before you go to the mission field or before you do anything in the call for God, you die before you get there."
Amid the global tensions facing Christians who desire to be effective witnesses for the gospel, Graham said believers should remember that Satan is a fact and a force behind persecution. "Satan knows that if he wants to hurt God, he goes after God's kids."
Jesus mentioned in Matthew 5 various ways in which Christians are persecuted, Graham said. The Christian may be reviled, persecuted, or mistreated — treated with all kinds of evil for Jesus' sake.
"Most of us have paid very little price for the name of Jesus," Graham said. "We have lived, including this preacher, in privilege and not in persecution. Yet as I speak, around the world it is estimated that more Christians are dying, are being persecuted, tortured, and imprisoned for the faith than perhaps any other time in human history. We should be praying for the persecuted church around the world."
Graham noted that Jesus Himself likewise was persecuted, and He was ultimately placed on the cross because of lies and slander.
"We are not greater than our master," Graham said. "Have you noticed that often today the media in particular portrays Christians as extremists, as intolerant, as hate-mongers, telling lies about who we are as believers and followers of Christ?"
Graham cited Jerry Vines as one example. The pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., came under intense scrutiny after a June 2002 remark that the Muslim prophet Muhammad was a "demon-possessed pedophile."
Vines, Graham said, was unjustly abused and was "accused of preaching hate because he dared to say that not all religions are equal, that Jesus is the way." The most common charge against Vines was that of intolerance, a charge Graham considers "the greatest injustice of our time."
"The fact is that our message is a narrow and exclusive message," Graham said. "Yet the message is for the entire world. It is inclusive in that the cross, the blood of Jesus Christ, the power of His resurrection [are] available to all who believe.
"If you proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ Lord of life, Lord of all, you will face lies, slander, and perhaps even worse."
Graham said he made a decision years ago to preach the truth of the Word of God, realizing that preaching the truth necessarily entails persecution.
"If you do [preach], you need to either duck or pucker because somebody's going to take a swing at you or somebody's going to kiss you for it."
If persecuted, Graham said courageous Christians forgive those who hate them because love is the greatest weapon of a believer in Christ.
"We must not become so angry and cynical that we alienate the very people we are trying to reach with the message of Jesus."
Graham said there are ways to avoid persecution: "Approve of the world and its morals and its values, laugh at its humor and enjoy its godless entertainment, wink at sin. Don't ever — whatever you do — mention hell. Don't tell people that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Don't make any moral judgments. Take no stand on moral issues of our times and, above all, keep your mouth shut and don't share your faith, and you'll never be persecuted. But if you stand for Jesus, get ready."