Persecution is coming to America, Josef Tson tells seminary students

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

By Jeff Robinson

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Christians in America will face great persecution soon and they must be aggressors in the midst of it, Josef Tson said March 2 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

"This [persecution] is the new phenomenon that has arrived and it is going to increase," said Tson, president of the Romanian Missionary Society. "But we are the aggressors. God faced evil by sending his Son as the answer to it. Jesus came with three things: truth, love and self-sacrifice. When you are slaughtered, you win the battle ... and you win with these things."

The persecution actually began in the early 1960s, Tson said, when all vestiges of Christianity were jettisoned from public schools in the United States. At the same time, the media grew hostile to the Christian faith, which spurred the rise of postmodernism in both the country's culture and universities, he said.

As a result, America has lost any notion of absolute truth and has substituted sentimentality and political correctness as a yardstick for morality, he said.

"The only crime now is the crime of intolerance done by evangelical Christians," Tson said. "The most scary thing [is] the new concept of hate crimes. You have to punish the hate more than the crime.

"When Southern Baptists decided to continue to evangelize the Jews and the Hindus, that was called a hate crime. Don't you see you have all the elements of a climate of persecution of the Christians in America? Like every other such event, it has the gift of snowballing."

Tson has been president of the Romanian Missionary Society since 1982 and is pastor of the Baptist Church in Brasov in his native Romania. He was exiled from Romania in 1981 under intense persecution.

He spent several years ministering in the United States before returning to his newly liberated homeland in 1991. He has since founded the Oradea Bible Institute (now known as Emmanuel Bible Institute), built a Christian publishing company and established the Christian Radio Voice of the Gospel.

In October 1974, Tson was arrested and imprisoned in Romania for being a Christian minister. Charged with "propaganda which endangers the security of the state," Tson was subjected to weekly interrogation and mind games.

It was in this climate that he began to understand the "theology of martyrdom," which later became the subject of a scholarly paper and book. From a practical standpoint, Tson said his imprisonment helped him form a clearer view of the biblical response to persecution.

"When the secret police officer threatened to kill me, to shoot me, I smiled and I said, 'Sir, don't you understand that when you kill me you send me to glory? You cannot threaten me with glory.' He looked at me and said, 'Look, when I threaten to shoot [you] or kill [you] at least get scared. ... You are not normal.'

"I'm not normal," Tson continued. "I am not natural -- I am supernatural -- because I know that my life is only training for glory. The more suffering, the more troubles, the greater the glory. So, why say, 'Stop this trouble?' Because the more of them the greater the glory up there.

"If you look at things like that," Tson told his seminary audience, "you have the courage to stand the coming persecution in America."

Tson outlined four sources of his courage, which buoyed him during his imprisonment. He urged students to apply them to the imminent conflicts they will face in an increasingly pagan American culture: develop the mind of Christ; understand the sovereignty of God; realize that love, not evil, is the aggressor; and understand that suffering produces the glory.

Christians under persecution should realize that God is absolutely sovereign and in control of all the affairs of his people, Tson said.

"When I was in prison it was like seeing my God moving his six puppet strings," he said, referring to the six guards charged with his interrogation. "That's understanding sovereignty. Look to them [persecutions] as God's puppet strings for you. They are his instruments for you."

At the outset of his address, Tson called Southern Seminary a "totally new seminary" and lauded seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and other leaders both in the school and its parent Southern Baptist Convention for their turnaround of recent years. Tson said his spiritual mentor graduated from Southern Seminary 80 years ago.

Tson paralleled recent conservative evangelical victories in both Southern Seminary and the SBC as having an impact on history similar in relevance to the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union.

Said Tson, "I told Dr. Mohler that the greatest event of the 20th century was the downfall of communism in 1989. Never in history was there such a sudden turn of direction. What you are doing in the Southern Baptist denomination generally, and in Louisville particularly, is of the same magnitude. It will have the same kind of impact on history. I want to assure the young students here that you are witnessing one of the greatest turns in history."

Baptist Press
Used with permission.