We all know the story. In 1620, 102 English Puritans boarded a boat called the Mayflower and set sail for the New World to flee persecution from the totalitarian Church of England. It was their hope to create a society where they could worship God in the way they believed the Bible commanded Him to be worshiped. They also wanted to protect their children from the world’s corrupt influence, and leave for them a godly heritage that generations upon generations could enjoy.
These Puritan pilgrims weren’t the first to flee a town or country for religious reasons and they certainly weren’t the last. As our own country becomes more hostile towards the things of God, Christians are starting to have real conversations — conversations that probably sound a lot like the ones had prior to the Pilgrims setting sail. But what does the Bible have to say about fleeing? What is the theology of flight? Should we as believers anchor ourselves in the midst of persecution or flee to safer shores?
Thankfully, the Bible is not silent on this topic. While there are instances where God calls individuals to stay and face persecution, without a clear call to do so, God expects us to use wisdom in all things (Ecclesiastes 7:12), and furthermore, to avoid threats that are avoidable.
The prudent sees danger and hides himself but the simple go on and suffer for it.Proverbs 22:3 & Proverbs 27:12
Whenever it has been possible, it’s “fleeing,” not “staying,” that has characterized Christianity throughout its history (Matthew 10:23; Exodus 2:15; Genesis 19:15-17; etc…).
Now, before we board our proverbial Mayflowers and set sail, I think we should make a distinction between people facing life-threatening persecution and those facing moral persecution. By moral persecution I’m referring to that which makes Christian living harder because morality in a city/state/town has degraded to such a low point. For an ancient reference think Sodom and Gomorrah, or San Francisco for a more modern one.
For those under life-threatening persecution, if you have an opportunity to flee, flee! In most parts of Scripture where God tells his people to uproot and leave, they are facing life-threatening persecution. God seems to handle moral persecution differently. As a matter of fact, we see many instances where God tells people to go into the heart of these morally degraded places and preach or prophesy! Jonah is a prime example of this.
Now the the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”Jonah 1:1-2
There’s nowhere you can flee that is free from moral degradation, so leaving for that reason is not a decision to be met lightly. Uprooting your family and trading one church body for another is a huge decision that should be met with much prayer, thoughtful consideration, and counsel from the elders of your local church.
If you cringed at that last part, you’re like most American Christians (myself included at one point), who have cultivated an individualistic approach to the Christian life. It’s a major blind spot for us. Of course, we do need an individual relationship with God, but we have made Christianity so personal that we have lost the sense of belonging to the church as God’s covenant people.
If we identify with Christ, we are called to identify with his people as well. That is God’s will for our lives, that we live in communion with the saints, bearing each other’s burdens, praying for one another, and giving of our time and resources. This can sometimes rub up against our own will, which wants to make its own decision and live its own life free from the consideration of others. But that’s not a godly prescription for life.
Seek to have no will of your own, … so that you can honestly say, you are willing to do the will of God, …”George Muller of Bristol, by A. T. Pierson [Revell], pg. 450
What’s so beautiful about the story of the Pilgrims was their love and devotion to one another. Leaving for the New World was not a decision made spontaneously. They had to figure out where they were going, they had to secure a boat and make sure they had enough food, clothing, and livestock for the long voyage. They also secured skilled workers, such as craftsmen and soldiers, who would serve vital roles in the success of both the voyage and the new settlement. But more importantly, they made sure not a single soul that wanted to leave was left behind, from the poorest to the greatest.
If our identity is really bound up with the family of God in our locale, then to sever that connection by moving somewhere else ought to be done only after the most careful, prayerful consideration. Ask yourself, why does God want me to move from this church family to another? Is there a solid Christian church in the new community where my family and I can grow and serve? If not, why am I going there? Realize also, that if you do decide to move, you’d only be trading one immoral place for another. It’s inescapable.
The Pilgrims realized this. As treacherous as their journey was, fleeing would end up being the easiest part. Settling in, starting a new life, and dealing with the drama and wickedness within themselves, within their community, and within their indigenous neighbors was the most difficult task. They brought their sin with them across the ocean and found more waiting for them in the New World.
Immorality runs rampant everywhere, dear sisters. Our security is in Christ and with the Body of Christ, whether that be in Sodom or on Plymouth Rock.
Until next time, salutations and selah.
The inspiration for this post (and the facts therein) was the book Mayflower by Nathanial Philbrick.