Courage in Christian Ministry, Josef Tson

Desiring God 2000 Conference for Pastors

Courage in Christian Ministry

Thank you. This has been an amazing conference with many points of view. First of all, who could have believed that we would come to a point in time when persecution would be here in America; that preaching the gospel would be called a hate crime; that people who just stand for the truth of God are threatened to be killed. But this has come here, and it was an amazing conference because there were amazing speakers. Albert Mohler, Ben Patterson, and John Piper, all of them stood for what they believed, and they were all heavily, bitterly persecuted. And we were challenged, fed, nourished, and then enlightened and encouraged by their testimonies. Now they were so much in your culture, in your situation, you identified with everything they stood for, and everything they went through. Isn’t this an anti-climax that you have a foreigner now, bringing a totally different background, and maybe different issues? Well, we’ll see.

Background with Eastern Orthodoxy

My background is in an Eastern Orthodox country. Eastern Orthodoxy is much stronger than the Catholic Church on the dogma that the church saves people. You just go to the priest and the priest imparts your salvation, and you know what you don’t have there then. You don’t have a personal relationship with God. We have debates on TV and on the radio there, and as a consequence, Orthodox theologians come and say, “There isn’t such a thing as a personal relationship with God. You have a relationship with the church. The church links you with God.” So they will start building a huge cathedral in Bucharest to match the huge mad palace of Ceausescu with the name, “The Cathedral Of The Salvation Of The Nation.” Now it is in that situation that we live.

Second, that religion was always considered a state affair. It’s a state concern. Being Eastern Orthodox means being Romanian. It’s your essence and your Romanian-ness, and when you change your religion, you betray your nation. Now, my parents happen to be among the first who accepted the Baptist faith. As a consequence, when I went to school, I immediately found out that I was worse than a leper. Children would not play with me. When I was in the third grade, a priest came into the school to teach religion, and the first thing the kids said was, “We have a Baptist here.” He said, “A what? Baptist? Who’s he?” And they all pointed to me and he said, “Now come here. Let me test you. Make the sign of the cross.” Putting my hands on my back, I said, “No sir, that’s a sin.” He slapped my open face. I call that my first religious experience.

On top of that, in 1948, communism came during Stalin’ time. I went to a Marxist University in the City of Cluj in 1951 and there were four years of Marxist indoctrination and men, ladies, I came out of that stronger Christian than ever. I came from there with a call to be a preacher. So I went to the Baptist Seminary in Bucharest, and there I stumbled on liberal theology. The book that killed me was a book called A Plain Man Looks at the Cross by Leslie Weatherhead, the most liberal theologian of that time in England. He was poking fun at atonement by the blood.

I was so shocked and wasn’t prepared for that. I went to my favorite teacher and I said, “What is this?” He said, “Well, Josef, they’re right. These are just metaphors.” I said, “But wait a minute, you preach the blood every Sunday?” He said, “Yes, but people in the pews here are simple folks. They would stone me to death if I preached like Weatherhead. I just know that they are metaphors, and they give them what they need.” Imagine a huge scaffolding hitting the base with something and all was crumbling down. That’s what I felt inside. Everything crumbled. I went into my room, and it was a time when a new persecution had started, and I said, “I was ready to risk my life for the real thing, not for metaphors.” I quit the seminary, lost my faith, and spent seven years in a spiritual wilderness. I wanted to be accepted by the communist government. I did everything to prove that I was theirs, the ugliest things you could imagine.

So you have in front of you a big sinner, but by the grace of God there came Richard Wurmbrand, who wrote Tortured for Christ. He just came out after 14 years of prison. He was a Jew, a fantastic Jew. I went to see him, and he said, “Sit down. Tell me how you fell? Did you fall?” I told him about this atonement issue. He started to teach me how real it is, how really God took our sins and put them on his son, and he went in different ways like a good rabbi. He was that kind of mind, and he explained everything to me and put me back.

A Baptist with a Reformed Persuasion

There was a great work of God in the fact that I stood before Jesus one morning, and I said, “Yes, Jesus, I believe now, I understand now, but will you forgive one like me?” He said, “Josef, my blood washes away every sin. I died for all your sins.” And after that, I told my dear wife, “Now look, the One who saved me has to own me. He bought me. I am no longer my own. Whatever he wants me to do, that’s what I will do.” Do you know the first thing he did? He wanted me to stand up, and by that time, I was a high school teacher in one of the best cities in the country. I loved the job. I knew if I went public, they would fire me, but I said, “I will do whatever he says.” So I went public, and did testimonies where somebody from the West heard my testimony.

He worked for me on a visit to Austria for a little medical treatment, and that way I was able to get out. I went to England, I got a scholarship to Oxford University to study theology with a decision to go back. I went to Oxford, for a man who was terribly burned by liberal theology? I said, “I need help.” And somebody said, “You know, in London, Martin Lloyd Jones meets with about 150 pastors every first Monday of the month, and this year, they are discussing the whole year about what makes an evangelical in different chapters of systematic theology.” I said, “I want to go there.” He said, “But you’re not a pastor, they have this strict rule. Now look, go to the old man and tell him these words, ‘I am the only Romanian in my generation who came out of Romania, and when I go back and I study theology in Oxford, whatever I teach, that will be gospel in Romania. Does it matter to you what theology I take to Romania?’”

He just said to that man, “Tell him to come here.” He broke the rule and accepted me into the Westminster Fellowship. I am still a member there. And in my years there, I became what they call a Baptist with a Reformed persuasion. Now after three and a half years of study of theology there, I was ready to go back. Imagine I was a fugitive. Going back to a communist country was suicidal. I shared with a group of students that my dream is to go and teach a new generation of preachers in Romania. I kept that vision. And at the end, a student said, “Josef, it all sounds marvelous, but what chances of success do you have?”

“Success?” I said, “This is typically a Western way of thinking. In Romania, when you come to Christ, they don’t say, ‘Come to Christ so that you have your success.’ They say, ‘Come to Christ, but wait a minute. Are you ready to lose your job? Are you ready to be persecuted all your life? Well, did you count the cost?’” You see, for us the only issue was obedience. My King said, “Go to Romania,” and I said, “Yes, Your Majesty, I go.” I didn’t ask about success, but at that moment I said, “Lord, I have an idea. What if I ask you that question? What chances of success do you give me?” The Lord was quick. He said, “Josef, my answer is in Matthew 10:16, ‘I send you as a sheep in the midst of wolves.’” I saw like in a vision, a circle of wolves, a sheep in the center, and the Lord said, “What chance does that sheep have to stay alive five or 10 minutes, let alone convert the wolves? That’s how I send you Josef, totally vulnerable with no chance of success whatsoever, with no chance of staying alive. If you accept to go that way, then go to Romania. If you don’t accept that, don’t go.”

A Lamb in the Midst of Wolves

I want to tell you that that moment completely changed all my theology. Went back to my room, sat down, and said, “Lord, I want to talk to you. You are my Father and my King.” I said, “As my King, you say, ‘Go to Romania,’ and I say, ‘Yes sir, I go,’ but as my Father, I want to know why my Father sends some of his children to the wolves. I want to understand your mind. What are you up to when you do that?”

And it was quick again, “Josef,” said the Lord Jesus, “As My Father sent me, so send I you. He sent me as a Lamb to be slaughtered. I send you as a lamb to the wolves, and you don’t send the lamb to the wolves to have a great time with the wolves. But don’t you see, as the lambs go to the wolves with the proclamation of the gospel and with love and with the attitude of self-sacrifice, when they jump on them and tear them in pieces, with their last breath, they will say, ‘But we still love you,’ and at least some of the wolves shudder and become lambs, because the truth conquers by dying.”

All of a sudden I understood God’s strategy. I said, “Oh Lord, so being killed for you and for the gospel is not a tragedy. That’s part of the job. That’s the essence of your strategy. For 2,000 years, that’s how you conquered. Now I’m ready to go.” I went that way there, and now whatever happens has to have, first of all, the Biblical base and has to have a good theological base.

Christ’s Riches in Us for the Sake of Love

Let me now plunge into Scripture that will explain my title: “Persecution and Christ-likeness.” My text for that will be Philippians 2:5–6. We are told to develop a Christ-like mentality, to think the way he thinks, and most of the translations there in verse six add things that shouldn’t be added. No translator dares translate exactly as Paul puts it, and only recently a few theologians have written articles in which they say, “Why don’t we take it exactly as Paul wrote it, and see what that means?” Now here is what Paul said: “Although Christ was in the form of God, he didn’t consider equality with God to be harpagmon (rapaciousness, acquisitiveness, grabbing).” What’s the essence of being God? That was the issue of Christ. When his Father said, “You go down there,” what does it mean to be equal with God in that situation, or to have in you God’s essence?

Does it mean, “I want everything for me. I am God, I deserve everything. Everybody should give me, give me, give me. I gather everything and accumulate everything for me.” No, it’s exactly opposite. He “emptied himself” by becoming a slave who lived for others, served others, and died for others. Let me put it in a different way. Do you know those kinds of love? Eros love comes out of inner emptiness and poverty, and it says, “Give me, give me, give me. I want to be satisfied, and you satisfy me.” That’s Eros. Agape comes out of inner fullness. You bubble with fullness, and you explode, pouring out, and you are satisfied because you give. That’s agape love, and God is agape — fullness, richness that has to be given. Now Christ said, “That’s the essence — giving, not getting.”

Let me put it in different words of Paul. Second Corinthians 8:9 says:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ was the fact that he was so rich and he said, “I have to make people rich. The cost is that I have to empty myself and become poor.” The essence of Christ-likeness is that fullness, that richness, that bubbling with grace that has to be imparted. Now, if you want to be like Christ, get rich — so rich that if somebody touched him, healing went out of him. And when they say, “We break you,” he can say, “Fine, but when you break My body, I feed you with it.” When they say, “We shed your blood,” he can say, “Fine, when you shed My blood, it will wash away your sins.” He is that rich. Now, if you are that rich, when they come to threaten you, you say, “That’s fine. I love you,” and you just continue to give them love because you are rich. I want to tell you, get rich — so rich with the word of God, so rich with the fullness of Jesus in you, and with the fullness of the Holy Spirit in you, so rich that you just cannot stand but give.

You will never be depressed as long as you are rich. You cannot be depressed. You will never want to quit. You are too rich for that. You cannot go hidden, because you are too rich. The secret of being a minister is being rich. You are a rich person who explodes by giving. So this is what I mean by persecution and Christ-likeness. If you have that Christ-likeness, that fullness, that richness in you, you can stand persecution. This is first: richness in persecution.

The Sovereignty of God in Persecution

The second important thing is the sovereignty of God in persecution. I got this from Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He said, “Make the first pillar of your theology the sovereignty of God.” Let me tell you how I understood the sovereignty of God in my situation. About two years after I went back to Romania, they really jumped on me, and they decided to put me on trial. So in preparation for the trial, as we were taken to the police, there was a ceremony of charging me. Imagine a long table with six senior officers and the prosecutor there, and the colonel read the indictment. And then he started to deliver a speech. He explained to me how grave it was, what I did and to my amazement, at one point he said, “You know, after all, isn’t it written in Romans 13 that we are of God and you challenge us?”

Now, I never interrupt the speaker, but in that situation, I couldn’t contain myself, and I broke through and said, “Sir, will you let me explain how I understand Romans 13 in this situation?” He said, “Okay.” I said, “Sir, yes you are God’s instruments. No doubt about that. But what happens here is not between you and me. What happens here is between my God and myself. God has some dealings with me here. I don’t know what, maybe he wants to teach me a few lessons here” — believe me, he taught me fantastic lessons there — “But sir, you will not do to me anything but what God decided you to do. You will not go one inch beyond what he decided, because you are only my God’s instruments.”

He didn’t like that interpretation, but for me, it was just like seeing my Father pulling six strings and moving his six puppets. That’s the sovereignty of God there. If all your enemies are God’s instruments, why are you afraid? You are so afraid of the beast and the 10 horns from Revelation 13 to 17. You almost die because you don’t know who they are. Whoever they may be in Revelation 17, we are told that the Lamb and the ones who are with the Lamb, the chosen ones will conquer them. But that’s not enough. Revelation 17:17 says:

For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.

Imagine them, whoever they may be, as computerized monsters and the program in their computer was put there by my Daddy. They will only do what my Father decided for them to do. So why be afraid? Now if you understand the sovereignty of God like that, then all these people who threaten your lives are God’s instruments. That’s how the church in Acts 4 praises when Peter and John tell them that if they continue to preach, they are threatened to be killed. The church starts to pray and calls God with a name that is absolutely strange. The name for God there is despotēs, an absolute ruler. They pray, “Why do the nations fret? Don’t they understand that they only do your will always? For example, recently Herod and Pilate and the Gentiles and the Jews united against Jesus, only to do what you decided beforehand that they do” (Acts 4:24–28).

Now they’re up in arms again against Peter and John, and what will they do to them? It’s only what God decided beforehand that they do. And if you said that, there is no more prayer. You cannot say then, “Protect them, put a shield again around them, smash their enemies.” No, because you just said that they will do what you already decided that they do. So there is only one prayer left: “Give them boldness in preaching and accompanied with a few miracles so that it is even greater.” That’s prayer according to the sovereignty of God, and that’s understanding your position in persecution if you understand the sovereignty of God.

Persecution and Beauty

Let me go on and tell you something about persecution and beauty. In 1977, I was arrested while just having to go to preach one Sunday morning, and they picked me up at 8:00 a.m. and took me to Bucharest, the place where they interrogate people who committed crimes. On Monday, two interrogators started to question me. At about lunchtime, a general came in. He made a sign to the two interrogators and they immediately went out, and he just jumped on me and started to beat me. He was slapping me, hitting me with a fist, as he hit me, I hit the wall, and my head almost cracked, and when he finished, he just turned around and he went away, and the other two came in like nothing happened and just continued.

This was on Monday. On Thursday they were still in interrogation there. About lunchtime again, the general came in again, made a sign, and the other two went out. I immediately braced myself for a second round of boxing, and he saw that, he sat down and smiled and said, “Don’t worry, this time I came to talk.” Now you know when you are there you don’t speak. The Holy Spirit speaks. I found out that was true. So I just burst, and I said, “Mr. General, if you came to talk, then first of all, I want to apologize for what happened on Monday.”

Now, on Monday he beat me. It didn’t make sense to him that I would apologize. I said, “But let me explain. You see on Tuesday, they kept me here all day alone without interrogation. I had time to think and pray. And as I was thinking, it dawned on me, this is the Holy Week and you beat me in the Holy Week. Sir, I am sorry for screaming. I should have thanked you for the most beautiful gift you could have ever given me. You beat me in the Holy Week, sir, that’s the most beautiful thing. I suffered when my Lord suffered. Thank you for the beating.” He was choked. He just couldn’t speak. And he said, “Okay, let’s talk. We had some very meaningful talks after that.”

Persecution, Suffering, and Brokenness

Let me go on and tell you another aspect. I still had quite a lot of trust in myself until there, in those interrogations. There were two special moments when I was so scared, I wanted to quit. And it was my dear wife who came very strong, and said, “Didn’t you say you wanted to die for Christ? Now do it.” Don’t teach your wife that kind of theology. I will not tell you all that happened, but I will tell you Elizabeth’s conclusion. She said, “Josef, I watched you these days, in these events. God brings you to a place where you are really convinced that it’s all over? And there you have nothing left but to say, ‘Here is me. Do whatever you want. Now I am ready to die.’ Then he has done the work in you, and when that work in you is done, all of a sudden there is a solution to the whole problem, and you go free because the battle that God had was the battle in you. They were only your instruments to bring you there where you were completely broken.”

It was after that second complete breaking of me that the fire from on high came, and in just four years there, I baptized 850 new converts. That never has happened in Romania before. It was under Communism and unheard of, but it was when the Lord broke me like that. See, he broke my pride first of all when I fell, and I went through all that sinfulness, and he always keeps me saying, “Look, you are taken out of the fire. You have nothing to boast about.” And then he brought me to those situations where my wife and a few others shamed me, and pushed me to the end. And I could not say I was the hero because Elizabeth was the hero

He broke my trust in myself and my pride. And then he said, “Now you qualify for the blessing. You qualify for the fullness. You can be an instrument of revival.” So all this persecution was God’s instrument for me, to break me and to make me fit for being used by him.

Stolen Martyrdom

Let me tell you something about a very important dimension of martyrdom, which is stolen martyrdom. You’ve never heard of this: stolen martyrdom. Whenever they apprehend a Christian, first of all, they smear that Christian, telling lies. They say, “Oh, he was caught with cocaine,” or, “He was caught embezzling the money of the church,” or, “He is a womanizer.” Of course, in medieval times they said, “He was a heretic,” and they smear you so much that everybody believes that you deserve to be burnt at the stake. They not only make you a martyr, but they steal your martyrdom, letting everybody believe that you are a rascal. That’s the most painful thing.

I was six months into one interrogation, having to go every day for 8–10 hours of interrogation, from Monday to Friday. And after about three months of interrogation, the interrogator told me that they did mud-racking. Do you know what that is? You go through the life of that person and find everything dirty there, mud-racking. They said, “We now have so many ugly things from your past and we are going to spread them to all the churches. Your Baptists will come to smash your windows.” At that moment I became pale, and power left me. I started to tremble because I didn’t imagine what but there was dirt in my life. That was a problem in my past, those years when I was away from the Lord.

He looked at me, and he thought he was afraid I had a heart attack. It was so bad. It was 8:00 p.m. in the evening and he called, and apparently couldn’t find any car available. He just said, “I don’t want you to die here.” And he took me in the street, stopped the taxi, told the taxi where my address was, and said, “Take him home.” And I went home and for two days, I couldn’t walk. I was crushed.

That Saturday morning, by morning devotion, Jesus was in front of me. He said, “Josef, let me tell you how you imagined your martyrdom. It would be going with your cross to be crucified, but passing among two rows of Christians, applauding, ‘Bravo Josef.’ But what if I make all those brothers and sisters of you, as you pass with your cross, stoop down, take mud and throw on you and at your cross? Will you accept that cross with mud on it?” I said, “Lord, even this is from you. Then I accept it.”

It came like lightning. I felt it hit me in the head and go through my legs, and that moment I was able to stand up. When they called me back the following week, and the man started gently to tell me something, I snapped. And with each sentence he said something, I retorted. And then at one point he stopped and said, “Mr. Tson, who visited you this weekend? I have in front of me a different person than the one who left here. Somebody came and changed you completely. I have to know who came and visited you?” I said, “Jesus visited me and made me ready for the battle again, but I accepted that even the mud was coming from him.”

Suffering and Glory

Now I come to a little bit of more controversial ground. Peter says in 1 Peter 4:13–14:

Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

In 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul says:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

Do you take that seriously? Literally, it says that the suffering works the glory. Romans 8:17 says that if we suffer with him, we inherit with him. Take it literally. Second Timothy 2:12 says we shall rule with him if we suffer with him. Now you will find this in my book in more detail, but I just want to tell you that one of my beliefs about martyrdom comes from three special Scriptures. There are many others that tell us that the martyrs have the highest positions of ruling with Christ in heaven. The first one is in Philippians 3:10–11, where Paul says that his desire is to know Christ and have in himself the power of his resurrection, and go into partnership with his sufferings, and then die as he died, and he means martyrdom. Now I know your commentators twist that and spiritualize it to death, but he means what he says there. Why? Because he says, “I want somehow to reach the resurrection of the dead.” Well, everybody will reach the resurrection of the dead. That’s not a big deal.

The problem is that in Greek, Paul doesn’t say “the resurrection” (anastasia), but he says “exanastasis,” which is the extra resurrection. He is saying, “I want to reach the extra resurrection.” And with that, you go to Hebrews 11:35 and see those people who were offered to sacrifice to the emperor and then go free, but they refused and accepted martyrdom because they wanted a better resurrection. What’s the better resurrection? Well go to Revelation 20:4. The people who are resurrected are only the ones who were killed for the gospel. You cannot squeeze anybody else there if you are a literalist, as I am. That is the resurrection of the martyrs to rule with Christ.

The Glory of the Martyrs

The belief was formed in the second and third centuries that there is an instant resurrection of the martyrs to go to be assessors with Christ, to rule with Christ. That’s why there was a big desire for martyrdom in the first centuries, which was the strength of Christianity in the first centuries. They were not afraid to die; they were desiring to die. So there was a rule that if you provoke your martyrdom, you are disqualified. They had to stop them from provoking their martyrdom. That’s what was the strength of the church, this desire for martyrdom.

Whatever you do with me now, I betrayed a part of my theology there, but take at least this, that the more you suffer here, the more glory you will have in heaven. This suffering works for you the eternal weight of glory. Well, if you say, “Why Lord? Why so much suffering?” He says, “Because I want to give you more glory. This is not bad for you, and especially not bad for your eternal future. Rejoice.” That’s what I was pointed to when I was a child. The world hates us. But look at Acts 5:41 when Peter and John had their backs cut with the whip before the Sanhedrin, they didn’t go out crying and saying, “Look, brothers, what they did to us,” they went out rejoicing because they were found worthy to be dishonored for the name. They were jumping on one leg and saying, “Brothers, we were found worthy, look!”

That’s the feeling. That’s the thrill. They say, “We were found worthy.” This is not for everybody. Martyrdom is not for everybody. God has chosen a few of his and earmarked them. There is a fixed number of his children, whom he earmarked for martyrdom (Revelation 6:11). So the end will come only when the number is completed. If you want to speed up the coming of the Lord, complete the number of martyrs, who volunteers?

Persecution and Joy

Now let me quickly come to the last point. Persecution, suffering, martyrdom, and joy. If somehow you think that going through persecution and suffering gives you a morose, somber, sad attitude, you are wrong. “Rejoice,” says Peter, “Because the spirit of glory hovers over you.” But in that book of Peter, right at the beginning, there is another phrase which came to me absolutely strongly. Let me tell you the story.

It was the 4th of October, 1974. It’s the most memorable day in my life. That morning at 6:00 a.m., seven policemen came to my door with a warrant to search our house, and they came in and they started from top to basement and turned everything upside down. At about 9:00 a.m. they decided to confiscate all my library. Now my library was huge, and one of the walls in my study had only shelves. All that library was brought by smugglers from the West. It was a most precious treasure for a preacher and theologian. And they decided to confiscate it.

Imagine a policeman was taking the books from the shelf and he had me sit at the desk. I had to write on every book on the front page, “Found at my place at the house search on the 4th of October, 1974,” and I had to sign. They believed that they would find anti-communist literature there, and that would make another charge, but they had to have proof that they were found in my place. So I wrote that sentence as many times as the books that were in the library. Now can you imagine a pastor giving away all his books? Take one book, look at the title, groan, and write it away. It wasn’t long until a book with this title came: Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory, which is from 1 Peter 1. The subtitle was, Is It Yours Now?

I stopped and said, “Lord, if it’s not mine now, it’ll never be. Lord, please make it real now for me.” All of a sudden it seemed that the sunshine came. It was sunshine in me. All of a sudden I straightened up, I looked around, I saw those seven policemen as being my guests, and I was the host. And I immediately told my dear Elizabeth, “Elizabeth, will you make a pot of coffee for them?” And then from that moment I started to break in with being a host. Let me then tell you that for weeks after that, that issue of joy followed me. I was going for interrogation every day. My books were confiscated, but I still had to preach every Friday night and every Sunday morning and evening, with no books. I was under house arrest. I lived on the church premises. I only had the right to go to preach, and then come back to my home.

I did a study of joy in the Bible. I came to see in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” And that was the main point. But then John 15:11 says, “I want my joy to be in you.” And then 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says, “You received the gospel in midst of many tribulations with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” It was the joy of God the Father, the joy of Jesus, and the joy of the Holy Spirit. It’s not my joy, it’s his joy. So watch out not to sadden the Holy Spirit, because if he is sad in you, the joy of the Lord is no more there. So you are weak. You are strong only as long as you have the joy of the Lord. And the sermon was ready.

I went that Sunday morning and started to speak about joy. I said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” And now people were coming from all over the country those Sundays to listen to this preacher who was in interrogation all week and then preached on Sunday. They were coming with tape recorders. And that Sunday evening, one of them said to me, “Josef, I came here to see what a man could preach after he’s been where you were all week. I was expecting to see at least a tired man, but in my vision it was a broken man. And to my dismay, you came this morning thundering about joy, and I saw it on your face, and I said, ‘My God, it’s real.’ If this man can have it in that situation, then I can have it.”

Suffering and Love

Now I said, that was the last point but I have another point. It would have been a disaster if I missed this one. When I was there in that interrogation, after the second day of interrogation, my main interrogator said, “Okay, it’s all done for today. Take your coat, go home, and tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. be back for the battle.” I turned to him and said, “Sir, why do you speak like that? You should know, sir, that every morning before I come here, I pray for you. I pray for your salvation. I pray for your family. And then I come to talk with the man for whose salvation I just prayed. That’s the spirit in which I come, not for a battle.”

He choked, and again and again, as he asked me so many questions, each time I could see a possibility of sharing the gospel with him, sharing my experiences with the Lord, and that man would forget about interrogation, and sometimes he would listen for an hour. Well, for me it was just an hour without interrogation. At the end of six months, he just told me, “It’s all over, you go free. I will not see you again.” Although three years later I was arrested and he saw me again. That’s when I was beaten. But he said, “You should know, I’ll miss you.”

I realized that man needed me. Then when I was arrested again in 1977, and when they treated me as they did at one point, they were always too afraid of each other, watching each other, but sometimes one had to go to the bathroom, or some other place. And when one was alone, he would tell me something out of his heart. At that point when he was alone, he said, “Mr. Tson, whenever I interrogate somebody, I feel how they hate me, and they are justified. I am not nice to them. But with you it’s different. I don’t know how to put it, but you should know it’s a delight for me to be with you.”

Now I immediately thought, “It’s not a delight for me to be with you.” But then of course I repented of that thought, because here was this man telling me, “I tried my best to hurt you and you still love me.” I consider that as one of the greatest moments of my life, when that man who is now considered as the most wicked interrogator of those times, of the secret police, had to tell me that I didn’t hate him, I loved him.

Now I’m a preacher, I always make sermons from these things. So I went to my church and I made the sermon which I entitled “The Aggression of Love.” And I said, “You think that these persecutors of ours are the aggressors. They jump on us. Wrong. We are the aggressors. We start the attack, but we only have the gospel, our love, and the readiness to be slaughtered. We go loving them, and love them until they crush us. But we conquer at least some of them with that love, the aggression of love.” And this is where I end my message.

More Than Conquerors

Remember first of all, if you are rich, then nobody can conquer you, because whenever they hit you, you just give them more riches. Remember the sovereignty of God in suffering. Remember suffering and beauty. Remember suffering and brokenness. Remember suffering and glory. Remember suffering and joy. And above everything else, why do we do it? We do it because the love of God was poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and we are so full of love, love for this post-modernist America, love for these people who are so angry that we want to evangelize them. We love them. That’s why we preach to them.

That’s why we stand for the truth, and that’s why we are ready to die, because we love them. And we are the aggressors. It’s the aggression of the ones who have only three weapons: the gospel, our love, and our readiness to be slaughtered. And with these weapons of Christ, they were the weapons of Christ. He came with the truth, and with his love, and with self-sacrifice, and the ones who are with the Lamb, the lambs who have the same mentality, the same attitude, the same riches, they conquer. May we be more than conquerors. Amen.

Questions and Answers

In a few weeks I will go to Russia to teach Russian pastors. There are other pastors here who are doing the same thing, whether in Russia or the Ukraine, or other former Soviet nations. The worst we have suffered is maybe having an elder or deacon slander our name. Knowing that the door may close again, and persecution may come upon these pastors we’re training, how would you advise us to be of encouragement other than sharing the head knowledge that we have from our own training?

Let me say that our theology in Romania was made by Southern Baptist professors who came to Romania in the 1920s and the 1930s. One thing that they never taught us, because they didn’t know it, was how to stand persecution and suffering. So when communism came, we were not prepared. I should have known, for example, that you don’t shout, “Glory,” to a man. But in Stalin-time, we had to go in the streets and shout, “Glory to Stalin.” That was just like the first Christians being asked to say, “Caesar is Lord.” And they died, burnt at stake, or thrown to the lions, because they said, “Only Christ is the Lord.” I should have said the same, “I don’t say, ‘Glory to Stalin,’ I say glory only to God.” They would’ve sent me to a labor camp.

I consider that the greatest sin I ever committed. But it was only in the 1970s that I came to see the value of suffering and martyrdom, and I started to give my people this teaching, which came as a fantastic liberation for us. So both there and here, we need now this teaching about the value of persecution and of suffering. That’s why I say that my book on suffering and martyrdom is so timely. I wanted to understand that issue myself, and I did 20 years of work on it. It became a PhD dissertation in Belgium, then it was printed here by the University Press of America. It was atrociously expensive, $60 a hard cover and $48 a paperback. But now that was sold out. They gave us back the copyright. We are expecting these days to receive the newly printed copies, and I have these forms and also this brochure. There’s an envelope there. You just put the check for the Romanian Missionary Society for $25, and that includes the package and shipping. Or you have the form and they will mail one to you.

Now it’s 430 pages, very involved. We’re planning to rewrite it for the larger public, maybe 250 pages, but it will take maybe another year or so until we do that. I say, “We,” with my daughter, she’s now a writer, and she takes this as a project to rewrite daddy’s dissertation, to make it a readable thing. She is just graduating in philosophy of religion at Talbot. So she’s qualified. This is what I would say, get training in this area, and teach people in Russia, and teach people in America, because this is going to snowball. Since the 1960s, this anti-Christian attitude has built up. And now all the universities teach that the only group that is undesirable here is the evangelical Christians, because they are the only intolerant people. They have the guts to say that they have absolute truth, and that means that they are the liars.

That’s intolerance. Expect this to become an avalanche. You never know where it ends. It may end with a strong man taking leadership in Washington, following maybe an economic disaster which may happen. And that man may be an anti-Christian, who’ll say, “Well, now we can get rid of the Christians.” Now that’s one scenario. For 2,000 years the Christians across the world have been in tribulation. Only the Americans have not been in the tribulation. So if you ask the question, “Will the Christians go through the tribulation?” you just say, “Will the American Christians go through tribulation?” We’ve been in it for 2,000 years. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). So prepare your people for it. And that way, it doesn’t come as a surprise, it doesn’t come as a disaster, you just say, “Praise the Lord, we were found worthy.”

It seems there’s a movement in American churches that’s turning to politics to protect the American Christians and Christians throughout the world from persecution. What are your thoughts on that?

That’s a good question. Thank you, I already planned on answering you. Praise the Lord for the persecuted church, at last. Praise the Lord for the groups in Washington who now press to have a law here that the American government will not help nations that persecute the Christians. Now here are the two aspects of the situation. On one side, I have to be ready to be slaughtered. On the other side I have to stand up and say, “Hey, I am a Roman citizen, and a Roman citizen cannot be maligned like that. There is a law that protects me as a Roman citizen.” You know who said that? Okay, so you see here is a man who knows how to take the suffering, but who knows how to defend and say whatever he can. These have to go hand in hand.

Now, when I was in those troubles, I had my friends from Oxford who immediately rallied support in London and in Washington on my behalf. Each time I came out, before they put me on trial, because of the big interventions by Ceausescu, I was free because God used that instrument. So they gave me a chance to have victories there, after victories, because they had to solve the problems in which I indicated. So combine this. On one side, we are ready to be persecuted and there’s no problem. On the other side, use all the legal means, both for yourselves and to defend our brothers in Saudi Arabia, or in Indonesia, because if we really push the government, they may solve the problem of the Christians there.

Many mission organizations are now utilizing covert tactics and penetrating difficult nations. This sounds foreign to your experience. Is that practice unbiblical, and what are your thoughts?

Again, it’s not one or the other, it’s both. I praise God for that Dutchman who studied in Glasgow or Edinburgh. In 1955 he went to Moscow, to a communist youth rally, and he heard there that there are 90 million youth in the communist world. And he said, “God, who will bring to them the Bible?” And the answer was, “You.” And then he said, “How? The answer was, “Smuggling.” And that’s how Brother Andrew was born, God’s smuggler. By the early 1960s, we saw the miracle, new Bibles. You know, from 1947 to 1964, I didn’t see a new Bible. In 1964 when I saw a new Bible, I kissed it and cried. These people risked their freedom to come with hidden compartments, and Brother Andrew was very strict on this. He said, “Don’t tell lies, we don’t use lying. We pray that those guards be blinded, and we give them funny answers, but don’t lie.” You ask me what sort of funny answer you can give later on.

But anyhow, I told one of my interrogators. He boasted that they know everything about me. I said, “Of course I don’t have anything to hide. But one thing, I hide when I receive the Bibles, because they know if you catch me with that you confiscate them. But I don’t make a secret that I spread thousands of Bibles. I can give you a statement to put me in prison with that. But the Lord commands me to spread the Bible, so I obey God, not you.” Other things, I do everything in the open. So yes, use all sorts of means which can be done in honesty and integrity. Using lies to promote God’s cause is a no-no. You disqualify yourself.

There are a number of organizations that help the America Church to partner with the persecuted church. I was wondering if you could evaluate the usefulness of that kind of financial assistance, and maybe recommend organizations that you think are doing a good job of helping the persecuted church in that way?

I will not say names, because there are hundreds of organizations that do wonderful things, and it would do injustice to the ones I don’t name if I pick and choose some of them. Just look into their credentials, see if they do what they say they do. The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is a good trademark, because they really keep us accountable. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to which ones are doing the best job. There are so many places of persecution in the world. Praise the Lord for all these organizations who help them. But I cannot go further and say, “This is the one that does the best thing there.”

I was wondering if at this stage that you could make a judgment call on our country. Persecution is starting, and there’s always been some of it, though certainly not as much as you would have in a totalitarian country that’s more organized against the gospel. But in our current stage where we see persecution on the horizon, most likely to come and something we should expect, if we aren’t experiencing it now, do you see that as an indicator of our cowardice, or a season of grace?

Okay, somebody said yesterday, whatever question they ask you, you give them the message you plan to give. You launched me into making a general assessment on Evangelical Christianity in America. Thank you for that. If you bear with me, I still have seven minutes. I’m a foreigner who lived in Eastern Europe, and in England, and now lived nine years in America. I try to understand what happened this century in America. I mean from 1900 to 2000. I saw some paradigm shifts. Here they are. In the previous century, the great desire of the American Christians was holiness, meeting to find ways of being holy, and claiming new experiences of sanctification.

Now, whatever way they expected that could have been off, but the yearning was there, the goal was holiness. In 1900, the group of them yearning for holiness got tongues, and the Pentecostal movement was born, and then the Charismatic movement. From that day, most of the people didn’t meet for holiness. They met for feelings. They met for personal enhancement experiences. That’s the first paradigm shift from yearning for holiness to yearning for feelings or experiences that enhance you.

The second paradigm shift started in the 1950s, when coming to the Lord became just a simple decision. You make a decision and that’s all. Now, I won’t elaborate on that, but come to the 1960s, and I just point out a change of words. Up until the 1960s, every good preacher would’ve told you that the fullness of the Holy Spirit and victorious life comes with a price, full surrender. Full surrender was key for the Spirit-filled life, for victorious living. In the 1960s, surrender was replaced by commitment. Allan Bloom in Closing of the American Mind points to the fact that “commitment” came in use at the time. Surrender means that I lift my hands and I say to the one in front of me, “You take over, do whatever you want with me.”

This doesn’t work well with American independence. But if you say that you commit yourself to do something, and it’s a stronger or weaker commitment, it’s an engagement, but you remain yourself. And surrender disappeared almost completely from your preaching. It was replaced with commitment. At the same time, the new translations replaced, “Slave,” with, “Servant.” Now in the New Testament, you never serve God. You are a slave to God or you worship God. The same Jesus who taught me to say, “Abba, Father, Daddy,” taught me to relate to him as an unworthy slave, who has only done what he had to do. The word “bondslave” was thrown out and now you have only “servants of God.” The concept of “slave” is gone, but he bought me. I am not my own.

Then there were a few other shifts. One of them came after the sexual revolution. You see with this sexual revolution, the only thing is that there is not enough arousal. So what you need is excitement. And you should know that the word “excitement” in the past meant arousal. It means the same in French, Italian, and Romanian. Now the yearning is for more and more excitement. My yearning is for joy, deep joy of the Lord, not excitement. Excitement is given by something that excites you, and then it’s gone. Have the joy of the Lord.

Then let me tell you the last one. Up to the 1960s, you had principles for living, and you had laws and rules. In the 1960s with that terrible shift, where God was thrown out, immediately laws were thrown out, and rules, and principles. Now, if you have no more laws, no more rules, and no more principles, what do you have? You have values. Principles, and laws were replaced by values. And everyone has his own values. You have your values, I have my values, and let’s speak about values. And the Evangelical American has just swallowed the terminology. Family values? No, it’s God’s rules for the family. They are his principles for living. We don’t have values. We have God’s rules and laws and principles. So what happened with all these things is enormous shifts. Throw them away. Come back to Biblical principles and concepts and notions.

is an evangelist and the former president of the Romanian Missionary Society.