Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2015
Responding to the worldwide persecution of Christians
They were marched forcefully to the water’s edge by masked terrorists. As these prisoners knelt in their distinctive orange jumpsuits, awaiting the savage sword of execution, the last word from their lips was, “Jesus”. This is a scene being repeated with startling frequency across the Middle East and northern Africa in 2015…100 years after the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottomans, and 70 years after another genocide swept through northern Europe, animated by the demonic spirit of Nazism.
The cry in the subsequent years was, “Never again!” Yet, sadly, genocide has happened and is happening now. There is a particular animus against people of Judeo-Christian faith, which should come as no surprise to those of us who know and understand our history. Yet, these efforts at stifling our voices or stamping us out have not succeeded; in fact, they have only made our hearts more convicted
and our voices stronger.
We see this also from the writer of Hebrews, who takes note of some of the heroes of the faith, who:
“…were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented-of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:35-40).
The Old Testament heroes did not receive the full reward of their faith until they stepped into eternity. The New Testament heroes received Jesus, but their efforts remained incomplete apart from the generations to follow, including ours. They were willing to embrace suffering so that others might receive the blessing of knowing Jesus and receiving His salvation.
As noted earlier, our world today is graced by many courageous believers who share that same heart and mission. God Himself only knows all the names of those who have given their lives so that others might hear the Gospel; who refused to deny Jesus, even at the threat of torture or death.
However, this is a reality that very few in the Western Church have had to face. Yet. There are increasing signs that the official climate is becoming more poisoned against authentic Christ-followers here in America and in Europe. Should challenges to our faith come, are we willing and able to stand for what we believe and in Whom we believe?
Author Nik Ripken has written the must-read books, The Insanity of God and The Insanity of Obedience. He and his wife, Ruth, have traveled to more than 70 nations where persecution is the norm, and interviewed hundreds of Christians in those nations. Some questions they have asked include why and how have these believers endured in such a harsh environment? Why and how is Christianity actually spreading and strengthening in many of these places? What Nik and Ruth discovered almost universally among these believers is an understanding that persecution for faith is part of the normal Christian life. Though believers did not seek to be persecuted or martyred, they do see persecution for faith as an honor and privilege should it come to them.
As the Ripkens note, perhaps the question should not be, “Why are Christians being persecuted in those nations,” but rather, “Why are we not being persecuted here?” Of course, we are not seeking out persecution, nor do we want to be killed or see our children killed. But, are we willing to prepare and to live our lives for Jesus in such a way that if it were ever outlawed, it would not stop us from serving the Lord? We may say we’re willing to die for our faith, but are we willing to live for it? We may say we will go out into the world to tell others about Jesus, but will we go across the street to our neighbor’s house?
These questions challenge me, as they should. May we be motivated to seek God more passionately and to live for Him more fully so that the world will say, “Glory to God” and that He will say, “Well done!”