Have you ever been persecuted for your faith? I haven’t, though I’ve been ridiculed, but this is nothing. I’ve met people, though, who experienced real persecution, and their faith is resilient.
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #16 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
Throughout the history of Christianity, persecution of individual Christians and the Church has been constant.
And today, persecution against Christians is increasing around the world.
The ministry Open Doors, sponsors a “World Watch List,” that recounts the top 50 countries in which, in their words ,“it’s most difficult to follow Jesus.”
According to The Watch List, more than 360 million Christians live in places around the world where they experience high levels of persecution. That’s more than the population of the United States. In 2021, some 4,761 Christians were killed for their faith, 4,888 churches and other Christian buildings were attacked, and 4,277 believers were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced, or imprisoned for their faith.
For 17 consecutive years, North Korea has been ranked #1 as the most dangerous country for Christians, only recently displaced in 2021 by Afghanistan. Add countries like China, Laos, Somalia, Libya, Nigeria, Iran, Syria, and other Middle Eastern or North African countries where persecution of minority religions, especially Christianity, is an ongoing experience.
Persecution intersects with discussions of freedom of religion and belief, and it can be considered in at least two ways: persecution of others – how we should respond to it, and personal persecution – how we should prepare for and respond to it.
Persecution is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict,” or “specifically: to cause to suffer because of belief.” The word is typically used in association with religious violence.
Periodically, I hear someone claim the American Church or Christians are experiencing “persecution.” But I don’t use “persecution” to refer to incidents in the US. Frankly, while churches in the US have been harassed by government or other entities, and while genuine persecution will likely someday come to this country, it’s not now.
Meanwhile, persecution of the Church, Christians, Muslims, Jews, or several religious minorities is rampant elsewhere in the world. Indeed, restrictions on religious freedom is now a global crisis, in autocratic and religiously dominated regimes but also in democratic countries.
In my view, and I believe it is a biblical perspective, Christians should defend and promote religious freedom, the “first freedom,” for all human beings, whatever their religion or no religion at all. It’s part God creating us thinking, reasoning, choosing human beings made in his image, and it is part of Love your neighbor as yourself.
In the US, rather than persecution, we can talk about opposition, harassment, discrimination, even hostility, for example:
- Eroding freedoms and a cultural tide that is more secular or pagan.
- Increasing intolerance of Christian activity, evident in fines, lawsuits, jobs lost, and public disdain.
- Increasing harassment and anti-religious or specifically anti-Christian bias in education at all levels.
- Big Tech censorship of religious or Christian viewpoints.
Yet what we experience in the US, worrisome and negatively trending though it may be, is still different from the painful struggles elsewhere in the world that Christians are enduring because of their faith.
Christians in the US still enjoy freedoms and protections rooted in the First Amendment that make profession of faith relatively easy or unthreatened compared to Christians living where owning a Bible could cost life and limb.
This does not mean that persecution will never come to the US, nor that we should ignore anti-religious trends in government and culture. In fact, we should learn what God says about persecution, discover how we can assist isolated believers globally, and learn how we should prepare if God allows persecution to come to our doorstep.
Let’s think about what the Scripture says.
First, persecution is predictable.
- In John 15:30, Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
- The Apostle Paul said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” 2 Tim. 3:10-15.
Second, the Scripture indicates persecution occurs within the will of God.
- God uses persecution to purify the church. Persecution has always made the church stronger. “Yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” 13:21, Mark 4:17
- And persecution has been instrumental in generating the Diaspora, spreading the truth worldwide: “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” Acts 11:19-21
Third, the Early Church suffered persecution.
- The first martyr, Stephen, was arrested and stoned Acts 6:8-15, 7:1-60.
- The Apostles were arrested and imprisoned, and all but John were eventually martyred. Tertullian, one of the 2ndC, Church Fathers said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”
- The great Apostle Paul said, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure,” 2 Cor. 11:24-28.
- And Scripture pays tribute to faithful followers of Christ, saying in Heb. 11:36-38, “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated. of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
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Scripture also tells us what our attitude should be toward persecution and persecutors:
- “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, fortheirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matt. 5:10-12
- “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” 5:44
- “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” 12:14
How then should we regard persecution?
- Expect persecution.
- Be informed and pray for those who are persecuted: International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church – first Sunday in Nov. See also Voice of the Martyrs, or read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), William Tyndale – translator of Bible to English, burned at stake.
- Stand with persecuted Christians. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it,” 1 Corinthians 12:26.
- Provide practical help, as possible, for persecuted Christians, including immigrants.
- Be ready to give an answer, 1 Pet. 3:15-16.
- Trust God for the results– Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked out of the fiery furnace, yet Stephen was stoned unto death. God said, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life,” 2:10.
- And we’re provided perspective: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” Eph. 6:12.
In the providence of God, real persecution may indeed come to the United States. I do not know what God will ask of us. I do know he will build his church “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” Matt. 16:18.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. For more Christian commentary, be sure to subscribe to this podcast, Discerning What Is Best, or check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com. And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2022
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