The Persecuted Church

I don’t know about you, but living here in America, I have not personally been subject to much persecution for my faith.  The persecution I have experienced has certainly not been what I would call life threatening.  Part of this is surely due to America’s Christian heritage.  Unlike most countries, Americans generally accept Christianity, as they tend to be familiar with it.  Perhaps part of it is also related to me not being as effective a witness for the Lord as I could be.

Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, however, are subject to persecution, often life threatening, as many die for their faith.  A good friend recently attended a Christian conference, and this person shared some interesting facts that I thought were not only interesting, but also convicting, so I list them below.

  • 80% of believers globally who practice their faith live in an environment of persecution. 
  • Throughout Scripture, persecution is as normal as the sun coming up.  12 out of 28 chapters in the book of Acts has leaders in jail for their witness about Jesus, 14 other chapters have overt persecution.
  • When a believer goes to jail for his faith, he cannot take his bible, praise music, pastor's CDs, and church building with him.  What they take is the Holy Spirit and if they have no awareness of Him or daily communication from Him, they will be cut-off from God.
  • When Christians are obedient to the calling to be bold and faithful witnesses, they will cause persecution.
  • The husband of the family is not the image of God given to protect the family, but rather the servant of God who must sometimes lead them into the fire to obey the will of God.
  • We are most like New Testament Christians when we publicly witness about Jesus, not when we are most known for our social agendas.
  • 183 million people among 40 unreached people groups in Africa and the Middle East have no one working among them.  God has commanded us to go to the nations, not just the ones that say, "yes" or the ones that like us.
  • The litmus test for church leadership in China is not gifting, talent, or education, but having experienced persecution for their witness.
  • "We have a culture here in our country [America] that says it is ok to send our young people to die for the sake of the country, but it is not ok to send our sons and daughters to die for the sake of Jesus."
  • "If your local body of believers hasn't had anyone in the previous 12 months: refused for promotion, fired from their job, corrected by an authority, or harassed by a co-worker for talking about Jesus, then it is possible your church is serving the American Dream, rather than Jesus the Messiah."

Ouch.  Are we part of the 80% that are being persecuted?  Are we known more for our faith in Christ, or for our “social” agendas?  Why do we try to save the planet when God has told us it’s going to burn up completely one day (2 Peter 3:10)?  What do we look for in a pastor:  education, attended the right seminary, speaks well?  What a difference it would make in the un-Biblical seeker sensitive churches if they were filled with pastors who had been persecuted for their faith in Christ!  Surely those churches would lose membership quickly if Christ were preached instead of “felt needs”!

There’s nothing wrong with being politically or socially active.  Remember, though, that we are aliens; this is not our home.  Like Abraham, we are seeking a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).  We should never let such concerns outweigh our work for Christ.

So, what does this persecution look like?  One example I have comes from the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) magazine.  This sister of ours is named Yubelina.  Her picture is shown here, after she was persecuted.

Yubelina is a Christian who was burned in a fire when her Indonesian village was attacked by Muslims.  She was persecuted for her faith, yet she did not deny her Savior.  Admittedly, it’s hard to look at her face, because we aren’t used to seeing such damage.  It’s not normal.  What’s amazing, though, is the smile on her face.  Clearly, Yubelina knows we are here only temporarily; surely she is looking forward to her heavenly body, knowing she can trust God’s promises.

VOM ran Yubelina’s picture on the cover of their January newsletter.  What’s sad is that they received complaints from some readers who were offended by Yubelina’s picture.  Some said it was “nightmarish”, “ghoulish”.  Some asked to be removed from their mailing list.  My guess is they were all Americans.  I wonder is they would also have been offended at the appearance of our Lord on the cross.  Isaiah 52:14 tells us that “His appearance was marred more than any man And His form more than the sons of men.”  Jesus set the example of what the persecuted church would look like.

How sad that a Christian would be offended by a picture of a persecuted sister in Christ.  Rather, we should be convicted, at least those of us who have not been subject to such persecution.  Scripture says we will experience trials, and that we should consider it all joy when this happens (James 1:2-3).  Indeed, Scripture encourages us to endure, for most of us “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” (Hebrews 12:4).  When the apostles were jailed for their faith, they rejoiced “that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).  Maybe that’s why Yubelina is smiling.

May the Lord give us all the same boldness that we who have not been persecuted would glorify God by preaching Christ.