Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holding on to the open public squre

As I write this, the twitter-verse is in an uproar over the suspension of a major TV personality for stating non-PC views on homosexuality. Please do not misunderstand my perspective on A&E firing Phil Robertson. I do not agree with everything he says. For example, I think his perspective on race in the south in the pre-civil right era reflects an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude that was common among his generation (I've seen it in my parents). I have quite different criteria for selecting a president than he stated. I'm also quite certain we have theological differences. BUT A&E didn't suspend him for his blindness to racial inequality, his political views, or his theology. They suspended him for his views on a moral issue that he was asked about ("What, in your mind, is sinful" is the exact question). He was asked this by a reporter who was very clearly uncomfortable with the Robertsons' faith, who wrote a profanity-laced article mocking that faith, and who made a point of placing the most inflammatory comments earlier in the article while burying comments such as these:
“You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”

“If you simply put your faith in Jesus coming down in flesh, through a human being, God becoming flesh living on the earth, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, being buried, and being raised from the dead—yours and mine and everybody else’s problems will be solved. And the next time we see you, we will say: ‘You are now a brother. Our brother.’ So then we look at you totally different then. See what I’m saying?”
“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists."

His response statement said:
 “I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”
He added: “However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity.
"We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other."

Read more at http://www.entertainmentwise.com/news/136173/1/I-Would-Never-Treat-Anyone-With-Disrespect-Duck-Dynastys-Phil-Robertson-Backpedals-On-Homophobic-Rant-Following-Suspension#wWTrRAGmRz28GvGZ.99

"I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior," he said in a statement. "My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together."
He added: “However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity.
"We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other."

Read more at http://www.entertainmentwise.com/news/136173/1/I-Would-Never-Treat-Anyone-With-Disrespect-Duck-Dynastys-Phil-Robertson-Backpedals-On-Homophobic-Rant-Following-Suspension#wWTrRAGmRz28GvGZ.99
Is Phil Robertson perfect? Of course not. Are there lots of sinful things he didn't mention? Of course. Does he say things off the cuff, not thinking how they might sound apart from the larger context? Yep. But let's be clear. A and E knew that about him. They have profited greatly from the fact that people respond to the entire family's openness about their failures and the faith that helps them overcome.
This suspension reflects a growing "naked public square" mindset in our country - the idea that people of faith should hold that faith close to their chests, only in the walls of their homes and churches, and not be involved in the broader conversation or allow faith to impact their decisions in the public arena. It's "freedom of worship" versus "freedom of religion". In this country, people of faith are much less likely to be jailed than silenced.

But we're not there yet. This is not the time to retreat and silence ourselves. This is the time to remember that our country was found on freedom of religion and on the free exercise thereof. It's the time to recall the benefits to society of an open public square where all views are welcome, even when we disagree with them. It's also a time to stay in the Word and pray for wisdom and boldness to respond with truth and love when needed.

Yes, I #StandWithPhil
. I'll pray for him and the family. I'll also pray for Drew Magary, the author of the GQ piece, to remember and heed the heart of Phil's message about salvation. I'll seek God's grace to demonstrate love to those I disagree with, rather than shutting them down like A and E did Phil Robertson. And I'll pray for boldness to speak the full truth of God's Word, in love, if I am ever asked "What, in your mind, is sinful?"
 
Source of quotes: http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Desperate Prayer

"God does not really live on the earth! Look, if the sky and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this temple I have built! But respond favorably to Your servant's prayer and his request for help, O Lord my God. Answer the desperate prayer Your servant is presenting to You today. Night and day may You watch over this temple, the place where You promised You would live. May You answer Your servant's prayer for this place." 
- 1 Kings 8:27-29, NET

Solomon brought a lot of petitions before God in 1 Kings 8, as he prayed over and dedicated the temple he had spent 20 years building. Each prayer is theologically significant and holds many lessons for us in our own prayer lives. But this one - this one is special. One request was worthy of being called a "desperate prayer". The context is clear: Solomon was praying desperately that the God who cannot be contained in all the heavens would make His presence known in the temple Solomon was dedicating that day.

He knew it would be nothing without the presence of the Lord.

Solomon knew that without the Shekinah glory of God that had filled the tabernacle, the temple he built would be a worthless monument, reduced one day to nothing but rubble. There was nothing special about the carefully constructed building, its contents, its ornamentations. Oh, it was a wonder, a beauty to behold. It was the absolutely finest effort a human could make. Solomon spared no expense and cut no corners. It was The Best.

But it would be nothing without the presence of the Lord.

Gifted men built the temple. Solomon intentionally sought out those known for skill in certain areas. They absolutely did their very best and did not in any way shirk their responsibilities in the construction. But their gifts didn't define the temple.

It would be nothing without the presence of the Lord.

So Solomon prayed this beautiful, heartfelt prayer of 1 Kings 8. The chapter gives the sense that although he was in front of the congregation of Israel, he was alone with God. Scripture is clear that this portion of the prayer was the heart of the matter - Solomon was desperate for God's presence in the temple. His heartcry reminds me of  Moses when, in a dialogue with God, he laid out how desperate he was for God's Presence - so desperate he would stay put without it:
Exodus 33:14-16 The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"
Moses and Solomon knew the secret to life, to work, to ministry: the Presence of the Lord. It's something that I've come to desire more deeply every year of my walk with Him. Tonight, Solomon's prayer jumped out at me as God urged me to pray it for myself as His temple. He's promised me His presence, given me His Holy Spirit, and now I feel compelled to pray again for a fresh filling, a fresh anointing in this "place", this temple that is now His. 

Many years ago, God let me know that one of the gifts He's given me is teaching. Very quickly He let me understand the enormous responsibility that comes with that gift, and gradually unfolded for me "my part" in faithful study, preparation, and prayer. He also made sure I stayed humble by giving me a word through Beth Moore's statement that God called her to teach because she had so much to learn. Me too, Beth. He never lets me forget that. 

These days I'm in the process of preparing a new study that God is blessing me to lead starting in January. This one is huge - a survey of the names of Jesus. As with other studies I've written this isn't something that is new to me - it's a topic I've studied before and one God has birthed in my heart to teach for some time now. For me teaching is a process - first God teaches it to me, then plants a seed that there is something there that He wants to turn into material for others. Once that is confirmed, usually through me being asked to lead a small group for a season, the process of formulating a structural framework for the study begins. I've been in that stage and now I'm moving into the heart of preparation - actually beginning to write the study. 

And that's when things move from exciting mountaintop ("Wow, God is actually going to do something with that study that's been on my heart for a while") to desperate face-down prayer in the riverbed. Because there is nothing like a blank Word document on my computer screen to make me realize that in a very short time, women's faces are going to be staring at me, and behind those faces are souls that are hungry for His Word. My words will do absolutely nothing for them, but His Word can heal and encourage and edify and strengthen them. So that blank Word document pushes me, like nothing else in the process of teaching, to get on my knees and beg God not for wise words, or unique insights, or profound thoughts -- but for His divine Presence to fill me and for His words to flow through me onto the page. 

Please join me in praying for His presence during this writing season. Like Solomon, it's a desperate cry. No matter how much effort I bring to this study, it's nothing without the Presence of the Lord.



Friday, August 02, 2013

Lessons From the Arena: What we Learn from Persecuted Followers of Christ (Persecution 101, #9)

This post is #9 of a series. For other posts please see here: #1 - #2 - #3 - #4 - #5 - #6 - #7 - #8 - #9

It's hard to believe we've made it to this point - the final post in this series on the persecuted church. I hope that God has done a work in your life like He's done in mine as you have studied about a subject so dear to His heart. As I have prayed for, studied about, and written about the persecuted church over the past few months, God has imprinted these truths on my heart in ways I cannot express adequately. Even the aches and pains that go with living in this body of flesh have become reminders to me of the suffering that is occurring in the body of Christ. I never want to forget what I've learned.

I also never want to make the mistake of just thinking that the relationship with the persecuted church is one way. It's true - they need to feel connected to the wider body of Christ, to know we are praying and helping in practical ways. But also - and maybe even moreso - we need to feel connected to them. We need to receive from them the ministry and lessons only they can teach.

As we discussed when we defined persecution, we are all "persecuted believers" to some extent. Whether through spiritual warfare, marginalization, mocking, or a whole range of other non-physical forms, we know what it means to be attacked for no reason other than our faith in Christ. Yet there are those whose persecution reaches far more severe levels, who live daily with the possibility of imprisonment or death, who face choices far more drastic that I've ever seen. And I have learned through these studies that I need them more than I ever realized. We - the church in the West - need them more than we know. So here are some lessons that those who've worked most closely with them have learned - and a few that I've learned along the way. (Some of these are pulled from Boyd-MacMillan, 304-349, with my own thoughts incorporated.)
  • A cross-centered life. Persecuted believers who endure don't minimize the cross. Instead, they exemplify a cross-centered life. Their theology is focused on Jesus - on His life, on His suffering, on His resurrection, on His victory. They connect their suffering to His, identify with Him in the "fellowship of His sufferings" even while they wait for the "power of His resurrection" (Phil. 3:10).
  • A relationship-oriented life. Often their testimonies reflect the lesson that relationship with Him is more important than tasks for Him. Wing Mingdao, a Chinese pastor, learned this when he spent 20 years in a cell with no ministry opportunities at all, and not even a Bible to study. He found himself with nothing to do - "Nothing to do except get to know God. And for twenty years that was the greatest relationship I have ever known. But the cell was the means." (Boyd-MacMillan, 308). A cross-centered life focuses on God, and lets Him take the reins for any tasks. The success, and speed of victory, are His to determine. As Boyd-MacMillan says, "How sad it is that so many of us work in the garden for the Creator, but never walk through the garden with the Creator! This invitation to walk with God in His garden, say the persecuted, is one we must pay any price to accept." (p. 310)
  • A Bible-saturated life. A persecuted believer hungers for God's word. If he's had a little of it, he wants more. If he's had a lot, he recalls it for sustenance. Suffering also brings clarity to confusing Bible passages, yielding lessons about God that we don't learn until we are in the trenches. A Chinese pastor described to an American pastor why Revelation was his favorite book of the Bible. Surprisingly, it wasn't because of the hope for heaven and victory to come. It was because of the encouragement he received to resist idolatry. He saw Revelation as describing the way his world was - full of idols and things trying to draw him away from Jesus. (see Boyd-MacMillan, 316-318). Scriptures depths can be plumbed for a lifetime and we will still have lessons we can only learn from each other, because God has set up His body to need each other.
"The ultimate challenge of the persecuted church is to teach us things about God that we can incorporate into our daily walk. If all we do is pray for the persecuted, support the persecuted, march for the persecuted, then it's still a question of us helping them. We have not actually allowed the persecuted to change our lives." - Boyd-MacMillan, 305
  • An empty/full life. Persecuted believers are forced to accept their weaknesses. They give up trying to do things in their own strength, and allow Him to fill them. Suffering empties us of ourselves and allows us a deeper filling of Him. An Egyptian believer recounted his persecution, and how it brought him to a place of seeing the depth of his sinful nature. In the midst of that dark moment, he realized how much Jesus loved him at his worst, and then: "Christ rushed in and filled me, and the filling was so great because I was so empty." (Boyd-MacMillan, 320)
  • A risky life. Radical Christianity invites hostility, because as we saw earlier Satan hates Jesus and lashes out at us because of Him. Whether the attacks come spiritually, or more overtly through our cultures, families, laws, neighbors, or even authorities in power, obedience to Christ is not a "safe bet". One believer in California related how his radical giving and simple lifestyle became offensive to his law firm partners, costing him a partnership. Brother Andrew observes, "Persecution is because of the radical life, not the other way around. Why are we not having persecution? Because we are dodging it." (Boyd-MacMillan, 326). That doesn't mean we go "looking for trouble". It simply means that as we live out our faith, and confront darkness in Jesus' name, there will be a reaction. Boyd-MacMillan highlights how broad this reaction can be when he writes, "the pressure of the world, the flesh, and the devil comes from so many sources that we can safely say that every Christian will experience it, no matter if their culture is formally hostile to Christianity or fundamentally formed by it." (p. 326)
  • A God-glorifying life. Persecuted believers remind us of God's power to deliver, as well as His power to equip us to endure. They testify to His faithfulness. They remind us that we don't have to know the results of our efforts, because He will see the job through. Missions was His grand idea, after all, and He just asks us to help Him out for the short time we walk this earth. Persecuted believers can teach us to exalt God.

By far, the single biggest lesson I have personally learned from reading stories of persecuted believers and praying for them is simply this: Jesus is worth it. He is enough. This truth was driven home to be in a powerful way though a story I read. A pastor in the former USSR was being tortured by KGB agents to give up information. He refused, but then they brought in his son. As they tortured his son to the point of death, the father started to waver. Just before he would have given in, his son urged him to stand firm. "I can see Jesus coming for me," the son said as he encouraged his father not to give in. "And He is so beautiful."

I don't have to know how things will turn out. I just have to know that He's worth holding on to - and that He's holding tighter to me than I ever will to Him. HE IS WORTH IT.




YOUR TURN: What have you learned from studying the persecuted church along with me?

References
Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith that Endures: The essential guide to the persecuted church.Revell, 2006. 

http://www.preachtheword.com/sermon/mark26.shtml 

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Helping the persecuted in tangible ways (Persecution 101, #8)

This post is #8 of a series. For other posts please see here: #1 - #2 - #3 - #4 - #5 - #6 - #7 - #8 - #9

In the last post, we talked about helping the persecuted through prayer. Since that's their number one request, I felt it was appropriate to discuss it separately.

Prayer as the priority does not mean prayer alone, however. As Christians through the centuries have learned, God quite often invites us to be part of the answer to a prayer, moving the action from our hearts into our hands and feet. This lesson will focus on tangible ways to get involved, as well as some general principles to consider. We'll start with the principles, to lay a foundation for better understanding the specifics.

Helping principle #1: Be careful not to do more harm than good.
Any time we have a stirring of the heart to "do something", this becomes a risk. When that stirring is directed toward helping the persecuted, the risk is very often literally life or death. We need to do the background research to get it right.

Ronald Boyd-MacMillan cites a tragic example from a few years back. Christians in Sudan, especially children, were being kidnapped and sold as slaves by Muslim traders. Certain organizations started a "buy back slaves" campaign, raising large sums of money along with increasing awareness. As the months passed, concerns arose about bogus slave traders collecting cash and massive sums of money flowing into extremely poor areas. What began as an attempt to "do something" ended up fueling the slave trade by make it an extremely profitable, viable business. (Boyd-MacMillan, 232).

In this particular case, simply thinking through basic human nature and the economics of poverty could have led to more creative solutions. Identifying possible ways that harm can occur isn't always that easy, though. That's why principle #2 is vital.

Helping principle #2: Actively engage local persecuted believers to identify viable options.
This task is more difficult than it sounds. Often the problem is locating the believers to begin with! Establishing trust, and learning whom to trust, are other factors. The more I have studied, read, and prayed, the more I realize the importance of this principle - but a counterbalance is needed. I cannot simply plop myself down in Iran and start looking for Christians. Effective engagement of the persecuted church requires long-term relationships where trust can be developed both ways. The wider body of Christ is served by agencies who specialize in the persecuted church, who maintain ongoing relationships and a presence "on the ground". My part in principle #2 is to pray for discernment and wisdom for those who are doing the legwork of engagement, and to exercise my own discernment in reading reports and information from the field. (The purpose of this blog is not to promote any one agency, but I realize that this principle will beg the question "Who can I trust?". In my opinion, the organization doing the best job of this principle, staying true to Scripture and accountable to local churches in the process, is Open Doors International.)

Helping principle #3: Focus on serving the persecuted, not using them.
Let's face it: We've all seen a good cause become disjointed from the people it's about. The cause becomes the cause, rather than the people affected along the way. My husband and I are currently reading an excellent series of historical fiction books about the Civil War, and I've been reminded afresh that many abolitionists were just as prejudiced as slave-owners. They had a Cause, but didn't want anything to do with the people they supposedly were trying to free.

Similarly, "the persecuted church" can become a politicized cause, a PR cause, a fundraising cause - anything but individuals loved by God who are part of the body of Christ He asks us to serve. Boyd-MacMillan relates a tragic story of a Chinese house church pastor who was called to Washington to receive a human rights award. Politicians joined the gathering, and speeches highlighted abuses of power that failed to relate to the current situation in China. The pastor told Boyd-MacMillan that no one had asked him his story or tried to get current information; instead, "they just wanted to hand me the award." (p. 236-237)

This story would be bad enough on its own, but Boyd-MacMillan's next words caused me to really sit up and take notice:
"This experience has been multiplied in advocacy contexts a hundred times. I am weary of looking into the eyes of the persecuted believer being honored and seeing the question, Why doesn't anyone take an interest in my story." (p. 237)
Turning the persecuted church into a Cause leads directly to violating principle #1: extreme statements, misinformation, and other poor advocacy tactics can lead to a cost in influence, reducing credibility for genuine concerns and giving ammunition for government anti-Christian propaganda. A good agency will be careful to get the story right and will always, always, always serve the person rather than the cause.

How are the persecuted "used"? Boyd-MacMillan highlights four key failures (pp 238-253) that should be avoided if we truly wish to serve the persecuted church. Since he goes into much more detail and includes some great examples, I once again commend his book to you for more information than you will find here.

  • Overheated Publicity - representing extreme cases as the norm, or exaggerating the situation.
  • Tactical Polarization - attacking those who have a different approach. This does not preclude a dialogue about what tactics work and what might cause harm, but it does mean not attacking agencies or individuals whose viable methods are different than another's.
  • Propoganda Parroting - This primarily occurs when a visitor to a persecuted nation swallows the government's propaganda lies and repeats them. This is especially an issue for religious VIPs and some political leaders.(Others fall victims to "overheated publicity", the opposite extreme.)
  • Focusing on Urgent instead of Strategic -  High profile releases, short-term fixes, and other urgent tactics have their place - but an overemphasis on these misses long-term, strategic opportunities. For example, in some Indian villages Hindu extremists launched a plan in the 1990s to offer free education (they provided the teachers, of course). Parents who could not afford school jumped at the chance to educate children - who are being taught the radical Hindutva ideas along the way. A "50-year plan" to provided Christian schools is not as dramatic a sell as "give now to help release pastor X", but in the long run might be far more helpful.
So - what does work? Other than the most important - prayer - what can the contemporary Christian in a relatively secure country do to help his or her brothers and sisters who are suffering? Based on Boyd-MacMillan's assessment of tactics in chapters 10 and 11 (254-299), here are some additional ways YOU can help, starting today. (As always, prayer comes first. If you aren't praying regularly for the persecuted church, start there!)

  • Share their stories. Once you find an organization that you trust, share the stories of the persecuted church. A wise agency will be careful about photos and names, but will always have general stories about "a believer in Nepal" or "the underground church in Iran" that you can pass on to others. Raise awareness with solid information presented in a way that helps rather than hurts the church. We need to get the story out, and it's hard in traditional media because of "secular myopia" (p. 263) and because for security purposes the stories come from unnamed sources. Use social media, use your church prayer group, use whatever means God puts at your disposal to educate others who might not realize that persecution didn't stop with Acts 28.
  • Advocate wisely. Private representation, often from western government leaders or trusted businessmen who have developed relationships with the persecuting government, has worked when used wisely and quietly. Ronald Reagan asked a state department official to bring up the names of specific Jews and Christians who were seeking to get out of the USSR; another story claims that he actually brought the names of Christians in Soviet Gulags to his meetings with Soviet leaders, quietly asking for their individual release. None of this was public at the time; he wisely recognized that he could help more by advocating quietly. While most of us do not have this level of influence or personally know anyone who does, we can keep our elected officials informed and ask them to wisely and cautiously intervene if they get a chance. When a trusted agency releases the name of a persecuted believer, we can make sure our leaders know that name.
  • Write letters. Letters written to persecuted believers and persecuting authorities have had a demonstrable effect. Boyd-MacMillan notes that often, prisoners who the government gets letters about are treated better; consistently, prisoners who receive letters note that they are encouraged by them even if they could not read the language.
  • Legal intervention. Supporting laws that will help the persecuted church, and watching for laws that could harm them, is an important role that Christians in a democratic society can play. Be aware and discerning, then use the voice that God has allowed you to have to speak for those who have no voice.
  • Illegal tactics. This is controversial, but based on Acts 5:29 many agencies embrace tactics such as Bible smuggling, sneaking in teachers, etc. Our role should be to pray for these efforts and understand where these choices come from.
  • Political pressure. Individuals or states can exert political pressure, and there are times this is effective. However it is probably the most overestimated tactic, so we must not expect too much from this arena.
  • Positive engagement - building up the society where persecution occurs. The rush of Christian NGO's into Afghanistan after 2002 illustrate one example of this method. This helps the church in that society in practical ways, destroys caricatures of Christians, and nudges the country forward. The drawbacks, of course, are always present; there is no way to avoid working with the persecuting authorities and short-term sacrifices might have to be made for long-term gains. Much prayer and wisdom is needed, but these projects are often very worthy of support. 
  • Financial support. While it's generally unwise to give cash directly to persecuted believers (they will be accused of being "bought" by the west, among other things), giving to agencies that work with the persecuted is one of the best ways we can help the persecuted church. But how to pick a worthy agency? Besides taking into account the principles above, we should avoid agencies that seem to focus on grandstanding, celebrities, and emotional manipulation. Instead, look for the following:
  • Encounters with the persecuted. Whether through stories, emails, opportunities to write, or even trips - do you have a chance to encounter the persecuted believer for yourself? The best agencies provide chances for donors to go to the field.
  • Prayer. A solid agency will make prayer a priority, providing multiple ways for you to pray continually for the persecuted church.
  • Financial accountability and integrity. Are the books open - can you get a full financial statement? Is the organization a member of the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability or a similar agency? Are the leaders known for integrity? Is the board independent, or under the authority of the president/founder?
  • Does the agency cooperate with other organizations? Work with the persecuted church is a work to bring unity between parts of the body of Christ, so the organization should certainly be in unity with other agencies.
  • Does the organization include long-term strategies in its approach? Does it seem to be aware of the complexities and challenges faced by persecuted believers?
  • Does the organization intentionally serve the church? 
  • Does the organization have a solid track record, and is it willing to face controversy rather than compromise its values?
  • Let yourself feel the burden for those persecuted. Boyd-MacMillan noted: "I'm convinced that the best donor of an organization who seeks to help the severely persecuted is a person who is burdened for, informed about, and a witness to the suffering church." (p 287)
The bottom line is that as you pray, God will guide you. Connecting the wider body of Christ to the persecuted church was His idea to start with, after all :). Whatever you do to help the persecuted church, keep seeking His heart for them:
Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies. - Hebrews 13:3, NLT


Your turn: How are you feeling led to be involved with the persecuted church?

References
Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith that Endures: The essential guide to the persecuted church.Revell, 2006.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Helping the persecuted through prayer (Persecution 101, #7)

This post is #7 of a series. For other posts please see here: #1 - #2 - #3 - #4 - #5 - #6 - #7 - #8 - #9 

Without doubt, the number one request of persecuted believers is "pray for us". 

This isn't their only request. They don't ask us not to get involved in ways that involve earthly action. We'll discuss some of those actions in the next blog pot. But first and foremost, they want us to pray. So we are going to talk about that first and foremost.

This isn't just my perception. People who have spent countless hours with those in persecution report the same request - "pray for us". Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, who has worked among persecuted communities for over 20 years, observes:
There is absolutely no question that when it comes to tactical assistance, it is prayer that the persecuted crave more than anything else from their less persecuted brothers and sisters. It's simple to see why. The persecuted realize the value of prayer because they are more experienced in it. Situations of utter helplessness are occasions when all one can do is pray. (Faith That Endures, 256)
Let's hear some words from the extremely persecuted. Moses Xie, who spent more than 20 years in jail in China, explains why he asked for prayer:
First, I want them to experience the blessing of prayer for themselves. They will go to God on my behalf, but they will receive a great blessing form being in the presence of God. I have noticed that Western Christians don't seem to pray that much. second, I know that as they pray, their burden for the persecuted will increase, and as their burden grows, so their commitment to assisting us in all sorts of other ways will increase also. Prayer alone makes them be the body. Third, I want them to release more of God's power into our situation through intercession.... (Faith That Endures, 256)
Brother Andrew, writing with Al Janssen in Secret Believers, also highlighted persecuted believers' requests for prayer. Quoting an unnamed brother called "Peter", he writes: 
"So how should we pray for you?" Al asked. 
"We need prayer that we remain strong and not fall back," Peter answered, "Also, pray for the second generation of Christians. Our children are really suffering. And pray that the church will be more sensitive to MBBs (Muslim Background Believers)."
 Another Middle Eastern pastor asked for prayer in a very specific way as well. After explaining the desperate need for Christians to love Muslims, and to pray for that love, he said:

"Don't pray for us. Pray with us. Can you see the difference? If you pray for me, you will pray for my safety and my prosperity. No, just pray with me for Muslims to know Christ."
(both stories found in Secret Believers, pages 249-251)

Of course, other persecuted believers do ask prayer for deliverance. There are many ways to pray. These specific requests are starting points. I highly encourage you to sign up for the monthly prayer guide from Open Doors, which gives a one or two sentence prayer request for a different country each day. Other prayer options are praying through the World Watch List, and getting email or physical newsletters with prayer requests from various ministries working with the persecuted. Finally, don't miss the opportunities to pray as you watch the news. When you see conflict, elections, confusion, drought - whatever is happening, pray for the church in that area, and for those who are persecuted.

As I have prayed for specific believers over the years, God has led me to some Scriptures to pray in different situations. Along with the requests above and those in the informational tools you sign up to receive, here are a few Scripture-based prayers to add to your arsenal. We never go wrong when we pray God's Word. He has a way of taking it and using it for His purposes, even when we don't quite understand it ourselves. The most important thing, of course, is to just pray.
  • That God will take what is meant for evil and turn it to good, and that many would be saved. (Genesis 50:20)
  • That God will send angels to minister. (1 Kings 19:3-9).
  • That God will open their eyes to see the spiritual forces at work, and the power God has unleashed on their behalf. (2 Kings 6:15-17)That God will deliver them to show His supremacy. (2 Kings 19:1-19)
  • That God would defend the cause of truth and rescue His oppressed. (Psalm 74:21-23)
  • That they will proclaim God's power to the children, the next generation. (Psalm 71:18)
  • That they will praise God in the presence of the saints once again (Psalm 116, below).
  • That they will have a strong sense of God's presence (Isaiah 43).
  • That God will enable them to rejoice in the face of false accusations and persecution, and to focus on the heavenly reward. (Matthew 5:10-12)
  • That God will calm any doubts and fears, and show them the evidence that Jesus is who He says He is. (Luke 7:18-23)
  • That they will be aware just how strongly Jesus identifies with persecuted believers (Acts 9:1-4).
  • That the church will be strong in prayer,united, bold, and that nominal believers would be "all in" and false members revealed; for a strengthening, purifying, unifying time for the church so that leaders won't have to worry about them if they are to be killed. (Acts 12:1-5)
  • That they will be delivered for continued fruitful labor with the congregation (Philippians 1:19-26)
  • That they will be delivered from these evil men and that God's word will speed ahead and be honored in future ministry (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
Psalm 116
Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Death.
1 I love the LORD, because He hears
My voice and my supplications.
2 Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death encompassed me
And the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!”
5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
Yes, our God is compassionate.
6 The LORD preserves the simple;
I was brought low, and He saved me.
7 Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
8 For You have rescued my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
My feet from stumbling.
9 I shall walk before the LORD
In the land of the living.
10 I believed when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
11 I said in my alarm,
“All men are liars.”
12 What shall I render to the LORD
For all His benefits toward me?
13 I shall lift up the cup of salvation
And call upon the name of the LORD.
14 I shall pay my vows to the LORD,

Oh may it be in the presence of all His people.

15 Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His godly ones.
16 O LORD, surely I am Your servant,
I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid,
You have loosed my bonds.
17 To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And call upon the name of the LORD.
18 I shall pay my vows to the LORD,
Oh may it be in the presence of all His people,
19 In the courts of the LORD’S house,
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!

References
Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith that Endures: The essential guide to the persecuted church.Revell, 2006.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Persecution in the 21st Century World (Persecution 101, #6)

This post is #6 of a series. For other posts please see here: #1 - #2 - #3 - #4 - #5 - #6 - #7 - #8 - #9

As we've seen when we defined persecution, the idea of a "persecuted church" and a "non-persecuted church" is somewhat of a misnomer. Because Satan hates Jesus, he mounts an intentional pursuit of every Christian in his long war against God. That pursuit takes many forms including spiritual warfare, oppression, and persecution.

However, the balance point of the definition is that there are certainly degrees of persecution - areas where overt rather than covert persecution is the norm, where the enemy of our souls is able to cause havoc with little to no intervention by the authorities that God established to fight such evil.

As we survey the landscape of the modern "persecuted church", we'll focus on these areas of extreme persecution. Never forget, though, that if you are a follower of Christ reading this blog, you, too, are part of the "persecuted church". As we meet some of the most hurting members of the body, pray that God will cause you to identify with them and meet them in their suffering. As Boyd-Macmillan observes: "Persecution is not an abstract tragedy. Persecution is always an individual tragedy first, and then it becomes a universal tragedy as the worldwide body shares and cares for the victim" (p 144).

Profile #1: Righteousness vs. Lawlessness: Latin America
Latin America is a predominantly Christian continent but has a shocking level of persecution. In Colombia alone, over 100 pastors have lost their lives since 1995. This violence and persecution in an overwhelmingly Christian region comes as a direct result of the church's vibrant commitment to righteousness. Essentially, lawlessness reigns and catches Christians in its grip in a variety of ways (see Boyd-MacMillan, 148-150):
  • Caciques: local bandits, often linked to drug lords, who see Christians as a threat to their bottom line financially. They control the local economy by instilling fear, and don't appreciate when someone refuses to buy alcohol and drugs after coming to Christ. 
  • Revolutionaries: Maoist insurgents still see Christians as peddling lies to the public and want to stop them. 
  • Religious extremists: The exponential growth of Protestantism on the continent has led to persecution from extremists (usually Catholic) in rural areas who want to deny evangelicals their legal rights out of jealousy over the growth.
  • Paramilitary groups: Privately funded groups working for drug lords, these groups force thousands of people to leave the land and massacre Christian villages. 
  • Governments: Military and police often suspect Christians of supporting insurgents or of being Communists due to their work with the poor. 
  • Witches and Satanists: These demonic influences are hostile to Christianity to an extreme. In Colombia, for example, 50 pastors are on a Satanist hit list. 
Profile #2: Fight for Dominance: Africa
African Christians - as well as the entire population - have suffered the ravages of war, genocide, and government mismanagement. The predominant areas of persecution, though, are centralized along the "Sahel Belt" where the two dominant religions of Christianity and Islam meet. North of this band, the nations are predominantly Muslim. The southern nations are generally Christian. Both groups have sought to expand among the animist peoples who practice traditional religion. Boyd-Macmillan paints a picture of the conflict: "With Christians comprising 48.4 percent of Africans, and Muslims 41 percent, it is the battle of the giants concentrated in small areas wherre Muslims and Christians overlap and compete to convert the few remaining animists.They are like elephants and tigers trying to drink from the same dwindling waterhole." (p. 171). African Christians report that their strongest churches are in these places of political hostility, intolerance, and cultural intimidation.

Profile #3: Fighting to Maintain Control: Asia
Asia is an incredibly diverse continent. It's also home to 75% of the world's population and 85% of the world's non-Christians. Overall, Christianity is only 7% of the population in these lands. Yet the church in Asia is strong, and very missional: Over 25,000 people a day are coming to Christ; Chinese Christians are seeking to mobilize 100,000 missionaries to go along the Silk Road from China to Jerusalem; and South Korea is second only to the United States in the number of missionaries sent to other lands. Persecution in Asia arises from four major domains, all of which seek to retain their control.

  • Buddhist Zone: Burma/Myanmar; Bhutan; Sri Lanka; Cambodia; and Thailand are countries where Buddhism either is the state religion or is  practiced by the majority of the population. In some areas, local Buddhist priests incite attacks on successful churches. In others, nationalistic monks challenge anyone of a religion other than Buddhism. And in Tibet, Christians experience a very different reality from the tolerance promoted abroad by the Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama. Some of the most shocking atrocities against Christians in the Buddhist Zone have come in Tibet. (see Boyd-MacMilland p. 185-186)
  • The Hindu Zone: India and Nepal are predominantly Hindu. In India, a low-caste Hindu loses privileges for converting to Christianity but retains those privileges if converting to another non-Hindu religion. Hindu extremists, often nationalistic, have burned churches, raped nuns, and killed missionaries. 
  • The Communist Zone: China, Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea. Persecution in China is much more subtle now than in years past, mainly centering around registering churches, bribes, and intimidation. Vietnamese pastors face imprisonment, and Laotian believers are pressured to recant. In North Korea, the situation is far more severe. Christians languish in work camps just for their faith, and Christians there are even forbidden to look heavenward! Extreme violence and starvation are considered the just "reward" for profession of faith in Christ. 
  • The Muslim Zone: Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Maldives.  In these nations, Muslim extremists seek to force the marginalization or expulsion of Christians. In the Maldives, for example, the only known Christians were rounded up in 1998 and interrogated to force their "return" to Islam. Indonesia has seen the death of more than 8000 people in Christian-Muslim violence on one of its islands since 1999. An internal conflict among Muslims in Indonesia has temporarily resulted in an approach of continued tolerance to non-Muslims, but the underlying tension remains and Christians are well aware that not all Muslims want to live side-by-side with Christians.

Profile #4: Postmodern, Post-Christian: The West
Persecution in the West - Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - looks very different than persecution in other parts of the world. For one thing, the West is the only area of the world where Christianity's numbers are on the decline. An African Christian observed, "The world church is having a feast, but the West hasn't turned up at the table" (Boyd-MacMillan, 210). Persecution in the West typically doesn't look bloody, but it's no less serious. Christians are marginalized by an increasingly (and often intentionally) secular worldview which brings some presuppositions to the table - ideas that directly conflict with Scripture, setting up a certain challenge for those who adhere to Biblical faith:

  • Private Affair: The idea that faith is private and should not impact a person's public choices or actions. This is often called the "naked public square" approach (as opposed to an "open public square, where all ideas have an equal chance to be heard). 
  • Relativism: The idea that faith is a matter of opinion and preference is pervasive. While the idea that individuals are free to choose their beliefs is a basic tenet of free society, this type of relativism elevates the "human rights" of individuals to such an extreme that sharing one's faith is offensive - and increasingly challenged on legal grounds. 
  • Anti-minority church mindset: This is primarily a European issue, where ties remain between states and church traditions. Non-dominant religious groups of all stripes suffer persecution in these settings. 
  • Anti-Christian elites: There are some secular political elites who are intent on bringing a "neo-secular inquisition" (Professor Rocco Buttliglione's phrase, quoted in Boyd-Macmillan, p. 217) to professing Christians. One example from Europe demonstrates how this looks: Buttiglione, a devout Catholic, was nominated to the European Parliament as a justice commissioner in 2004. He was questioned about his private views on homosexuality and stated that he personally considered it sin but would never fail to uphold the civil rights of a homosexual. He was banned from office in an action that sent the message that a homosexual atheist could protect the rights of Christians, but a Christian could not be trusted to protect the rights of homosexuals. 
  • Anti-absolutes culture: Increasingly, the West is hostile toward religions with uncompromising ethical beliefs. There is an "anti-absolute militancy" (Boyd-MacMillan, p. 219) that presents several lies as norms. If these are challenged, marginalization and persecution occur.This anti-absolutes mindset is so strong that it led to France forcing legalized homosexual marriage on its population, who overwhelmingly opposed the bill and took to the streets in protest. 

Profile #5: The Disappearing Church: The Middle East
One of the most common myths I hear about persecution is that it always results in the growth of the church. Certainly growth can result, but as Boyd-MacMillan observes, "Persecution usually occurs because the church is doing something right" (p. 58). Persecution is, generally speaking, the enemy's way of lashing out at a growing and expanding church. What happens as a result of the persecution can lead to further growth - or deepen the challenges of a region.

Today's Middle East is an excellent case study. The Gospel first took root in this part of the world and Christians were a strong presence throughout the centuries since it was established, even after the rise of Islam. In some cities and regions they even retained a majority, yet today Christians are a rapidly dwindling minority due to persecution, war, and financial pressures. Just a few examples:

  • In 1900 there were 40 million Muslims and 6.5 million Christians in the countries comprising the Middle East (15%). Today, there are 300 million Muslims and 12 million Christins (4 percent).
  • 20 years ago, there were  1.2 million Christians in Iraq. Today there are fewer than 350,000. 
  • In 1950, Christians were 15% of the population of the West Bank and Gaza. Today, they make of less than 2% of a much smaller population, leaving only about 60,000 Christians. Furthermore, two cities that were predominantly Christian before 1948 (Ramallah and Bethlehem) now have only a minority Christian population.
  • Turkey was 30% Christian in 1900; today there are only 200,000 Christians in this nation of 62 million.
  • In Lebanon, the Christian population dropped from 75 to 35% since 1900.
  • Syria has long had a population of 10-30% Christian (figures vary widely) but the attacks over the past year have been largely targeted at areas where Christians are dominant. In one city commonly in the news, Homs, 90% of the Christian majority has fled due to persecution or threats.
Some ask how this is any different than Acts 8, when the persecution caused the church and the Gospel to spread. The differences are twofold: (1) In Acts 8, the church fled from a reached area to an unreached. Most fleeing the Middle East leave for Muslim-minority countries with higher degrees of access to the Gospel - mostly reached countries. (2) In Acts 8, a core remained behind to lead the church in Jerusalem. We know this from Paul's experience when he went up to Jerusalem after being converted and was taken by Barnabas to the apostles. We also know from Paul's missionary journeys that a church remained in Jerusalem, albeit under persecution. The witness was not removed. In today's Middle East, the goal of those opposing the church is to completely eradicate the Christian presence.


These few examples illustrate the problem facing the Middle East today and do not even touch on the silencing effect such persecution has on those who choose to stay. While there are many hungry for a true relationship with God, there are fewer and fewer Christians left to evangelize, much less disciple, those who want to know more about Jesus. An additional challenge arises when a church is "burned" by false converts who then report the church's efforts to authorities.

This also demonstrates the vital importance of prayer. As we will see in a later study, praying for deliverance is Biblical! Praise God, though, that even though persecution may not result in "growth", God still redeems it for His purposes.

As we end this lesson, please pray for all those who are persecuted to have divine wisdom to know what to do. We cannot judge their choices to stay or leave, to be outspoken or secret believers. We must trust the Holy Spirit in their lives and pray faithfully, remembering the words of John Bunyan:
Thou mayest do in this as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly; if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Anything but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled, Ex. 2:15; Moses stood, Heb. 11:27. David fled, 1 Sam. 19:12; David stood, 1 Sam. 24:8. Jeremiah fled, Jer. 37:11-12; Jeremiah stood, Jer. 38:17. Christ withdrew himself, Luke 19:10; Christ stood, John 18:1-8. Paul fled, 2 Cor. 11:33; Paul stood, Act 20:22-23. . . . 
There are few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly. . . . Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God’s providence, and the escape countenanced by God’s Word, Matt. 10:23. . . .
If, therefore, when thou hast fled, thou art taken, be not offended at God or man: not at God, for thou art his servant, thy life and thy all are his; not at man, for he is but God’s rod, and is ordained, in this, to do thee good. Hast thou escaped? Laugh. Art thou taken? Laugh. I mean, be pleased which [how]soever things shall go, for that the scales are still in God’s hand.
John Bunyan, Seasonable Counsels, or Advice to Sufferers, p. 726

Your turn: Did you learn something new? What area of the world did God place on your heart as you read this quick overview of persecution? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Sources:
Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith that Endures: The essential guide to the persecuted church.Revell, 2006. 
Bunyan, John. Seasonable Counsels, or Advice to Sufferers, p. 726
http://www.opendoorsusa.org/pray/prayer-updates/2013/05-May/Disappearing-Christians
http://www.factsandlogic.org/ad_133.html

Friday, June 07, 2013

The Pattern of Persecution (Persecution 101, #5)

This post is #5 of a series. For other posts please see here: #1 - #2 - #3 - #4 - #5 - #6 - #7 - #8 - #9

Groups who study religious persecution on a global scale have found a disturbing truth emerge: millions of people are not needed for intense persecution to begin.

That might sound strange to us in the West, familiar with news programs showing marching mobs and burning flags. But when religious persecution is analyzed, it can frequently be broken down into a predictable pattern. As we examine this pattern, please remember that while our study is Christian persecution, this same pattern can be seen in other types of religious persecution, as we will see in today's example.

According to Boyd-MacMillan, a climate of persecution is usually created by "a tiny elite who manipulate handpicked mobs and ... manufacture a chaos that leverages them into power." (p. 45).
The recurring pattern is simple:

- A power vacuum -  exploited by extremists. Extremism always needs a power vacuum. Typically, extremists are invited into power when moderates fail. Essentially, extremists end up center stage because of a failure in the forces of moderation.

- A villain - created by extremists allowing them to establish a strategy to come to power
- A lie
- A mob - organized to instigate chaos. Often, supposed "spontaneous" violence is actually often highly organized and superbly planned (p 54).
- A megaphone to repeat the lie loudly and often

It's vital to watch for this pattern in the early stages, whether with Christians or other minority religious populations, because there is a "creeping" nature to persecution. In fact, Boyd-MacMillan states that historically three facts emerge related to persecution:
- It rarely happens in the way expected.
- It often comes out of the blue - people are blindsided with it.
- "When it comes, we see that we are partially responsible for its appearance." (v. 45) This doesn't mean Christians "ask for it" but often that there are signs that could have stopped things sooner, had they responded differently. Syncretism, compromise, allowing the opposition to define terms, and handing over rights are some actions that smooth the path for persecutors, making it easier for them to do their evil deeds.
A familiar example highlights this pattern at work (summary is mine from multiple readings over the past few years). In the 1920s-1930s Germany was bankrupt as a result of World War I. Nationalism was on the rise and political instability was growing, The moderates were unable to restore stability, and into this power vacuum stepped an extremist with an agenda: Adolf Hitler. Hitler created a villain by playing on people's nationalism and fears, laying blame for numerous problems in Germany at the feet of the Jewish people. As he expanded his reach, he used a series of lies to exploit incidents by blaming them on Jews, and repeated those lies through the megaphone of his propaganda campaigns. Before going into a country he sent individuals ahead to organize mobs to make the supposed support for Germans to be part of the Reich seem stronger, instilling fear into leaders of small countries and gaining capitulation. By the time registration of Jews began, the argument made sense to enough people that many of Hitler's evil plans proceeded right before the eyes of the people who would not have agreed to "genocide".

During this time, the church in Germany was largely silent, some out of fear and others out of direct complicity with the state's goals. Some estimates are that only 20% of the churches were members of the Confessing Movement, openly defying the state's orders to display Nazi flags, excommunicate Jewish Christians, and other commands. In an effort to take responsibility for the appearance of extremism in Germany, one resistance pastor, Martin Niemoller, insisted on a clause to be added to the 1946 Stuttgart Declaration of the Evangelical Church of Germany: "With great anguish we state: Through us inestimable suffering was inflicted on many peoples and lands" (Boyd-MacMillan, 45, italics his).

"Through us." Those words were controversial but they underscore the reality that Boyd-MacMillan finds: When we don't see the pattern, we become part of the problem of bringing extremism into power. Niemoller expressed his personal experience in one of the most stunning paragraphs of the post-war era:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me. (p. 46)
So what do these patterns look like in modern Christian persecution? We'll consider that in the next couple of sessions.

YOUR TURN:  Is your brain churning as you think of historical and current events that fit this pattern, or times when you've seen exceptions to it? Share your insights in the comments!

Sources:
Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith that Endures: The essential guide to the persecuted church. Revell, 2006. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Sources of Persecution (Persecution 101, #4)

This post is #4 of a series. For other posts please see here: #1 - #2 - #3 - #4 - #5 - #6 - #7 - #8 - #9

As we've already seen, the Biblical definition of persecution is broad-based. The Apostles didn't really limit what persecution might look like in a believer's life. Similarly, the New Testament doesn't limit persecution to one particular source. In fact, the New Testament demonstrates five sources of individual persecution (Boyd-MacMillan, 105-108):
  1. The state (Rome; Herod; etc.) 
  2. The religious elite (Jewish priests/Pharisees; etc.) - often the religious elite (of Christianity or of a rival religion) is the group that feels most threatened by radical Christian faith
  3. Families (Jesus' warning in Matthew 10:35-36; His own experience as noted in John 7:3-5)
  4. Merchants/economic establishment (Acts 16 and Acts 19)
  5. Mobs (Acts 17; see especially verse 5)

As we read the New Testament, we see that most of the time, these forces worked in combination. For example, the religious elite Sanhedrin manipulated Pontius Pilate to bring about Jesus' crucifixion. Paul and Silas's quick exit from Ephesus was precipitated by angry merchants who stirred up a mob. The man in John 9 whom Jesus gave sight was confronted with questions from the religious elite who had involved his family in the controversy.

Similarly, modern persecution typically stems from a combination of these factors (Boyd-MacMillan, 69-81). It's critical to distinguish these strands, in order to provide the most effective type of assistance. We'll use China as an example throughout, to show how these different strands can appear within the same society, but it's important to note that none of these factors are limited to China. We see them woven throughout persecution stories around the world.
  1. Ideology - Persecution based on a desire to "re-educate" or otherwise squash opposition to a primary school of thought. The extreme persecution in China during the 1950s-1970s was largely ideological persecution. Today, however, the persecution in China has shifted away from this emphasis and in general is much less extreme.
  2. Government - This type of persecution stems not from an ideology but from a desire to hold on to power. Governments that fear opposition will suppress any group that acts independently - Christian, Muslim, Mormon, or non-religious. The persecution of Chinese house churches that refuse to register is an example of governmental persecution.
  3. Family - When becoming a Christian means the new believer faces choices that feel threatening to the family, this type of persecution can arise. Familial persecution is one of the hardest forms to endure, for it strikes at the heart of a person's identity in much of the world. Also, most of the world places a huge emphasis on extended family, so familial persecution can actually have a further reaching impact than other types. When you add in the reality that often the persecution is based on areas where Christians find disagreement (such as whether to destroy household idols belonging to another family member), the believer persecuted by family members can often feel quite alone. In China, familial persecution is "massive", in Boyd-MacMillan's words. Women especially feel the brunt of this, since 70% of house church members are women. Chinese culture permits spousal abuse, and so a woman beaten by her husband because of her faith will find little support.
  4. Culture - Cultural persecution occurs when a surrounding group of people determine that a Christian should suffer for his or her faith. In China this often occurs within small villages. In one community, a couple came to faith and destroyed their household idols. Soon their two-year-old son was killed in an accident. The villagers sought protection from similar tragedies by placing household idols everywhere - but of course, the newly Christian couple no longer had household idols. The villagers didn't ask them to give up faith - just to put up an idol for protection for the sake of the entire village. When they refused, everything bad that happened in the village was blamed on the dead son's spirit and on the Christian couple who rejected the idolatry. Ultimately, no one would even sell them goods at market, and so they were forced to leave the village where their ancestors had lived for hundreds of years.
  5. Church/religious elite - Boyd-MacMillan underscores the harsh reality of this type of persecution when he writes that from the 3rd to 19th centuries, "the biggest persecutor of the church was, well, the church! Calvinist slaughtered Anabaptist. Catholic slaughtered Protestant in the Inquisition" (p. 76). In fact, he notes many have learned that "the price of being true to the Gospel is sometimes to forsake the church" (p. 134). Within China, persecution OF the church BY the church takes three forms: 1) Jealousy which leads to some older pastors of official churches collaborating with authorities against younger pastors; 2) Church factions within official churches where influential members partner with security personnel to forcibly remove pastors; and 3) Attacks from one strand of house church leaders against leaders from a different strand of house churches.
  6. Corrupt Individuals - Typically the motivation for persecution by corrupt individuals is money - either individuals hoping to profit from the persecution, or others taking revenge for financial losses they blame on the church. Within China, Boyd-MacMillan (79) observes, an increase in the number of arrests occurs around the lunar new year - and these individuals can get out of jail by paying hefty fines.
  7. "Over boldness" - Boyd-MacMillan (79-80) uses this term to describe Christians living or trying to minister in a hostile context who act rashly or recklessly. In China, this happened when a Western mission went into China and blanketed the cities where they landed with thousands of Gospel tracts. In this particular incident, a Western Christian couple who lived in the area were blamed for the tracts and kicked out of the country - after living there for three years, living out the Gospel in practical ways. Sometimes the individual who is over zealous never sees the impact of his or her actions while others bear the brunt of the persecution. 
These seven factors weave together the threads of persecution across a variety of sources and countries. On a global scale, patterns of persecution can be traced back to four major sources (Boyd-MacMillan, 123-142):

  1. Religious nationalism - This type of persecution argues that the purity of the religion is at stake. The more religion is considered important in these societies, the more the government tries to control it. This may not necessarily stem from non-Christian religions; for example in some Eastern European countries, Orthodox priests are the leaders in blocking new evangelical churches from forming. In India, Hindu nationalists cause much of the persecution of Christians.
  2. Islamic extremism - This is pan-national and can be traced to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran. From that date we see an increase in direct state persecution, communal violence, and attacked by radical Islamic terrorists. Because Christianity is the main evangelistic competitor to Islamic extremists, it bears the brunt of this extremism; however, minority Muslim sects and other non-Muslim religions also face persecution. 
  3. Insecurity (totalitarian and power struggle) - We see totalitarian insecurity result in persecution mainly in Cuba, China, Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea. Most have adopted a "squeeze, don't smash" approach to the Christians in their lands. Within Africa, Latin America, and other parts of Asia, there is persecution from those who feel a need to retain power (drug warlords, tribal chieftains, etc.) as opposed to state persecution. 
  4. Secular intolerance - This is an increasing form of persecution in the West. Secular intolerance can be traced back to the Enlightenment's theory of values vs. facts - essentially a two-tier thought process where values could be distinguished from facts and were expected to be considered separately. We see this, for example, in the debate over evolution. "That's an issue of faith and outside the scientific realm" some might say about the existence of God; while others would say, "I believe in the science of evolution - that's not in the faith realm. But in my faith realm I believe that somehow God was involved." (Pearcey).  This false dichotomy has resulted in a shift in the object of tolerance. Originally, the idea of religious tolerance was promoted to limit the state. Government was expected to "tolerate" all religions. The limit was not placed on the church, but on the state, with an expectation to treat all religions equally. Increasingly today, however, the object of religious tolerance is the individual. Each individual in a secular society is expected to treat all religions as equal. Over time, this has had the effect of privatizing faith (separating personal faith from public actions) and minimizing the differences between religions. 
 Paul wrote, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted". The reality for every single believer in Jesus Christ is that some form of persecution will happen over the course of a faithful lifetime. How Christians handle it, individually and corporately, requires much prayer and discernment. As a Chinese pastor wisely stated: "Some kinds of persecution you have to fight with all your might; and some kinds you have to embrace with all your heart."

Your turn: We're about halfway through our study. What's been eye-opening to you? What's been challenging? What questions do you have that we can discuss in future lessons? I want to hear from you!!

 -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sources:

Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith that Endures: The essential guide to the persecuted church. Revell, 2006. 

Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity. Crossway, 2004.


Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Tours of Duty - What is Persecution? (Perscution 101, #3)

This post is #3 of a series. For other posts please see here: #1 - #2 - #3 - #4 - #5 - #6 - #7 - #8 - #9 

I have a dear friend whose husband is a career military officer. Over the 18 or so years he's been on active duty, they've had seasons when he was assigned tours of duty in combat zones while his family stayed stateside. During other seasons, he was assigned to risky non-combat zones where his family could not join him; at still other times he was assigned to international posts and lived there with his family. Along the way they have also been blessed with several tours of duty at various posts stateside - seasons when they lived in houses off base and he drove in to his job just like you or I might do every day.

Throughout all these tours of duty, though, he was always a soldier. Since most of his service has been post 9/11, he has always remembered that just wearing the uniform made him a target. Even when serving in the "safest" job stateside, he knew that he was part of something bigger than himself. He knew that he shared common enemies with his fellow soldiers throughout the world. He never forgot that the tour of duty to which he was assigned did not define him. Even today, he knows he is a soldier and is willing to follow through on all that means.

Among the many analogies scripture gives us about our faith, the analogy of a soldier is one linked directly with suffering:
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
As we discuss various definitions of persecution today, I ask you to keep this analogy in mind. By the end of today's lesson, I hope that we can each better identify with the "persecuted church" as we realize that we are also involved in the same battle.

What is persecution? Legal definitions
Most modern nation-states look to Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a United Nations document, for guidance on their legal definitions of persecution. This document uses the phrase "violations of religious freedom" and guarantees that all peoples should have the following rights:
- The right to believe
- The right to practice those beliefs
- The right to transmit those beliefs to their offspring
- The right to spread their faith
- The right to change religions

Article 18 is not limited to violation of Christian religious freedom. This is important to note, for while Christians are heavily persecuted, minority religions throughout the world often face persecutions in similar patterns. For example, more Muslims than Christians have died at the hands of Muslims. Muslim sectarian violence often follows similar patterns that we will discuss when we look at the pattern of persecution. As we become aware of potential "hot spots" for persecution, we should watch for ways any minority religion is treated. For the purposes of this study, however, we will consider definitions of Christian persecution for the remainder of this post.

From a legal perspective, and even within the church, there is no common agreement on a definition of persecution. One reason for this is that the word "persecution" has political consequences. For example, Chinese authorities accused of jailing Christians to "persecute them" will defend themselves by saying, "This isn't persecution. They have broken the law." Another challenge to legally defining persecution is that from a legal viewpoint, there is a difference between the right to believe (generally considered absolute, as even oppressive societies will claim they give citizens this right) and the right to exercise that belief (always conditional, even within the most free society - someone whose religious beliefs require human sacrifice, to give an extreme example, would find themselves limited in the ability to practice those beliefs). (Boyd-MacMillan, 85-90). The line between religious freedom and the responsibility to society is constantly fluctuating within any culture.

Two broad legal approaches to persecution have emerged. One school of thought uses the word to describe any violation of religious freedom. An example of this approach is David Limbaugh's book Persecution, which highlighted abuses of the "separation of church and state principle" (Boyd-MacMillan, 90). The second school of thought limits the definition of persecution to "extreme, gross violation of one's religious freedom, such as torture and imprisonment".  Michael Horowitz, a Jewish lawyer who has advocated for Christian liberty and helped with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, prefers this second approach. He sees the struggle American Christians face as no different from the fight for rights that goes on with any minority group within a democracy, and that Christians have a mechanism to fight those violations. He states, "To whine about persecution here [in the United State] only dilutes the desire to do something about it elsewhere....The idea of equating what we go through with what they go through in North Korea or China or Pakistan or Sudan or Cuba is wrong." (quoted in Boyd-MacMillan, 91).

These different approaches have led to inconsistent usage of the term "persecution". Organizations that work within the world of persecution are beginning to delineate "phases" of persecution, including disinformation, harassment, discrimination, reductions in religious freedom, as well as outright hostility and systemic targeting of religious populations. It's also worth noting that even those who advocate a broader definition of the word "persecution" recognize that there are different degrees of persecution. It's important to realize, though, that a consensus of the definition of "persecution" is still evolving (Boyd-MacMillan, 92); as we read about persecution we should be aware of the perspective of the author to best understand the meaning behind his or her words.

Article 18 of the UDHR lays out a legal foundation. However, it completely ignores the spiritual dimensions of Christian persecution. A Biblical understanding will round out the definition.


What is persecution? A Biblical Overview 


To most effectively draw principles for a theology of persecution, we must understand what persecution truly is. Technically, persecution is defined as “the systematic attempt to suppress or to exterminate Christianity by social pressure to the point of violence” (Adeyemo, 1979: 23-24). Some church leaders promote a definition of persecution that requires the motive to be solely religious. However, Schirrmacher notes that in the New Testament and early church, persecution for “purely religious” motives was rare. Instead, political, cultural, national, economic, and personal motives mixed with religious ones to create “a confusing blend of religious concerns with cultural and social problems” (Schirrmacher, 2001:17) – a situation seen in most of the persecutions of the modern era.


Mixed motives can readily be seen in some of the prominent persecutions of the New Testament: Paul ministered in Ephesus for two years openly, but persecution came when the converts quit purchasing idols and caused financial concerns (Acts 19:23-20:2). Paul’s later arrest in Jerusalem was precipitated by a violent Jewish crowd. Roman authorities, seeking to maintain political peace in the region, arrested him to find out why the crowd was upset (Acts 23:24).

The meaning of “persecution” is frequently misunderstood. Michael Wilkins observes two common misunderstandings: 1) Persecution is a radical commitment for the spiritual elite; 2) Persecution is the “highest form of spirituality.” Against both of these Wilkins points out the teaching of the early church fathers: “All Christians are disciples, hence, the radical nature of discipleship displayed by Ignatius is a personal extension of his own Christian life.” Wilkins proposes a third understanding of persecution: a radical commitment to Christ in difficult circumstances – even martyrdom – seen by the disciple as “a natural extension of the Christian life” (Wilkins, 1991: 332-334).

One term that seems to link persecution with discipleship is summatheetees, or “fellow-disciple.” This term appears in Martyrdom of Polycarp as the author prays that he would become a “fellow-disciple” in martyrdom. This word in rare in Hellenistic and early Christian usage, but does occur once in the New Testament, in John 11:16 where John records Thomas’ words upon Jesus’ heading toward Jerusalem: “Thomas…said to his fellow disciples (summatheetees), ‘let us also go, that we may die with Him.’” Interestingly, both the John reference and the Polycarp reference are in martyr contexts (Wilkins, 1991:319).

Paul’s observation of the certainty of persecution to those who desire to live godly lives (2 Tim. 3:12) uses a different term, dioko. From the root dio, “to flee”, this word is used in Paul’s writings for both “persecution” and “follow after.” It seems to denote a pursuit, an intentional action by those who carry out the action. Persecution can thus be said to be related to the intentional pursuit of a Christian. This pursuit, we will see, comes not from the human agents involved but is part of a larger spiritual war. Boyd-MacMillan (103) observes that an "ungodly trinity" pursues the Christian: the world, our flesh, and Satan. He notes that dioko is linked to the idea of "to pursue" and illustrates two ways that persecution goes back to Satan's war against God: 1) It is about trying to get to Christ through His followers. We are the victims, not the object of persecution; and 2) It is universal. Satan wants to destroy God's creation. According to his understanding of Revelation 12:13, Satan has been persecuting the church since the birth of Christ.

Scripture portrays as persecution various forms of suffering other than martyrdom. The ostracism experienced by the healed man expelled from the temple (John 9) is contrasted with those who failed to openly speak of Jesus because “they loved the approval of men more than the approval of God” (John 12:43). 1 Peter, written to persecuted Christians, uses the generic term “suffering” far more frequently, though in 4:12-13 Peter makes clear that their “fiery ordeal” is sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

Peter repeatedly uses the word pasko, translated “suffer.” This verb is used in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts to refer to the literal, physical sufferings of Christ – in the KJV it is even translated “Passion” in Acts 1:3. Paul uses the term to refer to sharing in the sufferings of Christ, noting that one part of the body cannot suffer without the rest of the body feeling that suffering. But Peter uses the word the most, building I Peter around the theme of suffering. For Peter, there are two types of suffering: suffering for the sake of Christ, and suffering for one’s own sinful choices.

Outright, blatant persecution in the form of arrest and torture with possible martyrdom is actually one of the last steps in a process that begins with dislike, social pressure, and even political policy and personal ambition (Osborne, 1999:72-1). Osborne calls persecution a ‘form of hatred’ (Osborne, 1999:72-2). Tson concurs, seeing arrest and torture as only one type of “suffering for Christ” (Tson, 1997:424). He explains:
[Suffering for Christ] begins when one leaves close relatives for the service of Christ. For some, it means selling their possessions and giving them to the poor, which often means giving them for the propagation of the gospel. For others, suffering for Christ may mean agonizing in prayer for the cause of Christ, or agonizing and toiling for the building up of the body of Christ and the perfecting of the saints….suffering for Christ is not a self-inflicted suffering (Tson, 1997:424).
Thus, persecution can be broadly defined as any suffering that would not occur apart from a radical commitment to Christ. But there is a second component to the definition that we will now consider: this radical commitment attracts an intentional pursuit of the Christian in a spiritual war.

The book of Revelation, written from the viewpoint of a Christian enduring persecution to other Christians during a time of persecution (Johnstone, 1978: 3), contains a message that supersedes all of the eschatological arguments that it has engendered over the years. In Revelation, we see God’s victory in and through the church. We see God sovereign over history. We see the successful outcome of all missions efforts as worshippers gather around the throne from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group. And significantly, we see that this victory is achieved “neither by power, wealth, or force, but through the authority of Jesus, by the Word of God, by the Holy Spirit, and by prayer” (Schirrmacher, 2001: 20).

The word group martur/martus (“witness” or “martyr”) plays a significant role in the book of Revelation. Within its 22 chapters, some form of this word is used 17 times. Even Jesus is identified twice as martur/martus (1:5; 3:14). This introduction sets the tone for the entire book: Jesus is the “Forerunner and Pioneer of the ones who are facing the threat of torture and execution for their faith. Yet He is not only their Forerunner into death; He is also their Forerunner out of that death by the fact of His resurrection” (Tson, 1997: 271-272).

The word “martyr” is used more broadly in Scripture than someone who dies because of Christian faith. The Greek martus originally meant “witness,” and over time came to mean one whose witness for their faith resulted in death (Ruffin, 1985: 1). The verb martureo encompasses the ideas of both truth and Scripture. Its meaning includes “Christ-like values, such as faithfulness, truth, witness, and lifestyle. Eventually, even ‘death-style’ is subsumed” in the connotation of the word (Tallman, 2000: 602). J. Ray Tallman further notes that “The word does away with any distinction of what a true believer might live and die for. Death does not stop the witness given. It merely adds an exclamation point of truth, faithfulness, and love for the glory of God. It is the supreme witnessing act” (Tallman, 2000:602).

Throughout the book of Revelation, ‘witnessing’ leads to martyrdom to such an extent that Josef Tson says, “The essence of being a Christian prophet is expressing Christ by one’s words, lifestyle, endurance, and ultimately martyrdom” (Tson, 1997: 288). Revelation makes no distinction between those “persecuted because of their faith” and those “persecuted for their active support of justice” (Schirrmacher, 2001:18). Thus a martyr can be considered “a Christian who suffers death of his own free will, as the penalty for the confession of his faith or the refusal to deny it or one of its dogmas, principles, or practices” (Schirrmacher, 2001: 18).

Revelation has been called “a martyrological document” (Weinrich, 1981: 73; Johnstone, 1978: 3). William Weinrich notes that a continual reference to the persecuted and the martyrs is consistent with Revelation’s overall understanding of Christian existence: “the eschatological war in which Satan is the true enemy” (Weinrich, 1981: 73).

A consistent theme throughout the book of Revelation is that “bearing witness” is linked closely to the word of God and the “witness” or “testimony” of Jesus. John’s role in recording the Revelation was to bear witness to God’s Word and Jesus’ testimony (1:2); John is on Patmos because of God’s Word and the testimony of Jesus (1:9); the souls under the altar had been slain because of the word of God and the “testimony” they maintained (6:9); those who overcame Satan did so because of the blood of the Lamb, the word of their “testimony,” and not loving their life (12:11); the dragon makes war with the saints who keep the commandments of God and hold to the “testimony” of Jesus (12:17); and finally, the souls John saw had been beheaded because of the “testimony” of Jesus and the word of God – they along with the faithful came to life and reigned with Christ for 1000 years (20:4). The juxtaposition of these ideas makes clear that those who are “witnesses” for Christ do so on the firm ground of God’s Word – not their own ideas or traditions – and they maintain this “testimony” through obedience to God’s commands. In other words, not only do they preach the message, they live it. And in the living of the message, sometimes they die.

Yet it is in death that Scripture calls them conquerors (Rev. 12:11). These were individuals who entered fully into the battle of world evangelization and the spiritual warfare it entails. For them, Jesus was Savior and Lord, and both their faith and evangelism were not cheap. Brother Andrew writes of the significance of a strong Christianity that embraces this spiritual battle:
Weak Christianity is very often the result of cheap evangelism….God’s plan is to establish the testimony of Jesus firmly in the world today….World evangelism means spiritual warfare. When we enter into spiritual warfare, we begin to understand why whole areas of the world are closed off from the preaching of the Gospel, why whole nations seem to be in the grip of the evil one, why there is persecution….If we don’t see the spiritual warfare, then by failing to see it we tend to switch over to alternatives within our reach. Then we fail to attempt the impossible (Andrew, 1979: 140-141).
Josef Tson concurs with Brother Andrew’s emphasis on the spiritual battle as reflected in Revelation. Tson interprets Revelation as “the entire history of the Christian church, from the time of Christ on the earth to the time of the final victory of Christ and His church” (Tson, 1997: 284). From this perspective, he sees an ongoing war that Satan makes against the church, which God allows for two purposes: 1) Bringing the nations to God; 2) Allowing the martyrs to participate in the ongoing battle that will end in Satan’s defeat (Tson, 1997: 292).

Tson sees the letters to the seven churches as representing various aspects of the spiritual war (Tson, 1997:276-277). The church at Smyrna was obviously a persecuted church and will be examined more fully below, but Revelation portrays the other churches as being engaged in the battle as well. In my own inductive study of the churches from this perspective, I observed that Ephesus fought the battle of truth (2:2); Pergamum faced warfare so obvious that John said it existed “where Satan’s throne is” (2:13); Thyatira encountered false teachers who presented “the deep things of Satan” (2:24); Sardis faced a battle for her very spiritual life (3:1); Philadelphia encountered “the synagogue of Satan” (3:9); and Laodicea was losing the spiritual battle because of materialism and apathy (3:15, 17).

Smyrna was the church known specifically for its persecution and death (2:8-11). They were encouraged to be faithful to death for the 10 days of tribulation they would face. For the first century persecuted church reading this passage, the reference held a very distinct meaning. Prison in this time was for detention prior to trial; after trial they were sent to exile, labor camp, or death. During trial, individuals who claimed not to be a Christian were expected to pick up incense and put it onto a flame while claiming “Caesar is Lord.” Those who refused to do so were tortured for an entire day. If they survived, an execution order was issued. However, to avoid sending them to death with open wounds that the public would be able to see, authorities detained Christians in prison until the wounds at least began to heal – a process that took about 10 days. Prison in the first century Roman Empire was a brief holding place until public execution. The Christians in Smyrna were likely being prepared for torture and martyrdom. The admonition to be faithful unto death would have been significant to them, as well as to readers of John’s day (Tson, 1997: 275).

However, in the context of Revelation’s emphasis on martus/martur, Tson observes that this was not merely a call to die, but a call to witness (Tson, 1997: 276). He expounds: “Moreover, they were also assured that they would defeat Satan by their martyrdom, again just as Jesus had done. Their victory would come through death” (Tson, 1997: 276). Smyrna’s role in the spiritual battle required them to pay the ultimate price.

Perhaps because of the emphasis on the spiritual war and martyrdom throughout Revelation, John begins with a strong reminder of the sovereignty of God. Nine of the 10 New Testament references to God as “the Almighty” (ho pantokrator) occur in Revelation (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:2; 16:7; 16:14; 19:6; 19:15; 21:22). Jesus shares this supremacy; John introduces Him as “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5). Read from the perspective of a persecuted believer, Revelation’s message is clear: “The kings of the earth are the ones who are persecuting the Christians; however, Christ is their ruler!” (Tson, 1997: 272-273).

Even in death, the sovereignty of God so emphasized throughout Revelation assures believers of ultimate victory. Josef Tson has written about the persecution he experienced in Romania:
For many years...I was groaning and saying ‘Lord, why?’...Now I have as the main pillar of my theology the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God means Satan at the end always finds out that he just promoted God’s cause. All God’s enemies combine to destroy His work, and they always discover at the end that they just promoted it. That’s the sovereignty of God (Schlossberg, 1991: 130-131).

Herbert Schlossberg comments that Tson’s insight underscores the importance of a well-rounded Biblical philosophy of history: “A theology of disaster that is true to a Biblical worldview recognizes the victory lurking behind every external setback to faithful followers of Christ” (Schlossberg, 1991: 130-131).

For Tson, who writes from the perspective of one who grew up under persecution in Romania, Revelation is encouraging. It shows Jesus Christ both reigning on His throne in heaven and present with His people in their affliction. He also knows their situation; each letter to the seven churches begins with the phrase “I know your…” following the introduction of Jesus (Tson, 1997: 272-273). Ultimately, Revelation serves as a reminder that God is sovereign, and that “His purposes are being fulfilled even by His own enemies. The Book of Revelation makes this truth shine with dazzling light” (Tson, 1997: 272-273).

That the battle is spiritual is underscored in other places in the New Testament. Paul explicitly tells the Ephesians that “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Boyd-MacMillan (112) observes that "principalities" here refers to Satan and his demons; while "powers" refers to earthly structures. Because Satan's goal is universal destruction of God's Creation and the church Christ died to build, he says that the demons work within earthly structures to get them serving Satan, instead of serving God. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Peter reminds his persecuted congregation that their adversary is “the devil,” who is actively seeking out prey “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Like Revelation, Peter links the persecuted believers to a certain victory (1 Peter 5:10). Peter also reminds the church that they are not suffering alone, but that other believers around the world are suffering similarly – a reminder of the prevalence of persecution (1 Peter 5:9). Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus road reminds us that the attacks are, ultimately, against Christ (Acts 9:4).

The recognition of persecution as part of Satan’s war against God is key to a strong Christianity in the face of battles. Without the recognition of the spiritual battle that rages, passivity and nominalism rise, and theological compromises are more prevalent (Schlossberg, 2001: 116-117). Schlossberg sees throughout all of Scripture the normalcy of persecution. The experiences of both Israel and the church teach today’s believers that “wherever people seek to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, they can expect to suffer persecution” (Schlossberg, 1991: 115). An awareness that today’s persecution is directly linked to that experienced by the New Testament and early church as part of the same spiritual war awakens today’s church to the truth that persecution is part of the heritage of the church.

The reality of suffering unites believers in non-persecuted countries with those who are being persecuted. Alan Neely aptly observes that a genuine Christian mission “in due time will involve suffering” (Neely, 2000: 915-916). Paul emphasizes that while suffering is part of discipleship, it is also a method of witness (2 Cor. 4:8-10). The regular emphasis on the body and blood of Christ in the Communion meal reminds us of the reality of Christ’s suffering – and should also remind us that this suffering “happens repeatedly outside as well as inside the walls of the church” (Neely, 2000: 915-916).

Paul’s words to Timothy that it is those who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus who will be persecuted underscores the radical claims of the gospel. Kenneth Scott Latourette observes that Jesus’ warning of persecution to those who would follow Him has consistently been fulfilled:
This is not so strange. So radical are the claims of the Gospel, so sweeping are its demands on the faithful, so uncompromising does it render those who yield themselves fully to it, that opposition and even persecution are to be expected….the dislike and the persecution which grew out of it were evidence that, as Jesus had said, in the Gospel something had entered the world with which the world was at enmity (Latourette, 1975: 81).
Summary Definition
So, as we move forward through this study, how should we define persecution? My study of the New Testament leads me to agree with Boyd-MacMillan that Scripture makes NO distinction between a persecuted church and a free church. Some experience suffering in different degrees, and those not suffering as severely are called to help those in difficult situations - but there every indication I see is that "persecution" or "suffering" is the normal life for a Christian. Boyd-MacMillan presents six reasons for his all-encompassing definition of persecution (pages 114-117):
1) The New Testament does not limit the word to extreme physical suffering. Instead, the verb form of persecution, "to pursue," focuses on the fact of the pursuit, not the results of it.
2) Scripture makes clear that every Christian should expect persecution (2 Timothy 3:12; Acts 14:22; Matthew 5:11; 1 Peter 4:12-13; 1 John 3:13).
3) Persecution is an outgrowth of a spiritual battle and as such, is not limited in location. He observes, "The hatred that spiritual forces bear toward Christ does not diminish in democracies." (p 115)
4) Throughout history, the church has embraced all types of hostility as forms of persecution.
5) Just because we are all "the persecuted church", we are not absolved from helping the "severely persecuted" who need our urgent assistance. In fact, recognizing that their suffering is an extension of the same battles we face should drive us further to action. As Boyd-MacMillan says, "The terrible danger is that Western Christians, who do not regard themselves as part of the persecuted church, often fail to see themselves in a spiritual battle at all. And those who are not aware of the fight are losing it."
6) If we limit the definite of persecution to its most extreme forms, we fail to address the causes of persecution. When we hold a broader definition, we are able to recognize patterns and address the roots of persecution. 

I thoroughly agree with these summaries. However, my biggest reason for a broad definition, outside Scripture itself, comes from the words of an elderly North Korean who fled the country in 1997: "If you limit persecution to those who are in jail or being beaten or having their property stolen, you are saying that all other Christians are dead. You see, the best and only way to know you are alive in Christ is when you are persecuted. The persecution proves Christ is within." (Boyd-MacMillan, p. 118).

Going back to the analogy we started with so many words ago: We are all given different "tours of duty" by our commanding officer. Those duty stations may change many times over the course of our lives. But always, always we remain engaged in the same battle as our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

So, I will conclude this post with two broad definitions of persecution: Ronald Boyd-MacMillan's, and my own. As we move forward, please keep these in mind.

 Ronald Boyd-MacMillan:"Christian persecution is any hostility, experienced from the world, as a result of one's identification with Christ. This can include hostile feelings, attitudes, words, and actions." (p. 114)

Rosa: Christian persecution is any suffering that would not occur apart from a radical commitment to Christ - a radical commitment attracts an intentional pursuit of the Christian in a spiritual war.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
YOUR TURN: What do you think about these definitions? What is your definition of persecution? Talk to me through the comments!


Sources:

Adeyemo, Dr. Tokunboh. 
1979. Persecution: A permanent feature of the church. In Destined to Suffer? African Christians Face the Future, ed. Brother Andrew.

Andrew, Brother. 
1979. The Challenge of the Impossible. In Destined to Suffer? African Christians Face the Future, ed. Brother Andrew.



Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith that Endures: The essential guide to the persecuted church. Revell, 2006.  

Johnstone, Patrick.
1978                Preparing 3rd World Believers for Church Growth Under Persecution. Worldwide Thrust 14.9: 3-7.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott.
1975                A History of Christianity. Vol. I: to AD 1500, rev. ed. Peabody,
Mass.: Prince Press.
 
Neely, Alan.
2000                Suffering. In Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, ed. A.
Scott Moreau. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

Osborne, William.
1999                The Early Church in a Hostile Roman World. In Classical World:
400 BC-AD 200 Lesson Overviews, ed. William Osborne. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Ruffin, Bernard.
1985                The Days of the Martyrs: A history of the persecution of Christians from apostolic times to the time of Constantine. Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.

Schirrmacher, Thomas.
2001                The Persecution of Christians Concerns us All: Toward a theology of martyrdom. 70 Biblical-Theological Theses Written for the German Evangelical Alliance. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from  http://www.contra-mundum.org/schirrmacher/Persecution.pdf.

Schlossberg, Herbert.
1991                A Fragrance of Oppression: The church and its persecutors. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

Tallman, J. Ray.
2000                Martyrdom. In Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, ed. A. Scott Moreau. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

Tson, Josef.
1997                Suffering, Martyrdom, and Rewards in Heaven. New York: University Press of America.

Weinrich, William C.
1981                Spirit and Martyrdom: A study of the work of the Holy Spirit in contexts of persecution and martyrdom in the New Testament and early Christian literature. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America.

Wilkins, Michael J.
1991                Following the Master. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.