“Justice for the Persecuted Church” is part three of a four-part series on justice issues the church can and should engage that I’ve preached at The Fellowship. Check out the first two messages:
Confronting Modern Slavery
The world is broken and people are sinful. Over the last week, the world has experienced a hurricane in Mexico, earthquake in Japan & terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris. We also know that there is real persecution. When we consider persecution, as believers living in America, we need to be reminded what is not persecution. What is not persecution? A department store employee greeting you with “Happy Holidays” rather than a religious statement is not persecution. A secular city government not displaying The 10 Commandments monument is not persecution. And buying a $5 cup of coffee to only have it served in a plain red cup is not persecution.
These events show a country where people have walked away from Christianity. They are a commentary on culture. More importantly, it is an indictment on the church. We replaced our evangelistic impulse with the need for religious consumerism. The Early Church did not expect the Roman Empire to spread the Gospel. It is the work of the church. Even in the face of persecution.
1. The reality of persecution
Jesus stated in Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (NIV). Jesus is more aware of the reality of persecution than any of us. The people of Israel faced opposition. Jesus knew that He would be violently treated. The early church was persecuted. None of what we see today is new to the people of God. Jesus taught that we would be persecuted for two specific reasons: righteousness and the King who grants it. Today, there is a stark reality to the persecution of the church. According to Open Doors USA, Christians are the most persecuted religious group. Over last few years, an average of 180 Christians killed each month for their faith. However, the number is climbing. 4,344 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons in 2014. 1,062 churches attacked for faith-related reasons in 2014. The majority of attacks took place in five countries: China (258), Vietnam (116), Nigeria (108), Syria (107 churches), and the Central African Republic (100). The top three reasons for persecution is Islamic extremism (main reason in 40 of top 50 countries), dictatorial paranoia (such as in North Korea), and organized corruption (in Colombia and Mexico). For the 13th year is North Korea ranked as the worst country for Christian persecution with 70,000 believers being held in prison camps. Christians are the most persecuted religious group. Over last few years, an average of 180 Christians killed each month for their faith. Any yet Jesus states that His persecuted followers are blessed by God.
In his paraphrase entitled “The Message,” Eugene Peterson writes Matthew 5:10-12 in this way: You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. It reminds me of what William Barclay wrote in his commentary on Luke: “Jesus promised his disciples 3 things: That they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy & in constant trouble.”
2. Our responsibility to those who are persecuted
As this is the reality for the church throughout history and in the present, we who enjoy relatively unfettered freedoms and resources must not turn away from their plight. We can respond in five ways.
Speak for them. Decide that your persecuted faith family matters enough to notice and be their advocates. Use everything including petitions, letter-writing campaigns to political leaders, traditional media, and social media to make the problem known to those who can do something about it.
Share with them. In the context of the body of Christ metaphor, 1 Corinthians 12:26 reminds us, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” We should share in their grief and suffering. I’d add in that we should share in their passion for evangelism. They are taking up the cross and following Jesus. We should do the same.
Intercede for their bold witness. Paul requested in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” The consistent desire of persecuted Christians is that we pray for their bold witness of the gospel. They know that the horrors of eternal judgment await their fellow countrymen and desire show them the hope of Christ.
Pray for their deliverance. Paul went on to write, “And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:2). As we pray for their spiritual strength, we should ask the Lord to miraculously deliver them from the evil powers of this world. We want the world to see His power so that they will have to confess that ours is the one true God.
Provide for them. Hebrews 13:3 teaches us, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” When our faith family is oppressed, we should provide for any need they might have. This is where the $5 cup of coffee served in a red cup should go by the wayside. Let’s give what we have to those who are destitute and imprisoned for the faith.
The persecution of the church stands as a constant reminder that the world is sinful & in need of a Savior. As Jesus was nailed to the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them for the know not what they do.” In response to what we see around the world, we must embrace the work of the gospel. Don’t let their suffering be in vain. The persecution & death of Christ was for you but not only for you. We are called to make disciples of all nations. Start with your neighbor and go around the world with the Good News. As we are in the going, let us care for those who suffer in dark places for God’s great hope for the world.
You can watch the video of the message on The Fellowship’s YouTube page.
A source for many of the statistics in my message came from Christianity Today’s article from January 2015.
Other great resources about this issue can be found at:
- Open Doors USA
- The Voice of the Martyrs
- Pew Research
- The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission