For weeks our brothers and sisters in Iraq have been enduring harsh persecution at the hands of ISIS troops as they storm the country. I heard on Fox News, some Iraqi believers, when faced with death were converting to Islam — and being killed anyway.
Since the founding of the early church in the book of Acts, over 70 million Christians have lost their lives because of their faith in Christ, and 65% of this immense number died in the 20th century alone. At the rate things are going, that number will probably go higher in this century.
In the spring I began an online class, The Persecuted Church. While the plan is to write a review once complete (which I will do), recent events have opened my eyes and turned my view of persecution upside down.
Have you ever heard the folk-saying the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church? While taking the online class, “Is the Blood of the Martyrs Really the Seed of the Church?” by Glenn Penner, my neat little theology was stripped. Some of us may have heard the quote that goes something like this: persecution always leads to church growth. Or, maybe even, the American church needs persecution to bring us back to God.
Are you sure that’s true? Really sure?
The saying itself is not biblical. It comes from Tertullian who stated “the blood of Christians is seed.” As Penner says, “The notion that persecution causes growth and purity is not the whole truth.” The “danger is assuming persecution always causes growth. The danger is not speaking up against it. Belief that it is good has caused the Western church not to get involved.”
“It is naive to say persecution always leads to growth. It is more accurate to say church growth leads to persecution. The church is exploding around the world, except for the West,” continues Penner.
That’s a grand indictment against us — choosing to not get involved because we somehow think persecution is good.
What the safe Western church has forgotten is we are to come alongside our suffering family in Christ through prayer and support. We are certainly not to think that suffering is good for them — or that it is a tool of God to grow the Church! Persecuted believers are human just as we are and, obviously, suffering is hard. Persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ is an attack.
The truth is that persecution happens when men and women serve Christ. It is a fact of life.
There will be suffering and there will be grace for those who follow Christ in obedience. Persecution does not always have a nice pretty ending. Young school girls in Nigeria are kidnapped and sold into s*x slavery, Christians in India are tortured and have their churches burned, Iraqi believers face death through crucifixion and beheading (even children).
The cold, hard truth: persecution does not always produce strong believers. Some of them turn back; sometimes many turn back. Some of the persecuted are new believers with very little discipleship; they cannot withstand the physical or mental abuse. Some of them fall away, their faith shipwreck.
Do we as Americans fully understand that? Not all endure persecution in Christ.
While statements giving praise for the explosive growth of the church are made because of persecution, we fail to realize it is Christ who grows His church, not persecution.
Persecution is what the devil does to believers to get them to renounce Christ as Lord and Savior.
Persecution, as Penner states in the class, “may not produce better Christians, persecution will produce persecuted Christians.”
3 Ways to Help Persecuted Christians Right Now
* Speak out for those suffering. We can speak up and encourage government officials to do what they can to prevent persecution and in some cases genocide. However, it is not the government’s job to be the Church and our faith should never rely on man.
* Pray for those suffering. Governments cannot change the hearts of sinners — especially those determined to kill believers. We serve the One True God – I AM – YHWH. As a body of believers we can “pray without ceasing” for our persecuted family and the salvation of instigators. Let’s pray for believers’ strength, endurance, and the building of their faith in Christ alone. May none of them recant Christ! May they recognize they are not without eternal hope. Prayer is powerful!
* Help those suffering. Tangible, physical help is needed. Throughout the New Testament we read of offerings and help being made to believers who were suffering. Now should be no different. If your church supports missionaries in closed countries, consider giving to them financially and praying for them by name.
Voice of the Martyrs is an excellent group dedicated to helping persecuted Christians around the world. They are in Iraq right now caring for Christians who have fled Mosul.
May we never look away, turn the channel, or block our ears to the suffering of believers. May we stand in the gap, praying for their deliverance and the salvation of persecutors.
We have a responsibility as fellow believers. May we not forgot our calling.