A Rising Tide of Persecution
There is in Islam an ongoing aim and desire to see the entire world under its rule. Many of its followers regard themselves as emulating Mohammed who is seen as the epitome of the “warrior prophet.” Religious imperialism may be dead in the West but it is very much alive in the East. The fact that those engaged in such violence will be rewarded amply in the hereafter with the gift of many virgins (at least for the men) does not help the matter either.
Another aspect that needs attention is the concept of “jihad” or holy war. Of course, one could argue that this concept in a different form can also be found on the pages of the Old Testament; however, there is no doubt that such a development was limited and finds no legs in the time of the New Testament or in the teachings of our Lord. The warfare that we as Christians wage today is spiritual. Nevertheless, in certain Islamic circles, as among the followers of ISIS in particular, the concept of waging a holy war continues to exist and to be acted out with horrific consequence.
A last factor has to do with the ambivalent message of the Qur’an itself. The writings in the Qur’an relate to two different periods in the life of the prophet Mohammed. In the early period he comes across as persuasive and kind; whereas, in the later he is much more militant and hostile. So which period is dominant? Most Islamic scholars are of the view that the later writings abrogate or set aside the earlier ones. Where does that leave us? It leaves us with an Islam of militancy and force.
Still, Christianity today finds itself under assault not just from Islamic radicalism but also from Communist oppression. In this connection one can think of what is happening in China today under its relatively new leader, President Xi Jinping. For some time it appeared as if the Chinese authorities were relaxing their opposition to Christianity. Not only did they grant official status to those churches that applied for government recognition, they also appeared, at least in certain places, to tolerate the existence of so-called “family churches” or “underground churches” or “house churches.”
Yet this too appears to be changing. In the last year the government has waged a fierce campaign against churches in the city of Wenzhou. In that city, sometimes called “the Jerusalem of China,” it has taken aim at both the neon crosses that rise above many churches and at any number of church buildings as well. No one knows exactly how many crosses have been taken down or how many buildings have been demolished, but the figures are substantial and disturbing. Go to an Internet site run by Bob Fu called ChinaAid and you will soon see that this is no minor development.
A curious aspect of this anti-cross and anti-church building crusade is the fact that not just so-called illegal churches or “house churches” have been targeted but also officially government recognized churches have run afoul of the authorities.
In addition to churches being under attack, there are also indications that more and more Christian leaders are being singled out for harassment, arrest, fines, and imprisonment. A further extension of this is that special attention is now being paid to foreigners who are promoting Christianity in China. In short, Christians in China are entering into a time of intense trial and testing.
What’s behind it?
Needless to say these recent developments in China have given rise to endless speculation as to the reasons for this oppression. There is the view out there that President Xi, despite his outwardly gentle and kind looking demeanor, is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Some commentators suggest that he is out to promote and produce more home grown religion. Perhaps he wants to see a revival of Confucianism or the rise of a particular Chinese type of Christianity (whatever that may look like).
Others are of the view that this is all about control. In other words, the leaders of the Communist Party feel threatened by the rapid spread of the Christian faith and are making a concerted effort to contain it. They seem to believe that increased pressure and persecution will serve as an effective antidote to a rising Christianity. Alas, they have not discovered the real truth which is that righteousness exalts a nation and that Christians are among its best citizens. Who else respects and prays for those in authority over them, obey the laws of the land, pay their taxes, and live quiet and peaceful lives?
But if there is persecution coming today from Islamic radicalism and Communist oppression, it is good to remember that there is also another threatening force, called, for want of a better term, “secular humanism.” Whereas the former two are creating a lot of misery in the Middle East, Africa (as well as in Indonesia), and Asia, the latter is doing its dirty work in the North America and Europe.
At the moment it is not so far advanced that it is resulting in arrest, imprisonment, and death, but the stage is being set. Write a letter to a local newspaper in which you disagree with abortion, euthanasia, the gay parade, or same sex marriage and you can expect an avalanche of invective and hate. The day when Christian values can be openly presented is rapidly disappearing. Those of us who are Christians in Europe and North America, who are serious about our faith and about adhering to biblical norms, should start preparing ourselves. A time is fast approaching when our freedoms will be no more and our values will be under widespread assault.
Should all of this alarm us? Should it catch us by surprise? Not if we know our Bibles and the teachings of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Together they teach us that the proper Christian stance in times like these consists of three things. First, we need to be perceiving. Armed with the sword of the Spirit, we are told about the signs of the times and we are to be looking for them constantly. Our Lord tells us to “watch out” (Matt 24:4) and to “keep watch” (Matt 24:42). The kind of things that are happening to believers around the world today should neither surprise us nor shock us.
Secondly, living as we do between the advents, we are encouraged to petition the throne of God constantly. The Apostle Paul urges believers then and now to “pray continually” (2 Thess 5:17) for strength and guidance. He also urges us to pray for deliverance (2 Thess 3: 2). Quite simply we cannot fight this spiritual battle in our own strength. We need divine help. We need it every day and in every situation, especially when “wicked and evil men” (2 Thess 3:2) assault us, rob us of our freedom and seek our life.
Finally, the Scriptures of God counsel us to persevere. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews urges us to run the race of the Christian life “with perseverance” (Heb 12: 3). Paul tells us to “stand firm and hold on to the teachings we passed on to you” (2 Thess 2:15).
One of the sad facts today is that some are abandoning the faith. Friends and relatives come back from the old country with a list of people who no longer serve the Lord. School friends get together later on in life and reflect on who is and who is no longer committed to Christ. Desertion is a grim and bitter reality. The imitators and followers of Demas (2 Tim 4:10) are still with us. So be warned and remember that whether it be in the face of worldly temptation or painful persecution, the Lord calls on us to stay the course.
Why, he even promises all sorts of incentives to those who overcome: the right to the tree of life, escape from the second death, hidden manna and a new name stone, authority over the nations, a white dress and a name in the book of life, a crown, and a seat beside Jesus on his throne (Rev 2, 3). You see, the blessings are innumerable. So if you have an ear, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
Fellow pilgrims, keep on perceiving, petitioning, and persevering!