We live in unusual and terrifying times. While the Church appears to be in decline and many local churches are closing down in North America and Europe, the worldwide Church is growing at an enormous rate.
It should not surprise us that the Holy Spirit is on the move. However, it is interesting that the Holy Spirit is moving in places that were at one time closed, bringing in numbers never seen in the history of the Church. It is estimated that the Church today is growing faster than the growth of the human population.
Most of this church growth is in countries where the gospel message and Christianity will be resisted and even hated by government authorities. But history teaches, and our experience today confirms, “that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” (Tertullian)
Many people of other religions, including Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or others, also suffer in various contexts. However, the largest group of people persecuted for their faith is Christians. According to a statement by Reuters in 2013, over 100 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide. More Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined.
Does persecution make people deny their faith? No. The “Christian” family is growing faster in countries where human rights are being violated or do not exist. People are being killed, brutalized,
sold as slaves, imprisoned, tortured, threatened, discriminated against and arrested because they are Christians.
Why should that surprise us? Listen to what Jesus said: “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 some way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-11)
Jesus said that persecution will be inevitable for His followers (John 15:20). Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.” (2 Timothy 3:12-14)
This was written 2,000 years ago but it accurately describes our times. True followers of Christ are being persecuted and killed. While evil men and imposters are busy deceiving, and inventing new and more evil ways to attack and persecute the Church—the invisible, universal church, the Body of Christ—the Holy Spirit is adding new members to it.
If Jesus said we will be persecuted as He was, why are we so concerned about those who are being persecuted? And how does their persecution relate to us? Let us not forget that there is a powerful spiritual principle. The church is a living Body and every part of the Body belongs and has a part in the mission of our Lord. The Church is a living organism not a organization!
In Romans 12:5 we read: “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Also, in Ephesians 5:30 we read: “For we are members of His body.”
And, as members of the same body, we must be concerned for each other. Apostle Paul reminded the Jewish believers of the persecutions they went through and their love for those who were being persecuted. He encouraged them and told them to persevere because God would reward them.
Hebrews 10:32-34 says, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”
In Hebrews 13:5, Apostle Paul once again reminded the believers about the persecuted Christians: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
The question is: What can we in Canada do for all those who are being persecuted around the world? If we who enjoy almost unlimited freedom to worship, serve and witness, do not help the persecuted, who will?
There are at least four things we must do: know, tell, pray and help where we can. However, we must also look into our own lives and see whether we would be as faithful as our persecuted brethren are. We should ask: “What am I doing for the Kingdom of God with all the freedom and means at my disposal?”
Do you know what a persecuted Christian would probably ask us to do? To make sure that he or she is not forgotten. The deepest fear of persecuted Christians is that no one knows about them and that no one is praying for them.
Traditionally, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is in November. However, it is not enough to pray for these precious souls only once a year. Please remember them in your daily prayers. And find ways to help those who are helping them.
Pastor Joseph Hovsepian