Persecution Does Not Stop Christianity, Rather It Gives Believers A Reason To Grow Their Faith Tell More People

By: Tia Johnson 0 Comments   3/11/2012

In Ethiopia, evangelist Abraham Abera was lured out of a church and beaten to death with rods. When Abera's wife saw the attack and attempted to stop it, she was beaten and left unconscious.

The attackers threatened that "though the area's Christian population is growing, believers would be destroyed by Muslim extremists," according to last November's insert from The Church Around the World.

The attackers were wrong. Historically, persecution has fanned the flames of Christianity, not stifled it.

In fact, a secular world-news magazine The Economist reports that countries with the most persecution have seen a rise in the Christian faith, while countries which are more comfortable regarding religious freedom have seen a drop in numbers.

The article, interestingly titled, "The world's most widely followed faith is gathering persecutors. Even non-Christians should worry about that" reported research from the Pew Forum which said that within the past 100 years, Christianity spread in sub-Saharan Africa from 9 percent to 63 percent.

Meanwhile, Christianity has dropped in Europe from 95 percent to 76 percent and in North, Central and South America from 96 percent to 86 percent. (Sub-Saharan Africa includes Ethiopia and most of central and southern Africa.)

The Economist reported on specific examples regarding persecution from Muslims: "In Nigeria scores of Christian have died in Islamist bomb attacks..." "In Iran and Pakistan Christians are on death row for... quitting Islam--or blasphemy..." "churches in Indonesia have been attacked or shut (down)..."

Extremists from the Muslim faith have been responsible for much of the persecution lately. An excerpt directly from Muslim law passed in Algeria lays out the punishment for those who makes material "which has as its goal to shake the faith of a Muslim." The sentence? Two to five years imprisonment plus a large fine. The Algerian government passed other laws in 2006 against unregistered churches and pastors. (printed in Voice of the Martyrs magazine, May 2011, page 5)

But The Economist is careful to clarify that not all of this persecution stems from Muslims. Communist China, Vietnam, and some Indian Hindus desire to punish Christians who make converts. The continuing battle over land and Palestine places Christianity in Israel on the chopping block, also. "Followers of Jesus may yet become a rarity in his homeland," states The Economist.

Christianity Began Under Persecution

It is not surprising that the regions which seem to clamp down on Christianity have found it to be spreading. In the book of Acts, the apostle Stephen served as the first Christian martyr. After his death, Acts 8:1,4 says, "On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria... Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went."

The Christian faith spread under that first official act of persecution, and that was before the age of internet, telephones, and publication presses. It seems that historically, though persecution is undesirable, it has born tremendous fruit in converts. Even in that day, the believers should not have been surprised at such attacks, and neither should we. Jesus was very clear that persecution would occur.

In John 15:20, Jesus said, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." He went as far as to tell His disciples, "you will be hated by all nations because of me."

Jesus also proclaims blessings on those who are persecuted and declares a heavenly reward for those who endure.

Jesus also promises to be with us, as he was with Stephen when he was martyred. Being a Christian is dangerous in many parts of the world, and it was in Jesus' day, too. He explicitly told his disciples: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.

On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."

In January's Voice of the Martyrs magazine, director Tom White writes, "God can use injustice as well as justice to accomplish his will."

Later on, he explains, "To present the persecution of Christians as 'wrong' or 'unjust' is half-baked theology. Jesus prophesied that persecution can be a natural outcome of our witness. It is right to cry out for justice for all who suffer violence or oppression. However, it is wrong to believe that the unjust treatment of Christians cannot be part of God's plan."

The U.S.A. has had its share of persecution through laws restricting faith passed by Congress and haughty attitudes toward Christians in schools, workplaces and a myriad of other locations. But perhaps the biggest attack on our Christian faith in the U.S.A. is complacency resulting from too little persecution. Perhaps we would see more Christians take a bold stand for their faith if they were forced to do so.

Persecution Reveals The Reality Of Christ

When the Columbine shootings occurred in 1999, Cassie Bernall was one victim who was asked at gunpoint whether she believed in God or not. She responded that she did, and was instantly killed.

An article printed by Time a month after the shootings suggests that Bernall's story "seems to have sparked a revival of Evangelical Christianity already in progress."

I was in tenth grade when the Columbine shootings occurred. Our Bible study was in the middle of preparing for our first evangelical outreach concert. I remember thinking through my position as leader of our Bible study and the vulnerabilities that entailed if somebody ever did want to go after Christians with a gun in our school. I had decided ahead of time that if put in the same position as Cassie, I would say "Yes."

I've never been in that situation, but I have been forced to be bold. A number of times through my life I've had to say "yes." I've felt faced with the choice to defend my Jesus when a professor knocks my faith in the classroom, or an obscene column is printed in the newspaper that I must respond to, or legislation is introduced that requires me to write my legislators and urge them to support freedom of religion.

I admit, I have not always spoken up. But the opportunities I've had to do so have strengthened my faith tremendously. A number of my college days were spent studying my Bible more than my homework. I just knew I had to be prepared. I've felt my heart pound as I've articulated my beliefs in a handful of unfavorable environments. If I had not been challenged to do so, would I be as certain about what I believe?

As persecution grows, may believers grow, too-- in faith and in numbers. And may those of us who have it easy pay attention and be bold, leaning upon humble and divine strength, wisdom and words, bearing our cross in every circumstance. There is no better way to live for Jesus.

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