A Theology of Persecution
How many brothers and sisters do you have? Which ones would you come to their aid if they were suffering or being persecuted? (See Prov 17:17) Have you thought about what you would do?
The early, pre-Nicene church believed and taught very much like us; four or more writers taught over 550 doctrines, experiences, and practices in common with the church today. But one difference between them and us is not in doctrine but emphasis. They had a well-developed focus on surviving and even thriving under persecution and martyrdom.
It is easy to see why. Prior to 324 A.D., when Christianity was officially legalized under Emperor Constantine, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Christians were killed for their faith. Early Christian leaders did not need retirement plans! However, about 45.5 of the 70 million Christian martyrs (65%) were killed in the 20th century alone. This is according to Antonio Socci in a conference on "Anti-Christian Persecution in the 20th Century" May 10, 2002.
"Nothing in mainstream scholarship prepares one for such a colossal reckoning of human suffering," writes Michael J. McClymond, associate professor of theology at St. Louis University, about David Barrett's statistics in the revised edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia published by Oxford University Press.
Another source says that at the start of the 21st century, about 177,000 Christians are killed per year; another source says 163,000 per year. But for every Christian killed, about ten times as many suffer some sort of persecution. So shouldn't we have more of a focus on persecution too?
Which countries are producing many of the martyrs?
(in Africa, Mideast, Asia, Europe)
How Does Persecution Come?
Death (Rom 8:36; Rev 2:10b; 6:9,11; 7:14)
Especially beheading (Rev 20:4)
Torture (Heb 11:35b-37; 2 Cor 11:23-25)
Prison (Rev 2:10)
Injustice (1 Pet 2:19-20)
Hardships, sleepless nights, hunger (2 Cor 6:4; 11:27)
Beatings (2 Cor 6:5)
Fear of danger (2 Cor 11:26, but Mt 10:28)
Reproach (1 Th 4:10)
Insults (Heb 10:33; 1 Pet 2:23) and hate (Mt 10:22)
Shame and loss of opportunity (Heb 11:25)
Despair (2 Cor 1:8-9)
Loss of property (Heb 10:32-34)
It is warfare by Satan (Rev 12:17; 13:7,10)
By people thinking they are serving God (Jn 16:2)
Even from other Christians so-called (2 Cor 11:26b; 1 Cor 6:6-8)
In order to silence our witness (Acts 4:18; 5:28-40)
Need to hide and flee (2 Cor 11:32-33; Mt 10:22-23)
Why Should We Care?
Our duty for the oppressed (Mt 25:39)
We all suffer together (Heb 13;3; 1 Cor 12:26)
We have unity with them (Php 1:27; 2:2; Eph 4:3)
Stand side by side as one (Heb 10:32-34; Php 1:27-28)
Our sacrifice to God (Rom 12:1)
Is no sacrifice, compared to our future joy (1 Pet 1:6-7)
Is just for a little while (1 Pet 5:10)
Rejoice in sufferings (Rom 5:3-5; Jms 1:2; 1 Pet 4:13; Heb 10:34; Acts 5:41)
We should suffer according to God's will (1 Pet 4:19)
How Does God Use Persecution?
God grants to some the privilege of suffering for Him (Php 1:29)
Refine our character (Rom5:3-5; Jms1:2-4; 1Pet1:7-8)
To be more conscious of God (1 Pet 2:19)
Suffering focuses us on Christ, not sin (1 Pet 4:1)
We suffer as witnesses (Eph 6:20; Php 1:12-14,28)
In chains for the gospel (Php 1:13; Phm 13)
We share or participate in the sufferings of Christ (Rom 8:17; Php 3:10; 1 Pet 4:13)
We suffer for others (Col 1:24)
To commend ourselves to God (1 Pet 2:20; 2 Th 1:5)
Bless those who persecute us (Rom 12:14)
As suffering overflows, so does comfort (2 Cor 1:5-6)
We suffer to glorify God (Book of Job)
What God Promises to Do
Allow persecution! All who want to live a godly life will be persecuted 2 Tim 3:12
Hold precious the death of His saints. (Ps 116:15 NIV)
Give relief (2 Th 1:5)
Avenge those who trouble us. (2 Th 1:5; Rev 6:10-11)
Bless those with trials with a crown of life (Jms 1:12)
What Should We Do for Persecuted People?
Remember prisoners as if you were one (Heb 13:3)
Pray for them (2 Cor 1:11a; Php 1:19)
That they not be ashamed (Php 1:20)
Courage (Php 1:20; 1 Cor 16:13; Heb 3:6)
Hope (Heb 3:6; 11:1,13-19; 2 Cor 1:10: Rom 5:4-5)
Christ and His cross be exalted (Php 1:21; Gal 6:14)
Boldness (Acts 4:29; Php 1:14; 2 Cor 3:12)
Their words and fearless proclamation (Eph 6:19)
They not avenge or harm others (Rom 12:17-20)
They not disown Christ (2 Tim 2:12; 2 Pet 2:1)
They not bow to idols (Dan 3, 6:7; 1 Ki 19:18)
Comfort (2 Cor 1:4) and encourage (1 Th 3:2-4)
Materially help (Php 2:25; Jms 2:15-16; 2 Cor 9:12)
Witness more boldly yourself (Php 1:14-18a)
Endure suffering for being a Christian (1 Pet 3:14)
Because Christ suffered for us (1 Pet 2:21)
Idols Blinding us to a Biblical View of Persecution
Safety (How often do you pray for faithfulness, or just safety?) (1 Pet 5:10; See Jn 17:15)
Security for yourself ... and your family
Loss of physical beauty (Greek soldiers)
Loss of health (19th century missionaries)
Someone would act as a true brother of sister if they would help if you were suffering or being persecuted. "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov 18:24b NIV) Do you have many who would stick to you at least as close as a brother or sister?
The Early Church on Persecution
Letter of Ignatius to the Romans ch.4 p.75 (-107/116 A.D.) "I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body."
Letter of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans ch.4 p.88 (-107/116 A.D.) "he who is near to the sword is near to God; he that is among the wild beasts is in company with God; provided only he be so in the name of Jesus Christ."
Justin Martyr (c.150 A.D.) "you can kill, but not hurt us." First Apology of Justin ch.2 p.163.
Justin Martyr (138-165 A.D.) "Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession;" Dialogue with Trypho ch.110 p.254
The Octavius of Minucius Felix (210 A.D.) ch.37 p.196 "How beautiful is the spectacle to God when a Christian does battle with pain; when he is drawn up against threats, and punishments, and tortures; when, mocking the noise of death, he treads under foot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his liberty against kings and princes, and yields to God alone, whose he is; when, triumphant and victorious, he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced sentence against him! For he has conquered who has obtained that for which he contends. What soldier would not provoke peril with greater boldness under the eyes of his general? ... But God's soldier is neither forsaken in suffering, nor is brought to an end by death. Thus the Christian may seem to be miserable; he cannot be really found to be so. ... Yet boys and young women among us treat with contempt crosses and tortures, wild beasts, and all the bugbears of punishments, with the inspired patience of suffering."
Cyprian of Carthage (c.246-258 A.D.) "In persecutions, earth is shut up, but heaven is opened; Antichrist is threatening, but Christ is protecting; death is brought in, but immortality follows; the world is taken away from him that is slain, but paradise is set forth to him restored; the life of time is extinguished, but the life of eternity is realized. What a dignity it is, and what a security, to go gladly from hence, to depart gloriously in the midst of afflictions and tribulations; in a moment to close the eyes with which men and the world are looked upon, and at once to open them to look upon God and Christ!" Treatises of Cyprian Treatise 11 ch.13 p.507
Are you a part of the suffering church? There is only one church, and it has suffered more in the twentieth century than other centuries combined. There is only one true church; so are you a part of the suffering church or not?
"...standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." (1 Pet 5:9 NIV) Now how many brothers and sisters do you have? How many people would you help if they were in distress or suffering persecution?
For more information:
www.Jihad-Watch.com (Robert Spencer)
www.Persecution.com (Voice of the Martyrs)
For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714 www.BibleQuery.org
by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.