Friday, March 1, 2013

About Christian Persecution

Within the space of a few weeks both a friend, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein,  and an African American Pastor, whose blog I link to, Thabiti Anyabwile, have written articles about the persecution of Christians and how today’s global Christians and/or American Christians might find help and models in their respective ethnic group’s experience with severe persecution. The articles, “Are Christians the New Jews?” by Adlerstein and “Learning to be the Moral Minority from a Moral Minority” by Anyabwile, are both excellent. The advice is worthy of our attention and it is helpful.

But I have a little disagreement with one of Adlerstein’s historical assumptions and want to use that disagreement to make a statement about Christians and persecution.

Adlerstein writes, “When they [Christians who read about Jewish persecution] thought of Christian martyrdom, on the other hand, they had to turn for the most part to antiquity, to early Christianity under the thumb of Roman emperors. That is a widely held belief but it isn’t true. There has been and is Christian persecution in some places at all times. Most times such persecution is caused by those outside the faith, other times the persecution is caused by those who at least call themselves Christians.

And often persecution is a singular event. For example using a historical family diary, the writer Zane Grey in one of his two historical westerns writes of a whole Native American Church group that as they attempted to worship were killed by both renegade mountain men and other Native Americans. But other seasons of persecution have involved whole regions and great numbers of people.

For instance John Marsden, author of The Fury of the Northmen: Saints, Shrines and Sea-Raiders in the Viking Age, writes of how Christian communities were decimated by the brutal sailors. Marsden quotes two records of the devastation of Iona. “In which a great plague broke out in Ireland. The community of Iona slain by heathens, that is, to the number of sixty-eight,” and “I-Columcille was plundered by the gaill and great numbers of the laity and clergy were killed by them, namely sixty-eight.”

Another author, Shusaku Endo, using the genre of the novel writes of the persecution of the Japanese Christians in the seventeenth century.  In both The Samurai and The Silence amid fictional characters one is reminded of that horrific time when Christians were placed in the sea on crosses. Christianity was mostly eradicated from Japan during those years.

I have recently been reading in a very old book of the awful persecution of the Huguenots of France during the 16th and 17th centuries. This was persecution of Christians by Christians—but in this case, as is generally the case, the persecution was fed by greed, the desire for power and political interests.

The communist USSR persecuted Christians and communist China still does so. North Korea is the greatest persecutor. And during the Holocaust, the vile attempt by the Nazis to exterminate all Jews, some Christians, who would not bow to a political lord, also died. I have written of one—“Paul Schneider: A Chestnut Tree and the Confessing Church. My point is that only in small amounts of time has the Church known peace, freedom and safety. Jesus insisted that those who follow him must take up their cross as they follow. One is always reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Peter is undoubtedly speaking to many global Christians when he writes:

“Beloved do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the suffering of Christ, keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of his glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Christians are not called into a triumphant faith, at least not until the coming of Christ. It is true, Christ has already won the great battle through his death and resurrection, but we wait in faith for that day. Part of that waiting includes sharing in the suffering of Christ. It also includes the good works that God has prepared for believers to walk in (Eph. 2:10).  
In a posting, whose popularity has surprised me and caused me some laughter—it was about the country song “The Great Speckled Bird,” I wrote of the difference between reformed and the dispensational views of safety. I will end this quoting (with corrections) from that posting:

In the song the Church is being attacked by her neighbors but is lifted, in their presence, to safety and kept from the “great” tribulation. But not so the Reformed teaching. The Church was born in tribulation, and still endures tribulation, not in all places but in some places all the time. From Nero to Hitler, from Domitian to Idi Amin, from North Korea to radical Islam the anti-Christs keep appearing and being destroyed by the will of God. And yes, there will undoubtedly be a final anti-Christ destroyed by Christ’s glorious return.

But not out of the tribulation is there safety, rather in the midst of common life and tribulation, normal workdays and dark eras the Christian finds peace, safety and comfort in the arms of Jesus Christ. His people are united to him, nourished by him, kept faithful by him.

No comments: