Tag Archives: Persecution

Hints on state persecution

I’ve started reading The Gulag Archipelago. It’s a sobering book, accounting how well (for a time) one state managed to oppress and control millions of people – with violence, persecution, suspicion, and betrayal. (For accounts of this book, see this 1974 review, and this opinion piece after the author’s death.)

Stalin’s oppression in the USSR was not only violent, but general. All kinds of people were dragged into the gulags. Among them were ‘the religious’, as Solzhenitsyn notes. In reading his description, I could not help but note the general plan: it sounds as contemporary as modern liberal mockery of Christian practice.

(Of course, in the West we use law to beat people, instead of using straight violence. And this is certainly better than persecution was in the USSR!)

Here’s the relevant quotation:

True, they were supposedly being arrested and tried not for their actual faith but for openly declaring their convictions and for bringing up their children in the same spirit. As Tanya Khodkevich wrote:

You can pray freely
But just so God alone can hear.

… A person convinced that he possessed spiritual truth was required to conceal it from his own children! In the twenties the religious education of children was classified as a political crime




Persecution: which God/god will you turn to?

Over Easter came the news of another  bomb attack on Christians in Nigeria. This account from the New York Times includes a disturbing observation about Muslim attacks:

Churches have been increasingly targeted by violence on holy days in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people. A Christmas Day suicide bombing in Madalla, near Nigeria’s capital, killed at least 44 people.

I have no idea of what it feels like to live in this kind of situation. What are the pressures and fears? How do the risks affect an individual, or a church?

Despite not knowing the experience, here’s one thought about what happens when people are attacked for our beliefs. Persecution reveals which God/god we turn to.

An immediate reaction is to turn to the attacker and attack back – or long to do so. It’s reactive, and it’s a just thing. After all, we rejoice that the Lord will come and judge the world with justice (Psalm 96:11-13).

Yet if taken to obsession, Christians can become fixated on Islam: Islam as the threat; Muslims as the enemy; the god of Mohammed as a danger; etc. In such case, haven’t we turned to focus on the wrong god?

As I’ve struggled for what to pray for persecuted Christians – in Nigeria and elsewhere – I regularly end up asking that Christians turn to the God of the Gospel. I ask that God fill his people will knowledge of the Holy One. And that Christians learn that the weak Gospel of Jesus is victorious, that the foolish message of love for enemy is more powerful than any jihad, and that the way to resurrection life is via the cross. I ask that, despite violent challenge from a false god, Christians will react to the challenge by turning once again to the real God.



Persecution grows the church? No

I can’t say how frequently I’ve heard Christians say that persecution makes for a stronger church, even for church growth. Some go so far as to say: we need something to toughen us up, bring it on!

The argument usually then consists of one statement, look at China!

Chinese Christianity certainly looks an amazing creature, and thank God for all those who follow Christ in that great nation. Nonetheless, it’s not much of an argument.

What if we were to look at the Arabian peninsular? Or at Turkey? Places where Christianity once thrived, but is now crushed (humanly speaking, at least). Operation World’s webpage tells me Turkey is 0.21% Christian, declining 1.4% annually. And this place was the cradle for Christianity’s radical transformation from Jewish sect to inclusive fellowship accepting any and every culture (see Acts 13:46)!

What if we look at churches divided by responding to persecution? If I remember early church history correctly, the Novationist division arose partly in response to persecution. The question: if some ‘believers’ deny Jesus when pressured to do so, can churches ever accept them back? Some said no.

The result included infighting in churches. It also led to doubts among those who did not deny Jesus. For instance, if the bishop who baptised me later denies Jesus, does that mean my baptism is invalid? Can I (or you) truly be a member of the church?

A final reason against longing for persecution is what God wants us to pray.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way
1 Timothy 2:1-2

We pray for a peaceful society. It’s in settled society that godly Christian living can and should thrive. Even in an empire whose leaders weren’t Christian, Paul prayed that they authorities would work for justice.

Our comments about persecution have the feel of romanticising something messy and painful. I wonder if it’s easier to paint a romantic picture than it is to pray, live godly, and speak the worlds of Christ.