Many of us, when we encounter persecution in other countries, begin to wonder about our own freedom, security, and prosperity when others are suffering. How can we enjoy our freedom and painless Christian walk while others are suffering so much for Christ, we think? In some countries, some Christians enjoy freedom while others, in the same country, are being persecuted. We can only attribute this to God’s sovereignty and purpose. When it comes to suffering for the Lord, there is no randomness nor is it entirely the malevolent actions of evil men. God ordains suffering and if we are not suffering for Christ at the moment, it means that God has other plans for us.
Some are called to suffer for Christ, and do so representing all of us. This is true because we are a part of one body in Christ and when one part suffers we all suffer. Representative suffering is a new idea for most of us. In reality, it is a principle that was embedded in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament and was magnificently personified in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf on the cross.
Persecution is defined as something that is persistent and systematic and is administered in order to cause great harm. Most Christians are not suffering persecution in this manner. But, there may be evidences of the potential for persecution. There are at least three indicators that point toward future persecution. The first is when false information is disseminated as truth that supposedly represents all Christians. It creates a bias in the minds of the public against Christians and does not allow non-Christians to make a fair assessment of Christianity. The second is a little more personal. It takes the form of harassment, where periodically the lives of Christians are interrupted by arbitrary arrests or interrogations, only to be released and then after a period of time it is repeated. The third is discrimination. We are used to this term in connection to racism but there is a wider application of this indicator. It is when, for example, the people of a country are promised religious freedom of worship but they are not able to obtain permission to have a place to worship. They are unable to obtain the legal requirements to build a worship center or to meet in groups in homes.
However, we may not be suffering persecution because we are not fulfilling Christ’s mandate to witness in our cultures, no matter the restrictions or lack of restrictions. Because of fear or apathy we fail to articulate our faith so we do not get any negative kickback. This does not mean that we should prod or coax people into persecuting us. We are not to provoke our enemies. It means that in the process of doing what we are called to do to spread the gospel that we may suffer certain consequences that are meant to discourage or stop our witnessing.
However, if we are fulfilling our mandate and we are not suffering persecution then what can we do to support those who are being persecuted? There are a number of practical things we can do. We can:
- Become knowledgeable about persecution around the world.
- Actively promote the ministry to the persecuted Christians in your local church and community.
- Pray specifically for restricted and hostile nations.
- Contact your governmental representatives and senators and make them aware of the problem.
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.