We may think, after reading The Voice of the Martyrs’ Newsletter and the many stories about the lives and faith of persecuted Christians, that every story of persecution is a success story. That is not the case. It has never been the case, as expressed in Christ’s parable of the Sower of the Seed. In Luke 8:13, Jesus explains that some seed fell among the rocks, got implanted in the shallow topsoil and burst forth with enthusiasm. But when tribulation and persecution came, it died away. It seemed so promising; the plant looked so good but it lacked a root—it was not really grounded to be able to withstand the storms of persecution or the intense heat or pressure of opposition. Sadly, not everyone is prepared for the testing that will come in some form, whether severe or subtle.
The root problem of these failures, then, is the root! The gospel never takes root. There is no depth from which to draw moisture and nutrients. On the surface the soil is soft and seemingly fertile but beneath this shallow layer of soft soil is solid rock. The soil has no depth, only hardness. The gospel is new to them, a novelty, and a possible answer to their problems so it is grasped with enthusiasm but it is never really embraced. The work of grace never reaches the depth needed to secure the root. When the newness wears off, the enthusiasm does also. The season of joy is temporary and short-lived. When the season of testing comes by way of trial, tribulation, and temptation, the joy is not lasting. It fades during this difficult season and wilts in the heat of the day.
When persecution comes the person is offended—ashamed of being identified with the followers of Christ. Their faith becomes a stumbling-block for them, something over which they trip and fall rather than something that could be used to reach new spiritual heights. They lack the wisdom to prepare for such a day of difficulty. They falter at the point where they should remain strong. Their heart is not in it.
Some deny their faith under the pressure and fear of physical abuse and torture, while others deny it because they are not convinced of its truth. The seed falls among thorns and they grow up with the gospel. Charles Templeton was converted to Christianity at the age of twenty one and later became an evangelist. Four years later he met with Torrey Johnson and together they created an organization known as Youth for Christ, with Johnson becoming its first president. Billy Graham was hired as their first full-time evangelist. Twenty years after his conversion, after doing mass evangelism and hosting a weekly religious television program, Templeton declared himself an agnostic. He had harbored serious doubts about his faith and eventually concluded that he could not continue to be a Christian.
Perhaps for those who do not face serious opposition, it is the cares and concerns of life that occupy their minds and hearts and keep them from moving deeper in the faith and keep them at a shallow level. Or, they may mull over their doubts about the authenticity of the Bible and the reality of their conversion. They live among thorns which impede their progress and eventually choke their faith to death.
The final point of the parable of the sower is that the seed also falls on good ground, upon those who hear the word and retain it; those who persevere and remain faithful. Some, Jesus said, will fall away. But, praise be to God, some won’t. They will grow and bring forth much fruit for the kingdom.
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.