People who thrive on competition enjoy opposition; it is what motivates and inspires them. Conventional wisdom says that competition brings out the best in us, and to a degree that is true. When opposition, however, is serious and life-threatening, most people shy away from it, usually because opposition implies something negative and difficult, if not personally devastating. Opposition can be devastating.
This is equally true when one’s beliefs are threatened, along with the threat of loss of property or life. Christians are aware, by and large, that there is opposition from spiritual forces that seek to undermine and destroy God’s work and people. The positive side is that it should make us more vigilant. The negative side (at least from the world’s viewpoint) is that it could cost us everything. That is why we are to “count the cost.” What seems negative may bring glory to God, and that is always positive.
Opposition can have many forms; it can be a minor restriction or serious oppression and repression. We can be challenged, threatened, hated, shamed, shunned, treated with contempt, harassed, discriminated against, and sometimes expelled or killed for our witness. Spiritual opposition can come from spiritual beings who seek to disrupt or destroy our faith, but it often takes the form of human beings, persons in positions of power, who seek to restrict or destroy our faith through force and coercion. This makes opposition up-close and personally costly.
In some cases, opposition can decimate or destroy the church in a particular location. Nina Shea remarks: “we must remember that in some cases, such as in many parts of the Muslim world, Christian communities are rapidly vanishing under relentless persecution” (In the Lion’s Den, 8). In the Middle East “persecution has led to a vastly diminished Christian presence” (In the Lion’s Den, 15).
Opposition can be devastating. In North Korea, in the early part of the twentieth century, the church was thriving. Pyongyang, the capital of now North Korea was known as “The Jerusalem of the Orient” had 2000 churches in the city. Today, under one of the world’s most repressive political and military regimes, the church is nearly absent except for some showcase churches and an underground church that cannot meet together because of the danger of spies.
On the positive side, there are places where persecution and serious opposition has caused the church to grow and experience revival (such as Iran and the Horn of Africa). Religious persecution has become so serious that it is being picked up as news stories in international news media. In this sense, opposition is playing a positive role in educating the Western church about the reality of persecution around the world. Persecution is a profound and ongoing reality in many countries, and is something that the Western world will not be able to avoid. It should motivate us to be more vigilant and more committed as we face ever-increasing opposition.
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.