I am thinking today about persecution. Yes, the worldwide persecution of Christians. I just returned from Teopisca, Mexico in the southernmost state of Chiapas. It is a stronghold of Catholicism and actual hatred of evangelical Christians. In that Mayan culture, pastors are being murdered with the knowledge and consent of the Catholic church. What is happening there is being replicated in many violent places all over the world.
The martyrdom of Christ followers is becoming more and more common every year. In fact, there were more people killed for their faith in the 20th Century than the combined total of the previous nineteen Centuries. And I believe the trend is going to continue.
The history of Christianity is literally the story written in the blood of martyred saints. It begins with the cross of Calvary, the death of James, Stephen, and the Apostles and continues to this very day. Our ministry in Africa puts the lives of our staff at risk. Our warriors for Christ are daily testifying to the Gospel message in marketplaces and other public forums. Often they are in enemy territory, threatened by anti-christian sentiment from Muslims, witch doctors and any other opposition Satan can muster. Our men have been beaten, imprisoned, threatened and otherwise abused for preaching a risen Christ. Thank God, none have been martyred.
What is a martyr? By definition, a martyr is a person who gives his or her life for a cause.
In Acts Ch. 7, we have the story of the very first Christian martyr. His name is Stephen. Stephen was a deacon in the Jerusalem church, who is described as “filled with the Spirit and with power.” The boldness he possessed led him into a confrontation with the same folks that crucified his Lord and Stephen paid for his bold witness with his life.
I truly believe that what Stephen experienced can become common place in America very soon if conditions continue the way they are going. We have seen the beginnings of intolerance and persecution over the last 30 years or so, as our nation has banned prayer in schools, and the teaching of the Ten Commandments, We have seen our country change the interpretation of the Constitution from the freedom of religion, to the freedom from religion. In my grandparent’s day, the voice of the pulpit was a force for God and for good in this nation. Not today! No longer can the church have a say in public life. In the not too distant future, I believe we will see the day when Christianity will be an outlaw religion, and soon after that, we will see men and women pay with their very lives for the faith they hold. Evangelism will be called “Hate Language.” The very idea that Christ alone can forgive sin, will laughed at, and those who preach such a doctrine will be scorned and even martyred.
In fact, I believe that if Christ doesn’t come soon, more Christians will die a martyr’s death in this Century than the last 20 centuries combined. Even today, churches are being burned in Africa, Egypt, Iran, and other pro-Muslim countries. Our pastors in Iran are being arrested and imprisoned. Martyrdom is on the rise and becoming the norm in many parts of the world.
So, let me ask you, what kind of a Christ follower is a candidate for martyrdom? Why does a Stephen get his head bashed in with stones, and not others? Stay tuned for the next blog on three of my insights…