The mention of martyrs might bring to mind images of Christians facing wild beasts in a Roman arena, and we may silently thank God that believers no longer face death for confessing Christ. Or so we liked to believe. Our complacency has been shaken by appalling videos from the Mideast of Christians being brutally executed. Sadly, violence against those who follow the Cross is neither new nor isolated – just now more ‘newsworthy’ in its particularly graphic horror.
During the August 2015 national convocation of the NALC (North American Lutheran Church) keynote speaker Pastor Bassam Abdallah reported that three million Christians have been killed for their faith in the past hundred years. That makes the carnage of the past century exceed the total of the prior 1900 years! Yet, because some of the most grievous examples are politically charged (such as the killing of 1.5 million Armenian Christians by the Turks in 1915) or because legalized religious suppression of Christianity is practiced by certain strategic allies of our country, these atrocities have often passed unremarked. Persecution and harassment of Christians is so common in so many countries that it is scarcely news-worthy. It is true that there are legitimate questions as to whether certain Christian minorities are actually being persecuted because of the practice of their faith, or due to ethnic identity. However, whether one accepts the Vatican’s estimate that 100,000 Christians were martyred for their faith in 2012, or “only” about 1200 according to others, the reality of Christian persecution is a sobering fact of our present time.
The question of how Christians in our country should be reacting to this appalling situation is, needless to say, one which elicits a number of differing opinions relative to our nation’s political and military options. However, God’s Word provides us with a timeless perspective.
First of all, we should not be surprised at persecution. Jesus repeatedly told His followers to expect it (Luke 21:12-19). In fact, in God’s overall plan of salvation for mankind, it has often been noted that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Though the Bible does not encourage Christians to seek martyrdom, it makes clear that those who die for confessing Jesus as Lord do so as victors in the Lord’s battle to overthrow the power of Satan in the world – a conflict whose outcome is already assured by Christ’s death and resurrection. Thus, we are gratified, but not surprised, to learn that the Lutheran Church in Ethiopia has increased by 650,000 members in the past year alone, despite the ongoing attacks of Muslim extremists. And in an echo of St. Paul’s conversion from persecutor to the Church’s greatest missionary-evangelist, we learn that the very men responsible for burning down twelve Lutheran churches in Ethiopia have since come to Christ. Truly, ours is an awesome God who we know will faithfully guide and protect His Church through this, as through so many prior threats. But, though confident of the ultimate outcome, we also lift our hearts in prayer:
- For the comfort and protection of our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted around the world;
- For the hearts of those who are oppressing God’s people, that they might turn from the futility and error of their hate-filled ways and discover the Good News of salvation won by Jesus Christ;
- For resolve to provide such relief and support as we can to both alleviate the suffering and encourage the faithfulness of those living under persecution for their faith;
- That the Good News of the Gospel may be boldly proclaimed around the globe despite danger and persecution;
- To give thanks for the victory of those who have received “the crown of life” in martyrdom for confessing the Lord;
- In praise of our faithful God who will assuredly lead His Church to victory over all the forces of evil.