At a biblical university with emphases on missions and church planting, discussion of the persecuted church occasionally drifts into conversation. Like pollen that is in the air, it lingers, unseen until it lands on something. It isn’t the perfect analogy, but for me, the pollen does not bother me too much, so I often forget its presence. When something becomes so common, believers fail to see it. For example, I can walk through an open doorway multiple times, but shift the location of the doorstop just a little bit when I’m not expecting it, and I could end up laid out in the hallway. So often, believers hear about the suffering church so much, but do not understand what makes the oppressed church so different.
These are the things that make the persecuted church look so different from the church of the Western world:
1. The persecuted church rejoices at persecution. There is a definite attitude among churches that suffer mocking and physical harm, and it is an attitude of grateful joy. Peter reminds believers that persecution is coming—it should not surprise us. He says to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12). The church around the world counts suffering as sharing in the suffering of Jesus Christ. Considering what Christ did for humanity in his death and resurrection, suffering should not be tragic. The church maintains “hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2), and with that the church can rejoice, knowing that suffering is creating character that glorifies God.
2. The persecuted church is strongly committed to the gospel. If it were not, the church would fall apart at the first hint of trouble. In many countries there exist blasphemy laws that prevent citizens from saying anything blasphemous to the culturally respectable religious leaders. Most recently, a Christian couple in Pakistan was sentenced to death for a text message supposedly sent by the husband that insults the Prophet Mohammed. Without a love for the gospel and a strong belief in the work of the Lord Jesus, this couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, have no reason to risk their lives.
3. The persecuted church does not compromise the gospel. It holds fast to the truth of the gospel as presented in the Bible. Now, there will always be exceptions, but the majority of churches in other parts of the world hold fast to the truth. If someone is willing to die for the gospel, they want to make sure the truth is not diluted with false teaching. In this, it is not dangerous to go back to the basics and understand the simplicity of the gospel. The church under pressure understands that it must be vigilant, expressing the whole gospel. In countries where suffering is a regular occurrence for believers, a gospel centered on loving God without a personal cost will not resonate.
4. The persecuted church is not focused on its own persecution. The church has not abandoned the Great Commission just because they are suffering at the hands of others. The suffering church is not a church of self-pity. In many ways, they see their affliction as normal, and aim to help those who are experiencing even greater forms of suffering. According to World Watch List, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are the five countries where Christians are persecuted most. In order to allow the Body to function well in these countries, selfishness cannot be the attitude of the church.
The persecuted church is often overlooked because people make light of the situation. However, a day in the life of a persecuted church member would be a challenge to anyone’s faith. Christians around the world suffer trial and tribulation, oppression and violence, torture and death. Many newly converted Christians live in fear of accusations of blasphemy from members of their old religion. For some, persecution discourages them from accepting Christ, but for many, the example of other believers has inspired them to stand firmly on the promise of God’s glory and their own sanctification. Many believers do stand up to persecution with confidence in the power of Christ, trusting that whatever the outcome, both death and life will be used for the glory of God. Every day, people suffer for Christ, while many Christians in the Western world live lives of compromise and oblivion.
Written by: Emily Thornhill
1997 CIU graduate Tullian Tchividjian is the well-known pastor of a thriving church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. While thousands sit under his weekly teaching, his influence extends beyond the pulpit.
Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham, is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, contributing blogger for The Gospel Coalition, an editor of Leadership Journal, and insightful author.
Tchividjian’s latest book titled Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free was released at the beginning of this month. In what he describes as his most important work to date, Tchividjian focuses not on the why or how of suffering, but rather on the Who – a Savior scripture describes as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
I’m about halfway through Glorious Ruin and it has been simultaneously challenging and encouraging. Tchividjian’s perspective is fresh, yet steeped in the truth of the gospel. I hope to finish the book later this week, but here’s a preview for those who might be interested in reading further:
“We may not ever fully understand why God allows the suffering that devastates our lives. We may not ever find the right answers to how we’ll dig ourselves out. There may not be any silver lining, especially not in the ways we would like. But we don’t need answers as much as we need God’s presence in and through the suffering itself. The truth is that when it comes to suffering, if we do not go to our graves in confusion we will not go to our graves trusting. Explanations are a substitute for trust.
For the life of the believer, one thing is beautifully and abundantly true: God’s chief concern in your suffering is to be with you and be Himself for you. And in the end, what we discover is that this really is enough.”
Written by: Abbey Le Roy, MA in Theological Studies from CIU's Seminary and School of Ministry
"Give us this day our daily bread." Matthew 6:11