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30 October 2019

The Persecuted Church

Persecution and the Body of Christ

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim.3:12; ESV).

The Apostle Paul’s words may sound strange to the ears of most Western Christians today – but they are a way of life to countless believers in many parts of our world.

And, make no mistake, persecution is a central theme in the Scriptures. We can trace it to the beginning of God’s story, and his declaration to the Serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15) – a verse that points to the suffering of Christ, but also, I think, hints at what will be the experience of those who are united to him (see Paul’s corporate referencing in Romans 16:20).

 

Persecution will not be uniform, in geography or intensity, or across time, but we should expect to see it, in some way, shape or form, until the day Christ returns, because it is one of the ways the world expresses its rejection of Christ and the gospel (cf, John 15:18–21).

So the real question is: how, as Christians, do we respond to persecution – whether we experience it ourselves, or hear and read of Christians in other parts of the world experiencing it?

Paul’s frequent description of the Church as the Body of Christ suggests we should respond together. As Paul himself puts it: “If one member suffers, all suffer together…” (1 Corinthians 12:25). There is one Church of Jesus Christ, and it is persecuted, we might say.


First, the Christian’s personal response to opposition and hatred is to follow the way of Christ. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”, said Jesus. (Luke 6:27,28).

Needless to say, that’s not easy! It goes against the grain. Only by the sovereign, sustaining grace of God will Christians respond in a godly way to hatred, intimidation, hostility and opposition.


This brings us to the second issue: how we respond when we are aware of Christians suffering persecution elsewhere. Time and again in the New Testament we see an apostolic concern for what we might describe as the dual task of strengthening believers and encouraging them to persevere (eg, Acts 14:21,22; 1 Thessalonians 3:1–3). In the Book of Acts we see the Apostle Paul regularly engaged in this sort of work, and many of the New Testament letters were written with this issue paramount. If we had to find a single word to sum up this concern it would, perhaps, be discipleship – but a discipleship that is big enough (and biblical enough!) to embrace the realities – and inevitability – of persecution.

And this is a task to which every believer should be committed.

by Kenneth Harrod, Release International.

Suggested Reads

I am N – The Voice of the Martyrs

God’s Smuggler

Singing Through The Night 

Stronger than the Sword

Release International is a UK–based ministry that seeks to further this work around the world today. Uniquely, its origins are from within the experience of persecution, as the founding of the ministry was inspired by the life of Romanian Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who endured 14 years of imprisonment and torture during the Communist era.

Today Release declares its vision to be: “A world in which the whole Body of Christ understands persecution and responds prayerfully, pastorally and practically every time a Christian is persecuted.” Its mission is: “To help Christians in the UK and Ireland actively engage with their persecuted brothers and sisters around the world by praying with them, standing with them, helping them, and learning lessons of true Christian discipleship with them.”

To find out more about how you can be involved in this godly, biblical task, go to: releaseinternational.org for more information.

* Kenneth Harrod has written two books for Release International, Jars of Clay: What the West Needs to Learn from the Persecuted Church, and, most recently, Promise and Persecution: A biblical theology of suffering for Christ. Both are available from Release International.

 

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