RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION 
AND MARTYRDOM
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 IF WE THINK of religious persecution and martyrdom as something experienced only by the early church in the first century, we are wrong. Such has a long and unhappy history, going all the way back to Adam and Eve. Remember what Cain did to Abel (Genesis 4; Matthew 23:34-36). It was continually experienced by the prophets of the Old Testament. Just read the concluding summary of the heroes of faith in the 11th chapter of Hebrews. Then in anticipation of what was to come in the New Testament age, Christ said to his disciples, "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute youÖ" (John 15:20; also 16:1-4). We only have to read the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament to know that this is true. Then in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, the voice of the martyrs is heard crying out to God (Revelation 6:9,10).
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 Now since the centuries have come and gone, what is the situation in which "believers" find themselves today? As the term "Christian" and "believer" is used in the widest of senses, let us consider the following information that was supplied to us. Obviously it is beyond our concept of the simple New Testament church, but it will help us to view the over-all picture. From a page of the book World Christian Trends published by William Carey Library (Part 4 Martyrology), copyright 2001, it says that "70 million Christians" were "killed for their faith in 220 countries across 20 centuries." Then another source tells us that there have been more people martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ in the 20th century than all the previous nineteen combined. We are told that according to a study done at Regent University there were close to 156,000 believers martyred around the world in 1998. Then we are told there were 165,000 in the year 2000, with that number increasing by 2,000 to 167,000 by mid-2001. Thirty-six countries are listed where persecution and martyrdom occur today. (Voice of the Martyrs). These figures arenít representative of believers in the New Testament sense, but it does show us the kind of world in which we live. It hasnít changed much from the first century. 
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 The United States is a country that has freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and that is the way it should be. We are free moral agents before God and should have the freedom to exercise that freedom (to make a choice). But all countries donít have that freedom. Many have what is called "laws against proselytizing." The following is from PAKNEWS.com, a Pakistani news web site (December 4, 2001). "In most of the countries situated in this region, including Pakistan, there are laws against proselytisingó trying to convert others to Christianity. In most Muslim countries, asking is allowed, as is answering the question. But passing out Bibles and other literature, worshipping with nationals and showing videos is technically prohibited." That is putting it mildly, for we are told that in Saudi Arabia churches are not even allowed. 
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 Proselytizing laws seem to be much in evidence around much of the Mediterranean world.
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 The following happened on a Bible lands tour several years ago with which this writer was personally involved. We were in Jerusalem visiting the Shrine of the Book museum, which houses books of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. We were looking at the Isaiah scroll that was said to be dated 100 B.C. (older than other existing Isaiah manuscripts). And all of it was intact. No one could now say the vivid prophecy of Isaiah chapter 53 was written after the fact, but before. It indeed was prophecy. One of our tour group in excitement blurted out, "That proves Jesus is the Messiah!" A Jewish gentleman, who happened to be close by, threatened to have our fellow tour member arrested for proselytizing Christianity. Upon returning to the States, the one to whom the threat was made, checked out the matter of "proselytizing" and found, he said, that he could have been fined a large sum of money or could have spent several months or even years in jail.
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 Really, is the situation in Jerusalem and around much of the Mediterranean world little different than it was when Peter and Paul were here in the first century? In the city of Jerusalem, Peter and John were arrested and thrown into jail for publicly preaching Christ. Among the things that Peter had preached was, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12; read all of chapter 4; Acts 5:17-42). And since they wouldnít shut up, the opposition and persecution got progressively worse. If Peter preached on the streets of Jerusalem in the same way today, indications are that he would again be arrested. What happened to the apostle Paul in the places he visited and preached in the book of Acts probably would be duplicated if he preached there again today. If they had kept their faith to themselves, the no "proselytizing" (evangelizing) laws would not have been violated. But Peter said, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye" (Acts 4:19) and, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
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 Christians are commissioned to preach the gospel throughout the world. The word "gospel" means good newsóthe good news that brings salvation; the good news of life, love and hope for all of mankind. Why would the exponents of such a wonderful message suddenly become the objects of persecution and even martyrdom? Those who are not open to the message feel threatened and intimidated by the messengers and the message. Let us highlight some Scriptures that will help us understand this better.
  • The first martyrdom: "ÖCain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brotherís righteous" (I John 3:12).

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  • "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousnessí sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10).

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  • "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).

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  • "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19).

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  • "And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me" (John 16:3).
 Generally speaking, if a person does what is right, minds his own business and does not try to impose his views upon others, there is no friction. Didnít Paul say that "rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil" (Romans 13:3)? Peter even asked (and said), "And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousnessí sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled" (1 Peter 3:13,14). Normally people do not injure a person for doing good.
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 But the rub eventually comes when the Christianís godly life style is brought up close. The world respects holiness off at a distance, but up close it is despised. The very life of the Christian is a strong non-verbal rebuke to the non-Christian. (And who likes to be rebuked?) This becomes more glaringly evident in close association. Along with this the real Christian is disposed toward evangelism. Eventually he will press the claims of the gospel on others. Thatís what got Peter and Paul into trouble. Boldness in asserting ones beliefs, along with the way that a Christian lives, is very threatening and intimidating to many sinners. They may try to get back in some way, even persecution. Peter tells Christians how to answer these unbelievers (1 Peter 3:15).
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 Non-Christian religions feel threatened and endangered by Christianity which claims to be the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). Other old established religions with a "Christian" tradition, but stagnated with human traditions, may be dead and degenerate, lacking spiritual life. These systems have their vested interests which would make them react adversely beyond just feeling uncomfortable with the message preached. Besides the fact that Christ exposed their sins, the Jewish leaders opposed him, saying, "If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation" (John 11:48). Their conclusion was that he must die. It didnít set well with the masters of the girl at Philippi who used her in fortune telling when Paul cast the demon out of her. "And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and SilasÖ" They were beaten and jailed (Acts 16:16-24). Paulís great success in preaching the gospel at Ephesus brought the hostility of the silversmiths down upon him. So many were turning from the worship of Diana (Artemis) that there was danger of the temple being shut down and them going out of business in making the little images (Acts 19:23-27).
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 We trust our words in this article have been helpful in understanding this matter of religious persecution and martyrdom. We are thankful to live in a country that stands for freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but all is not well. The founding fathers of this country meant freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The secular humanists have been successful in getting expressions of religion and prayer out of the public schools, while allowing almost anything else. And "no proselytizing [no evangelizing] laws," while non-existent, have become de facto by the obsession of some with wanting to be politically correct in everything that is said. Christianity is no longer unique and superior to the socially elite who would restructure our society, but one religion among many. And woe be to the man who says that only Christianity is right. He is to be regarded as a bigot.
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 May we not feel intimidated by those who are intimidated by our message, but using our freedom of speech and exercising our freedom of religion, get the truth out for all to consider. The gospel is Godís concluding and final message to man, and we are in good company in presenting it. Amen! 
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