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Rev. Kleyn is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.

 

Persecution is a Reality

 

“…all that live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12).

In our intercessory prayers we often remember before God Christians being persecuted. In these prayers we are not, I hope, just praying for ourselves and those we know who must endure scorn for their faith, but we are praying especially for those suffering physical persecution—imprisonment, hunger, torture, beatings, death, etc. Usually, we are not aware personally of such saints, and so we are praying with a certain lack of understanding.

In my recent reading in a variety of religious periodicals, I have been struck by the reality and severity of the persecution of Christians in some parts of the world. The persecution comes from oppressive governments and other non-Christian religious groups who through violence seek to destroy Christianity.

China is an example of the first form of persecution—an oppressive government. In a recent Christian Renewal article (October 6, 2004), the following item of News appeared under the heading “Chinese Torture Continues.”

Allie Martin, Agape Press—The head of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom says China continues to oppress Christians and other religious groups, and that is why the Communist nation remains on the department’s list of “countries of particular concern.” The release of the sixth annual State Department Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom cited a number of repeat offenders on its list of governments that violate citizens’ basic human right to religious liberty. China is one of five nations that have been among those offending nations for quite some time. John Hanford, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, notes that the conditions reported in China warrant that regime’s inclusion on the list of countries of particular concern. For years the Communist government in China has continuously engaged in the repressive treatment of Christians and other religious groups, Hanford explains. “Protestants are forced to belong to the government-sanctioned church,” he says, “and if they don’t and they try to meet in house churches, then they risk arrest and, in some severe cases, beatings and torture.”

Of course, we don’t ever hear about these “severe cases” from our media, unless an American is the object of the persecutions. But I have another periodical that fills in some of these details. In the November 2004 issue of The Voice of the Martyrs, under the title “Martyred in China,” one reads of two women who “went to the market place of Pusdu Town, Tongzi County” and were arrested by the local PSB “while they were distributing Bibles and other gospel tracts.” In the official arrest document, both were accused of “suspected spreading of rumor and disturbing the social order.” After their arrest “they were interrogated through the night of June 17th and morning of June 18th. Then during the evening of June 18th, Sister Jiang’s village chief told her relatives she was declared dead at the PSB office of Tongzi County, around 2:00 p.m., that day.” Villagers affirm she was “a strong, healthy lady, without any medical problems.” Pictures show she was beaten and had her hair torn out. Her fellow prisoner says she was “kicked a lot, her shoes were torn off, and her hair was pulled out.” Family members who saw her at the funeral home said that “they saw much blood on her body and scars from beatings on her legs and her neck.” The PSB would not return her personal belongings, including the clothes she was wearing during the interrogation.

This, I have to believe, is just one instance among many. In fact, Presbyter Ji Jianhong, chairman of the national committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant churches in China (a government sanctioned organization), admits as much. When asked by Mark Galli of Christianity Today (November 2004), about the persecution of Christians in China, he says on the one hand, “There is no persecution of Christians in China,” and on the other hand, “Yes, some Christians get arrested, but not for their faith. They get arrested because they have broken some law. It is not against the law to be a Christian or to practice your faith.”

No, Christianity is not against the law when you do it as the Communist Regime stipulates. But you can be arrested for any individual expressions of your faith, and the results of the arrests are persecution and death for the faith.

Indonesia, and other countries with a large Muslim population, are increasingly becoming difficult places for Christians to live and work in missions. In these countries Muslims target Christians by destroying churches and going on killing rampages. Because the population in Indonesia is 80% Muslim, and because the government is mostly Muslim, these things are overlooked unless they cause some massive civil turmoil.

Reverend Yonson Dethan, a graduate of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches and a minister in the Calvinistic Reformed Churches in West Timor, in a lengthy article in The Reformed Perspective (October 2004) explains some of the persecution going on in Indonesia. He writes,

If you go on the Internet and type in “Poso persecution” or “Ambon persecution” (Poso and Ambon are provinces of Indonesia, RK), then you can see and read how terrible the persecution is. We get some information in the newspapers here about it, but seeing it on the Internet was quite something; people were being slaughtered and pregnant women were being cut open and also a baby was, in front of her father, burned up by fire.

There is much more in the article: rape, mass murders, church bombings, and more. All this persecution comes for one thing; confessing Christ and gathering to worship Him. Would we be ready to suffer like this for our faith?

Rev. Dethan nicely concludes his article this way,

We believe that through this persecution comes blessing from the Lord, and even a double blessing. For through it we believers are being tested or purified so that we may be built up for the glorification of God’s name. Persecution reminds us of the Word of God in

Philippians 1:29,

that we are granted not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for him…. Thus we conclude that persecution is good for testing our

faith, for purification, for building us up and for the glorification of God’s name.

And that is our prayer for the persecuted.

 

“Judging the Judgment”

 

On the home front there is a buildup towards a different kind of persecution. The media, Hollywood, politicians, and other public figures are bending the mind of society into thinking that traditional Christian values and teachings are of the same ilk as the Taliban mentality. The build-up, of course, is towards laws that criminalize Christian values and teachings.

In the August 14, 2004 issue of World we read about some of this education of the American mind. World editor, Gene Edward Veith, reports on an unbelieving reporter’s surprise at the Christian teaching concerning the last judgment.

When Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times read the finale in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, he was shocked to see what Christians believe about the last judgment.

In Glorious Appearing, Jesus returns and unbelievers are judged. Mr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins present their punishment in gruesome detail: Flesh dissolves, eyeballs melt, a fiery fissure opens up in the earth and swallows up the ungodly.

Mr. Kristoff reads all of this as violence against non-Christians, as monumental intolerance that is no different than the mindset of Islamic terrorists. The view of “Jesus returning to Earth to wipe all non-Christians from the planet,” Mr. Kristoff observes, is believed by millions of Christians. “It’s disconcerting to find ethnic cleansing celebrated as the height of piety.”

Veith continues,

The Left Behind series is not the best representation of Christian theology (an understatement, RK). But Christians who disagree with Mr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins on eschatology and writing style are subject to the same criticism…. In the current cultural climate, the belief that there is no salvation apart from Christ will be anathema.

Veith is correct. The media makes no bones about labeling Christian teaching and lumping it with the terrorist mindset. Why? The explanation is their own fear of the judgment. As Paul reasoned with Felix of judgment, “he trembled” (Acts 24:25). The judgment is “the terror of the Lord” (II Cor. 5:10-11). And so it is labeled “ethnic cleansing celebrated as the height of piety.”

Veith goes on to show that the biblical teaching on the judgment has nothing to do with ethnicity, but with sin, and particularly the sin of rejecting the gospel of Christ. Christianity, he points out, is not primarily about punishment, but is a message of deliverance from punishment. “This message,” he says, “will not be popular, since the proclamation of forgiveness through Christ implies a sin that needs to be atoned for. ‘I don’t need forgiveness,’ many will say, ‘I haven’t done anything wrong.'”

Because they do not want to hear about sin, they label and lump Christianity with the terrorists.

 

A Surprise

 

And briefly—something the politicians and media missed in the pre-election campaigning and reporting.

Pollsters had focused on terrorism, Iraq and the economy as key issues in the run-up to Tuesday’s election…. But “moral values” was the single top issue cited by voters, and social and religious issues such as gay marriage, gun ownership, and abortion loomed large…. CNN’s analysis of the exit data showed that morality was cited as the number one concern by 22 percent of voters (Reuters, Nov. 3, 2004).

A surprise for the pollsters, the media, and the politicians!

A surprise for us? Or, an answer to prayer?

“….that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Tim. 2:2).