Our brothers and sisters in Christ were killed for their faith at an alarming rate in 2013. This is according to a report from Open Doors which was able to document 2,123 deaths compared to 1,201 the previous year. Open Doors claims that 1,213 of those deaths occurred in Syria alone. North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan were listed as the top five most dangerous countries in the world for Christians.
Certainly, the numbers are actually higher than what is reflected in this report. For every documented death, who knows how many are misclassified or yet accounted for. Nevertheless, we can see that Christians continue to face extreme and ever-increasing levels of persecution throughout the world. It costs something to live openly as a Christian in these regions. The call to follow Christ is a call to follow Him in suffering.
Satan is always seeking to extinguish the mission of Jesus Christ on earth by any means necessary. 1 Peter 5:8 warns, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Satan devours all he can in his attempt to destroy the kingdom of God although history reveals this is a failed strategy. In 197 A.D. the early church father, Tertullian, challenged a Roman governor with these words, “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.” Persecution may not always lead to the growth of the church but it has certainly failed to eliminate it.
Satan does not need to attempt to eradicate the church through violence in some parts of the world. Many parts of the West are susceptible to a different strategy. Whereas Christians in Syria have a veritable target on their back, Christians in America are met with a yawn. There’s no need for a frontal assault if the opponent can be neutralized from within.
In a previous post I explained that America is not a Christian nation, arguing that it is more appropriate to compare America to the Roman Empire rather than ancient Israel. In our attempt to Christianize the country we have defused the radical nature of the kingdom of God in order to maximize the number of people who would feel comfortable attending our churches. We have allowed ourselves to become satisfied with passing legislation that we believe will improve the morality of the people. With the first method the church has lost its saltiness. The second method has generated more heat than light (see my previous post on salt and light). Satan is content with either.
Our attempts at making America a Christian nation have produced a common Christianity rather than a radical Christianity. With common Christianity, the vast majority of Americans are Christians. Say a sinner’s prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, and you now have a ticket to heaven when you die. In the meantime you can blend into the culture and pursue your version of the American dream. Little else is expected.
Consider countries where Christianity was the official religion of the nation. Church attendance is in severe decline in formerly Christian countries throughout Europe. Christianity was given a privileged status, it became common, the salt lost its flavor and it became good for nothing (Matthew 5). When Christianity becomes highly associated with a particular culture, then living as a Christian becomes associated with merely going along with the culture. Christianity is normalized and thus neutralized. The kingdom of God has become just another version of the kingdoms of the world.
The kingdom of God is never just another version of the kingdoms of the world. There is nothing common about the fact that God became a human being. The all-powerful King of the universe came into this world as a vulnerable infant at the mercy of His mother’s care. He associated with the weak, vulnerable, and outcast. He upset the religious norms of His day. The Messiah came, not as another conquering Caesar, but riding on a mere donkey to suffer a criminal’s death on our behalf. Jesus conquered through suffering and dying and He calls His followers to take up their cross and follow Him. There is nothing common about our King or His Kingdom!
Satan hasn’t come against the church in America with violent persecution because he has not had to. We have neutralized ourselves. We can recapture the radical nature of the kingdom of God by living our lives in such a way that people can see Jesus in us. We can love both neighbors and enemies with the self-sacrificial love of Jesus. We can lay aside our preoccupations with worldly power and replace it with a passion for making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded us. Jesus was anything but common and His followers should not be either.
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