Materialism and Modern Martyrs

30 Jan

When we compare common Roman misunderstandings about Christians from the first to the twenty-first century, some details are different but there are also many commonalities.

How many times have we heard criticism in the media about Christians desiring to see a nuclear holocaust, as it would usher in the end times? Or that Christians have no interest in the planet’s health because it will get blown up anyway? I am not denying an element of truth in these charges (in some Christian sectors more than others) but they have to do with misunderstandings of Christian eschatology. These issues are not the only examples.

Sometimes, when things go wrong politically, Christians are blamed. This is more so the case in other countries but in the US, one may hear people accusing Christians of “creating terrorists” or fostering terrorism for various reasons. In the US we do not experience these things as intense as in Europe but the sentiment is still present.

On a similar note, the most common thread from then until now is the persecution of Christians.

Voice of the Martyrs is a global organization which supports persecuted Christians throughout the world. They help make others aware of the needs these believers face and find ways to network Christians who can help, whether it is through medical assistance, legal representation, or smuggling Bibles. Recently, I scanned a few back issues of the Voice of the Martyrs magazine to get a sense of modern day persecution. What follows are mini-profiles I created to help give a quick snap shot of modern day persecution.

*CHINA: Shuying, 77. Tortured and imprisoned for her faith. Her husband died the day after she was released.
*INDIA: Vasant. Ex-radical Hindu, persecuted Christians. Now an evangelist, locked away by his family, poisoned by his mother, but continues to pass out 25-30 tracts a day in remote areas.
*NEPAL: Shyma Kumar. Teenager who was severely burned while attending church and it was bombed by Hindu extremists.
*PAKISTAN: Pastor Joseph. Bound for praying with a beggar. Preached to his attackers as they beat him.
*NORTH VIETNAM: Pastors Phan and Trang. “Running pastors” who flee from tribe to tribe, conducting services, baptisms, and communion for small rural congregations.
*SUDAN: Mary Achai. Kidnapped, sold into sex slavery, burned, leaving her arms “frozen”.
*SOMALIA: Musa. House church leader. His two oldest sons were beheaded after their father gave a prominent Muslim woman a Bible which resulted in her conversion.
*NIGERIA: James Kake. Muslims burnt his church down then “macheted” his hands and wrists after they asked him if he was an infidel and he said “yes”.

This demonstrates a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that the world would hate and persecute us. It will always be relevant because these things are still happening in our world today and will continue to happen until the Lord returns.

In our own day, we see the same disconnect between Christian values and those of the world in the areas of exclusivity and religious pluralism/relativism. This cultural pressure has influenced some Christians to soft-peddle the gospel, altering the sobering aspects and down playing judgment. It has also led some to embrace the interfaith movement, wherein all religion is portrayed as similar and equal. I detect no such compromise allowable in the New Testament. On a practical level, when the gospel gets watered down into a more culturally attractive message, it does not usually result in growth but decline. A case in point would be the decline of the mainline denominations and the rise of evangelical Christianity in many parts of South America, Asia, and Africa.

Personal Spiritual Formation and Studying Ancient Church History

Modern martyrs have a precedent in the early persecution. In studying the ancient church, one feels greatly impacted by their singular devotion to Jesus Christ and how that led them stand against their culture at almost every turn. This aspect of the early church jumped out at me on almost every page of ancient church history books and challenges me as I reflect on it. It causes me to wonder how influenced by my culture am I and how dedicated am I to Christ? Would I be willing to face that level of ridicule and sacrifice? Would I be willing to be hated so intensely; to be an outlaw for no good reason? The earliest Christians in general gave up so much it is hard for me to fathom; would I do the same? For the most part, I can answer in the negative, as I see how much I enjoy being a blessed American and how much I put above Christ. I see how so many things fight for my affection towards Christ and realize that I have been influenced by my culture in ways incalculable.

Nonetheless, one atheistic friend of mine wrote this about why people “join religion”:

some of the biggest motivating factors for people becoming involved in either a church or a gang.
1. People want answers.
2. People want easier lives.
3. People want somewhere to turn when they have problems.
4. People look for these things where they’ve been taught to look for them.

As far as the 2nd issue (PEOPLE WANT EASIER LIVES) … I guess you could say this may be true only in America as of the past few hundred years or perhaps during the Medieval Era in Europe. Other than that, it’s very difficult to ascertain what he means taken in a broader historical context. In China, if you become a Christian who is not part of a government sanctioned church, you risk long-term imprisonment. It is no secret how the Chinese government views Christians in their country. In a variety of Islamic Republics, if you “switch” from Islam to Christianity, you are either A) killed immediately or B) put on trial and killed, unless you can get off by way of insanity.

You may say, “I don’t mean only Christianity but rather religion in general” … even if this is true, you still have to explain many of the Communist regimes (both past and present) which deemed all Theism as illegal and would persecute any non-atheistic belief … in these environments many individuals still come to faith and suffer for it. Even in America, the whole “easier life” charge only makes sense if one is to embrace the Health and Wealth Prosperity “gospel” portrayed on TV and the like. Biblical Christianity teaches that “If anyone would come after me [Jesus], he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23).

Christianity is viewed as subversive by most governments worldwide ever since its inception. So the question is, how does becoming an enemy of the state (converting to Christianity) make one’s life easier? My main point is that in most social settings becoming a Christian makes one’s life more difficult. Honestly, if we look outside of the U.S., this really isn’t a debatable point.

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