by Jim Reapsome
Hats off to the World Evangelical Fellowship for mobilizing evangelical churches the world over to pray for persecuted Christians. Last September 29, according to WEF estimates, Christians in some 150,000 churches from 117 countries rose up to pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters.
Hats off to the World Evangelical Fellowship for mobilizing evangelical churches the world over to pray for persecuted Christians. Last September 29, according to WEF estimates, Christians in some 150,000 churches from 117 countries rose up to pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters. Billy Graham offered this rebuke to American Christians: “We have allowed our theology to get mixed up, and we didn’t warn people that there is an enemy out there that we have to battle.” The enemy is evident in places like Morocco, China, and Iran. When the Russians dumped communism, however, many of us seemed to forget the persecuted church. The WEF won’t let us.
Of course, we have to ask, Where do people get their theology today? Not from their study of Scripture. They absorb it from television like they ingest fat from Whoppers and Big Macs. TV’s theological cholesterol ranges from rantings about the devil taking over America to promises of paradise if you believe and send your money. Talking theology to the typical churchgoer today is like discussing assisted suicide and partial-birth abortion—downright uncomfortable. Our nation—including a lot of born-again people—is out to lunch, theologically speaking.
Persecution, the Bible says, is part of our Christian birthright. Yet in our theological miasma we miss suffering as the Bible’s major motif for believers. We slip into the footsteps of the disciples who misinterpreted Messiah’s mission. Jesus himself repeatedly warned them that not only would he suffer and die at the hands of perverse religious ringleaders, but so would they. Nevertheless, they read the prophecies selectively, relishing the promises of choice seats in the kingdom. The resurrected Christ rebuked them for not seeing that Messiah had to suffer before he entered his glory—the same pattern he laid down for his church.
Paul’s commitment to suffering crushes our complacency. We are called not only to believe but to suffer. Like him, we should long for the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. But our pulpiteers and televangelists seem to choke on that theme. Nor do they mention Peter’s teaching that suffering is our calling. When he said we should walk in Christ’s steps, he meant suffering. Yes, Billy Graham is right. Our theology is mixed up because we rarely get it straight from the Bible, and too often it’s delivered to us like so many TV news sound bites.
We’re mixed up also because we live in a society that is relatively free of persecution. Christians in America are like freshly hatched chicks when it comes to partnering with persecuted Christians in other countries. We don’t know what to make of Paul’s conviction, “When I lie in prison or appear in the dock to vouch for the truth of the gospel, you all share in the privilege that is mine.”
Persecution a privilege? No way. That’s not what we think. But Paul declared that even though we are not suffering ourselves, we enjoy the privilege of suffering with those who are being persecuted for their faith, no matter how far removed they are from our TV screens.
Even those engaged in world missions are liable to be mixed up. We can’t dump the whole load of blame on the churches and television. We also have powerful means of communications at our disposal. Leaders in various missions ministries need to do a much better job of teaching our missionaries and their friends what the Bible says about suffering and persecution. We certainly must give more of our promotional attention to persecuted believers in the countries where we serve. We cannot continue to feed our constituents a steady diet of success stories, and then somehow expect them to share the privilege of partnering in suffering.
We promote partnership in mission with sister churches. That usually means sending money and people. Great. But where are the voices in missions crying for partners to share the privilege of being in prison for the truth of the gospel?
So, thanks to WEF for reminding us all of our great privilege to suffer with our persecuted sisters andbrothers. The next day of prayer for the persecuted church is set for September 28, 1997. There are more than 1,000 mission agencies in North America alone. I would like to see these agencies, and those in other countries as well, begin enlisting all of their donors and prayer supporters in discovering what it means to partner in suffering.
EMQ, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 6-7. Copyright © 1997 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.