Sunday, November 13, 2011, has been designated as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
It is anticipated that congregations across the globe will be praying for those who suffer for the “crime” of believing in Jesus.
Worldwide, about 200 million Christians are at risk, simply for being Christians. This is true in the dominant Muslim countries and the remnant Communist countries, e.g., China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.
An annual, organized day of prayer to remember those so persecuted has been going on since 1996. Usually, it’s the second Sunday of November. Thousands of churches and organizations, as well as countless individuals, have participated in this international ritual.
According to the website, idop.org, which helps organize the prayer efforts, “On a general scale, Christian persecution has become a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, persecution has become especially prevalent in countries like India and Iraq, while countries of particular concern that have been known for consistent religious and human rights violations include North Korea, China and Sudan.”
Anyone who thought that the persecution and martyrdom of believers ended when the Romans stopped feeding them to the lions in the Coliseum is badly mistaken.
In fact, more Christians were martyred in the 20th century alone than in all the previous centuries combined. (That’s partly because the number of Christians has now grown so large.)
According to church statistician David Barrett, consistently throughout church history, one out of every 200 Christians, on average, is called to martyrdom. That is true in our day. That was true in the early church.
I find it fascinating that when Jesus said to His disciples, “You shall be My witnesses,” in Acts 1:8, the Greek word for witnesses there is the word from which we get the English word martyr. He said, "You shall be My martyrs" — witnesses for Christ unto death.
Because so many of the early Christians witnessed for Christ — unto death — the word came to mean one who witnesses for Christ unto death.
Christian martyrdom is not to be sought after, but if it happens, it happens. Better to be killed than to deny Jesus.
Islam, which arose six centuries after Christ, has a very different understanding of the word “martyr.” They view the 19 hijackers of 9/11 as “martyrs” — faithful Muslims who died in a state of Jihad. Same word, totally different meaning.
A Muslim who becomes a believer in Jesus Christ (in a strict Muslim country) today often becomes a martyr in the historic sense of the word because you only leave Islam (in a strict Muslim country) in a pine box.
It’s hard to believe, but in our modern world there is a rise in the number of Christian martyrs.
For example, since the uprisings in the Arab world began at the end of last year, in many such countries, i.e., Egypt, Christians are often being killed.
Earlier this month, Egyptian writer Dr. Essam Abdallah noted, “Coptic demonstrators are massacred at Maspero in Cairo by the Egyptian military, demonstrating that the goal is to suppress Christians in the Middle East, who are ... paying a high price for the revolts of the Arab Spring.”
Newsmax reports: “The situation threatens to worsen as the Arab Spring removes dictators who, paradoxically, shielded Christian communities. The parties that are gaining power in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and other countries tend to be offshoots of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.”
The Christian population of Iraq has been devastated in the last few years. Worldnetdaily.com reports, “Iraqi Christians have been ignored, as well, despite the many massacres against Assyrian Christians in the country over the past two years ...”
Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, who is Jewish, said that Christians throughout the region are in trouble: “At the present rate, the Middle East’s 12 million Christians will likely drop to 6 million in the year 2020. With time, Christians will effectively disappear from the region as a cultural and political force.”
Of course, the persecution of Christians in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Somalia, China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia is not new.
Foxe's Book of Martyrs, written in the 16th century, shows in page after page how horrible the persecution against Christianity was in ancient Rome: “Whatsoever the cruelness of man’s invention could devise for the punishment of man’s body was practiced against the Christians ...”
But horrible as all these things were, they couldn’t stop the church. Foxe sums up: “And yet, notwithstanding all these continual persecutions and horrible punishments, the Church daily increased, deeply rooted in the doctrine of the apostles and of men apostolical, and watered plenteously with the blood of the saints.”
It’s amazing that in our supposedly enlightened 21st century, we’re still dealing with barbaric persecutions. Such as when peaceful Coptic Christians were protesting last month, and the Muslims ran them over with tanks and military vehicles, killing at least 24 Christians and injuring scores more.
Please pray for the persecuted church, that God would continue to embolden them, to vindicate them and to add to their number.
Jerry Newcombe is the senior producer and host of Truth that Transforms with D. James Kennedy (formerly The Coral Ridge Hour). He has written or co-written 21 books, including his latest, Answers from the Founding Father.
Publication date: November 11, 2011