“the noble army of martyrs praise thee.” Te Deum Laudamas, an Early Christian hymn of praise, AD 387
We in the West are casual worshippers. So it has been up to this point. We get up on Sunday and have a range of churches we may attend. On the way to church, we may stop for our favorite latte at Starbucks, unless we already have a coffee shop which serves our favorite brew on the church campus. We attend our worship in air conditioned sanctuaries, in buildings that are going wireless. We have high tech sound boards, and digital images on the screens. We sit in padded chairs or pews. We worry about parking spaces. We gripe if the sermon goes long, or the services lasts beyond 12 noon. Then afterwards, we might stop at a great restaurant for a Sunday brunch, or go for healthier fare at Panera. In a word, we have it easy.
Not so with many parts of the Christian family around the world. While you were sipping your latte, many were suffering for their faith. How many? A recent study done by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary concluded that on average about 171,000 Christians worldwide are martyred for their faith each year now. That comes to about 465 a day, or 20 while you were relaxing in your padded pew.
One of the mind clearing exercises I do before going to church on Sunday is to get the latest reports on the persecuted church for this week. My favorite site for information is International Christian Concern’s. Here are a few of the headlines from a recent week:
- Muslim extremists decapitate seven Christians in Somalia
- Egyptian Muslim convert to Christianity face death threats
- Anti-Christian violence in Orissa, India
- Church run school attacked in Gauarat: chapel desecrated, principal beaten
- Two Christian converts imprisoned in Iraq
- Christians targeted by country’s military in Burma.
And these are just the reports we know about. Many go unreported. According to International Christian Concern, the ten countries which persecute Christians most are: North Korea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, India, China, Pakistan, Iran, Eritrea, and Vietnam. Open Doors ministries says there are 74 nations where Christians face the reality of persecution or martyrdom.
It is a fact that the great age of persecution is not long past in the days of the Roman Empire, but is our own age.
We should not be surprised at this. There has always been a cost of discipleship. Jesus predicted it in John 15 and 16. He said, “if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (15.18).
Why does it happen? Sometimes it comes because of our doctrine—the gospel of Christ crucified is folly to the intellectually proud and a stumbling block to the self-righteous. Sometimes it comes because of our ethics—we believe in timeless truth and morals that come from God. A self-indulgent culture finds this unacceptable. John Stott once wrote that “persecution is simply the clash between irreconcilable value systems. (Sermon on the Mount, p. 53).
When I enter a Sunday with the suffering church in my mind and heart, it changes the way I worship and preach. It clarifies my mind. It tells me that we have family who are suffering that
we can’t forget to pray for. It reminds me that there is a cost to following Jesus. It warns me that the peace we enjoy today is not to be taken for granted. It sobers me that this is no time for casual worship. And just perhaps, it is preparing us with examples of Christian courage for the days ahead in the West.
This Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Before you sip your latte, take some time to remember and to pray for those who suffer for the name of Christ. It will change the way you worship.
To learn more about the persecuted church visit the web sites of Voice of the Martyrs (www.vom.org), International Christian Concern (www.persecutedchurch.org), or Open Doors International (www.,gospelcome.net/od).