Ignorance of Persecuted Christians
“The outward man perisheth, but the inward man is renewed day by day.” -- II Corinthians 4:16.
I grew up in a church that had little mention of the Lord but a LOT of what we call “the social gospel.” It was a liberal church, theologically, and the emphasis was on social issues week after week. Because the social issues coming over the pulpit were very clearly left-of-center, politically, I went on a search for something more spiritual and made my way through an exploration of Mormonism, Christian Science, Unitarianism and finally was apprehended by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Whether right or wrong, I rejected the idea of a social gospel, seeing how vapid the denomination of my childhood had been in its spiritual bankruptcy. And it was. And they are reaping the bad harvest from it now. But that’s another story.
My problem was that I probably overreacted and neglected social issues and needs that could very well have been part of my total gospel. While the Pentecostals and charismatics want to talk about “the Full Gospel,” I would proffer that if it doesn’t include a hand to the needy and “remembering those who are in bonds,” (Hebrews 13:3) it is not the full Gospel, it is a deficient one. And that’s not a gospel at all.
Even my making mention of Christian martyrs on page one of my monthly newsletter is not enough to satisfy God’s expectation of my having a balanced gospel. Tom Young had written a couple of months ago that he thought it would be a good idea if I could include more information about the lives and setting of some of the people we list as martyrs rather than just the facts of their death. I endeavored to do that in a more recent issue but then it occurred to me that the scenario in many countries which have more than their fair share of martyrs might help you to understand what set the stage for a Christian believer’s demise. For example, all you have to say in knowledgeable Christian circles is “Sudan” and we would understand the nature of the government that would have killed a believer as compared to, say, Vietnam. Many times the persecution of believers takes different forms in different nations. Tom wrote and said that after awhile, just reading the name, country and date of death didn’t move them near so much as to know what led up to their death.
So, with this issue, I’ve decided to expand on that a bit, hence the lengthy item about North Korea.
It still amazes me how many Christians in the USA have no idea about the persecution of Christians around the world. I was telling one fellow of it and he, an active, lifelong Episcopalian, said he had never heard of it! He said, “you mean, Christians are being killed somewhere simply because they’re Christians?!”
His ignorance is not alone. I regret to inform him, and you, that in my travels, I have found most of our historic churches in this country, as well as minority churches (Puerto Rican, Mexican and Black churches, for example) have little to no idea of the poor status of Christians around the world. Part of this would appear to be because of a failure to see, much less discern, the rest of the Body of Christ.
For example, if even half of the Black American churches in this country protested to Washington DC about the condition of their “brothers” in Sudan who are being enslaved, if not outright killed, simply because they are Black, there would be more action in the White House, especially in this election year. Even the wooden Al Gore might have something to say if he thought it would garner the Black vote.
Practically none of the Hispanic church folks I met over the past dozen years even knew anything about the wholesale slaughter of Christians in Peru at the hands of the Shining Path Revolutionary Party -- whole churches of people dragged out of their services and shot before the entire village as a warning to the rest.
Brethren, this should not be.
And before any of the brothers or the others (ah, the rhyme) accuse me of being racist (heck! I’m just stating the facts), we have entire White/Anglo churches in the USA whose gluttony for spiritual goose bumps from Rev. Feelgood blinds them from the suffering of the Body of Christ a few time zones away. Worse, most of them won’t even go into their inner cities to lend a hand, but that’s another story. No, the only way these good White folks hear about the need in, say, Burma, where believers are being told to return to Buddhism (the state religion) or die, is when their overweight pastor flies to Rangoon for a photo-op session to make it appear that they are “truly concerned.” (It never fails to yield more fleece from the sheep to appear to be a visiting friend of the persecuted Church). But God knows...
I’m just naive enough of an enabler to believe that the best way to help is to assist those who are on the field -- the native speaker, the foreign national -- who needs us to take care of his material needs so as to free him up to minister to his own culture, not to tie him up as our interpreter for days on end while we jaunt about the country in a car he is expected to provide for our visit.
A month after the fact, I unknowingly followed one of these self-styled American charismatic “stars” to Kiev one winter only to find out the jerk had complained that the borrowed car they used to take him about was muddy. Well, it was January and car washes are unknown in Ukraine). The preacher, who as though not busy enough, had to ferry him everywhere and interpret everything for him, was also expected to provide this moocher’s meals when he himself couldn’t even get sugar and soap that month with his ration card. I was ashamed to be an American Christian when I arrived at this Ukrainian preacher’s apartment a few weeks later and after several hours of discussion, he politely asked me about this man and his reputation back here in the USA. I’ll guarantee half of my readership reading this right now would know his name but I won’t give it out because a man that insensitive and self-absorbed would probably sue.
You think that’s not a possibility? What about the American pentecostal preacher who told an English pastor friend of mine that if he scratched one of his many suitcases that had to go on the top of his car (in the United Kingdom, cars are smaller and have to pack things on the roof), he’d sue him. The British pastor laughed thinking it was a joke. The American said, “I’m serious -- I will sue you!”
Persecution of the American Church is not going to solve much except to weed it out and cause a lot of suffering to the ones who are truly righteous. No, we don’t need a persecution as much as we need repentance. And until it starts with the leaders in the Body of Christ, it is not going to start. If the laity repents, it is all too likely that their leadership will take the credit for it, all the while themselves unchanged.
I don’t take the pastoral call lightly. I erred in pride, self-importance and arrogance as a pastor more than twenty years ago and lost not only my position and my church, but the family of people that filled it. Fortunately, those relationships are being restored, one-by-one, even these many years later. The congregation had grown inward (lack of reaching out and evangelism is the first sign of a self-absorbed church) and I had tried to share the Lord’s glory by taking credit for the good things that had happened to us as a congregation. It was hard, after a point, to tell which was the cause and the effect when it came to placing blame. It shut down, I left and if it had not been for the Lord and some individuals in Eastern Canada who effected my healing (you know who you are), I probably would be working as a bilingual office worker in Montreal today.
I had failed to discern the Body of Christ and life had become one big photo op of self-importance for me. I never want to fall into that again.
What we know of the persecuted Church around the world is still not a litmus test of our spirituality. We can get so caught up on the needs of the persecuted, we can miss the Lord just the same. Remember, discerning His Body assumes that we discern Him also. The social gospel misses both, but especially the latter.
The suffering believers in North Korea are not holier than we are. They are not necessarily closer to God than we are. But they are suffering more than we are and God is watching their reaction as well as ours to a life of peaceful ease. The Bible says that “unto whom much is given, much is required.” Don’t let the sun go down on your pride. You didn’t earn what you have -- it was given to you by the Grace of God. Material ease and outward-appearing blessings are not a reward for good behavior. Otherwise, some cults must really be true because they’re very fiscally healthy. No, the difference between you reading this in comfort in North America and the impovershed, persecuted Christian farmer in Pakistan is that you happened to be born here. If life were truly fair, you’d be in Pakistan and he’d be here.
As an aside, let me say this: Do not hold back your resources from those who could make them go much further in a different culture. To me, it is a terrible waste and economic irresponsibility to send a whole American family as missionaries with all their stuff to, say, Taiwan, only to have them return two years later on sabbatical, at the cost of thousands of dollars when locals know the language, the culture and can do it better? Why not take a fraction of the amount and supply the basics for a reliable Taiwanese pastor who is trying to feed his family on a day-to-day basis?
Now, do something with what God gave you while you have the means, ease, time, health, breath and blessing to do it.