Have you ever thought about what it’s like to be a Christian in other parts of the world1?
Indonesia, Nigeria- Christians are slaughtered for not conforming to Islamic law. In Nigeria, since the year 2000, thousands have been put to death.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, North Africa, Mauritania, Iran, the Comorros Islands, Sudan- Direct persecution by the state is written into the legal code. Any non-Islamic or dissident Islamic religious expression is forbidden. Any Saudi who seeks to leave Islam faces the strong possibility of execution.
Egypt- The Coptic Church (which is somewhat similar to Catholicism in its roots and practices) has been the target of church burnings and local massacres.
Pakistan- In 1997, the Christian town of Shantinagar, was effectively leveled.
China, Vietnam, Laos, Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan- Generally, there is freedom to worship in state-controlled religious bodies, but any religious expression outside of these bodies is strenuously controlled or suppressed.
Roman Catholicism is outlawed because it accepts the authority of the Pope, who is from outside the country. Priests and bishops have been imprisoned. Hundreds of Protestant leaders of the underground church have been arrested and sentenced to jail and labor camps.
North Korea- Nearly every free exercise of religion is viciously repressed, and thousands of people have been sent labor camps for practicing their faith.
Burma- An organization called the State Law and Order Restoration Council brutally oppresses tribal minorities, which, in large part, are comprised of Christians. Their tactics include: massacre, rape, forced labor, and the use of children to clear minefields.
United States- Christianity is protected under the Constitution and is the majority religion in this country. We even have the right to legal redress if our religious liberties are infringed upon.
We can worship publicly with no fear of government, military, or other attacks.
We do not have civil rights (such as the right to vote, work, or own property) taken away from us simply because we embrace Christianity.
We have the right to proselytize (as long as we’re not harassing anyone), advertise and spread our religion.
Persecution is usually limited to people hurting our feelings when we witness to them, and social issues that offend our sensibilities.
We have beautiful, comfortable churches (as well as Christian schools, organizations and stores), complete with heat and air conditioning; comfortable pews; nurseries; indoor plumbing; Bibles, music, and materials in our own language; musical instruments; technology; and paid, and frequently seminary-trained, pastors and staff.
So what are we doing with all these blessings? Have we gotten so used to freedom and opportunity that we consider them a birthright rather than a precious gift from God that He has the prerogative to revoke if He chooses? He did it with the Israelites time and time again in the Old Testament: They obeyed God. He blessed them. After a while, they got comfortable with all the blessings and became lazy. They strayed away from God. He gave them over to oppressive rulers. They cried out in repentance. He delivered them and blessed them, and the cycle started all over again.
What will it take to shake Christians out of our complacency?
What will it take to shake Christians out of our complacency, humble us in gratitude for the opportunities God has given us, and motivate us to use the freedom with which He has blessed us to build His kingdom?
From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
1Insights on Law and Society: A Magazine for Teachers of Civics, Government, History & Law, Vol. 7.3 (Spring 2007); Published by the American Bar Association
Beheadings of Christians by ISIS. Crosses forcibly torn off churches by the Chinese government. Pastors imprisoned. Believers tortured for leaving Islam or sharing the gospel.
The treatment our brothers and sisters across the globe receive at the hands of pagans is nearly unfathomable. They are made to suffer – simply for claiming the name of Christ – by those who openly hate God and want nothing more than to stamp out Christianity.
This is how we, as the American church, have come to define persecution. Outsiders, non-Christians, and the government, all on the attack against the Bible, our faith, our practices, and other beliefs we have long held dear. It’s a correct definition, but it’s not a complete definition.
While we already see a “light” form of this type of persecution in the U.S. – mainly over the issue of homosexuality – there’s another kind of Christian persecution that is mushrooming right under our noses, which most church members either seem oblivious to, or are actually participating in. It’s the persecution in the pew.
If you’re a Christian who has ever dared to vocally take a stand on the truth of God’s word against the false teaching so prevalent in today’s pop Christianity, you’ve almost certainly experienced this type of persecution at the hands of people who call themselves “Christians.”
Don’t believe me?
Try posting a Facebook status that says the Bible prohibits women from being pastors or teaching men.
Discuss the Bible’s account of Creation with someone from your church who has embraced Darwinian evolution.
Certainly, there are new and immature Christians who simply don’t know these things are unbiblical and are still struggling to embrace God’s word in these areas. And there are those who know what God’s word says, but rebel against it in these areas, who silently ignore Christians who espouse biblical truth, or can politely discuss why their “Christian” views differ from Scripture. However, the willfully biblically ignorant, “screaming banshee” contingent is growing, both in volume and in number.
Surprised? Me too. I’ve been on the receiving end of verbal abuse (and I do mean abuse – name calling, swearing, mocking, the questioning of my salvation, and any number of other nasty and condescending remarks) from “Christians” defending these and other unbiblical views numerous times and I still can’t get over my shock every time it happens.
Call me crazy, I guess I just expect people who call themselves “Christians” to love, obey, and uphold Scripture, not attack those who actually do.
But this kind of thing really shouldn’t be cause for wonder and amazement. We should expect it. Persecution of God’s people by those who claim to be God’s people has been happening since the Old Testament.
Jeremiah: Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. 2 Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. Jeremiah 20:1-2
Amos: Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words…12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Amos 7:10, 12-13
Isaiah: For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord; 10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, 11 leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 30:9-11
Perhaps Jesus had in mind some of these instances of Israel’s persecution of the prophets when He said in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12
The balance of the New Testament is rife with examples of Christians, and even Jesus Himself, being persecuted by those who claim to be God’s people:
Stephen was martyred by “the people and the elders and the scribes,” while Paul, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;” who went on to be a zealous “persecutor of the church” held their coats.
It was the “high priest, the senate of the people of Israel, and the Pharisees” who imprisoned and flogged the apostles and “charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus” in Acts 5:17-42.
Peter and John were arrested by “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees” and threatened by “Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.”
Even Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” He was nearly stoned twice by Jewish leaders. And, even though it was the Romans who actually carried out the crucifixion, it was only because it was illegal, under current Roman law, for the temple authorities to execute their own criminals.
We may think of these people as Jews, scribes, and Pharisees, but they were the “church people” of their day. It was these “church people” – as much, if not, at times, more so than pagans – who were the ones shouting down, threatening, persecuting, and murdering Jesus and Christians who upheld the truth of His word.
Jesus knew this would happen. In John 16:2-4 He warned the disciples:
They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
And so it goes today. Deceived, self-proclaimed “Christians”, those inside the church who are often just as unsaved as the pagans outside the church, those who prove that they don’t belong to Christ by fighting against His word instead of loving and obeying it, these “church people” are the ones viciously attacking Christians who dare to stand on and for the truth of Scripture. And they think they’re doing God a favor by acting this way.
Continue to cling to Christ and His word and you’ll be one of their victims. It’s inevitable. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” But keep your eyes on Jesus, not on your circumstances, and remember He also said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted…theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When you’re persecuted, even by “Christians” you can “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”
Persecution. It’s a hot topic in pop-evangelicalism these days in the wake of Pastor James Coates’ arrest in Canada (please don’t forget to pray for him, his family, and his church).
Though Pastor Coates’ arrest was heartbreaking, one good thing that has come out of it is that the online discussion about it has pulled back the curtain on just how much biblical ignorance is running rampant out there among professing Christians on the issue of persecution.
In a way, it’s understandable. American citizens (and many citizens of other Westernized countries as well) alive today have grown up with the guarantee of freedom of religion, codified in our Constitution. Until the last ten years or so, finding the proverbial needle in the haystack would have been much easier than finding an American who had experienced actual Christian persecution at the hands of her government.
To us, the persecution of Christians has always been something that happened thousands of miles away in far off, uncivilized, unsophisticated lands. “That could never happen here,” we mused thankfully, and promptly pushed the matter out of our thoughts.
But it can happen here. It’s already happening here. And it will increasingly continue to happen here.
And so, it’s a good thing that the issue has come to the forefront now, while we still have time to develop a biblical theology of persecution and prepare to act on it.
Let’s examine four popular misunderstandings about persecution, and what the Bible has to say about it.
1. The degree of persecution does not equal the definition of persecution.
“That’s not persecution. Persecution is being burned on sticks.”
I forget what the “that” was in this comment I recently saw on social media, but the “burned on sticks” part stuck in my memory. Whatever the “that” was, it some sort of unpleasantness aimed at a Christian for his faith, but it was much less intense than being burned on sticks.
But that diminished intensity doesn’t mean “that” wasn’t also, in fact, persecution. It only means “that” was less painful, less inconvenient, less life-altering, less terrifying persecution than the persecution of being burned on sticks.
I think maybe people don’t understand the difference between the definition of persecution and the degree of severity of persecution. Persecution is like stealing. Taking a paper clip from your office isn’t as severe as embezzling millions of dollars, and doesn’t garner as severe a consequence, but both are, qualitatively, and, definitionally, stealing. When you take something that isn’t yours without permission, that’s stealing, regardless of the value of what you take, and regardless of the consequences that follow.
The Bible doesn’t give a cut-and-dried definition of Christian persecution – i.e. there’s no one verse that specifically says, “Persecution is _____,” – rather, we glean the definition from looking at examples of it in Scripture. And, actually, if we look at it on a spiritual level rather than a temporal, tangible, earthly level, the definition of Christian persecution is rather simple: Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.
Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.
If you are obediently following God’s Word, standing with Christ and His Word, and you face opposition for that – regardless of the official reason given for the opposition (more about that in a sec) – you’re being persecuted, whether it’s somebody responding to your Christian worldview Facebook post with an “angry face” emoji or somebody executing you for sharing the gospel.
The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:12:
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
If the definition of persecution is being “burned on sticks” – martyrdom – then this verse of Scripture isn’t true. Millions of Christians living godly lives in Christ Jesus have lived and died without being martyred. Yet this verse says all will be persecuted. Since we know this verse of Scripture is true, that means persecution has to include lesser forms of mistreatment of Christians.
We should never say that somebody calling you a booger head for being a Christian is as bad as, painful as, or difficult as being burned at the stake, but both are, qualitatively, persecution, just in different degrees of severity.
2. We must think about persecution on a spiritual level, not a tangible level.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
We’ve simply got to wrap our minds around this concept if we’re going to properly understand persecution.
There is an entire, real spiritual realm that we cannot see, hear, or touch. And in that realm, Satan and his minions are constantly rebelling against God and attempting to, for lack of a better word, “attack” God and thwart His purposes.
And what better way to really stick it to God than by using His own Creation against Him? People made by God in His image. People He loves so much that He sacrificed His only Son for them.
Because we can’t see Satan and his demons, he “puts on flesh” by using his children – his slaves – to do his bidding.
So when we see, for example, governmental officials placing restrictions on the church and giving COVID as the reason, we’re not seeing reasonable, uninfluenced people altruistically doing what’s best to protect others. That’s just the deceptive window dressing Satan wants us to see. That’s his sleight of hand to distract us from what’s really going on in the spiritual realm: he’s attempting to attack God and His people and thwart God’s plan for the church. And he’s using God’s own creation – people and government- to do it.
In this whole debate about Pastor Coates and whether or not he should have obeyed the government’s COVID regulations, and whether or not he should have gone to jail for refusing to obey them, and whether or not his imprisonment is actually persecution, one of the things Christians are failing to grasp is that, in God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.
In God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.
Stop myopically looking at one itty bitty little tree, and back up and look at the whole forest: God is King of the Universe. He purchased the church with the blood of His Son. He founded it. He owns it. He is the head of it and rules over it.
The government is God’s servant. A servant has no right to override his master’s commands:
His servant, the government, has no right to issue an edict that only a select few may enter the church to serve the Lord with gladness, come into His presence with singing, enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise, when God has said, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” God does not place capacity limits on who may come into His church. The government certainly has no right to do so.
Open your spiritual eyes, sisters. Look beyond what you can see in this tangible realm, and grasp the bigger picture. This isn’t about what your physical eyes can see. Persecution is about spiritual warfare.
3. Satan is a deceiver.
Have you ever heard the old saying, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”2? Well, it’s true and he pulls that trick on various levels with various people. It’s not just on the macro level with atheists or lost people who are convinced Satan is just a mythological character. There’s also the micro level of the sleepy-eyed Christian who has forgotten that Satan is the underlying inspiration for every unholy act in the world. (And we’re all prone to that forgetfulness from time to time.)
That’s why Satan doesn’t march right up to Christians and say, “Hi, I’m the Prince of Darkness. Wouldn’t you like to sin against God today?”. He’s smarter than that. He knows if he presents himself to you as what he really is, and sin as what it really is, you’d see right through him and stay away from him.
There may come a point in time in the West at which the government clearly and overtly says, “Christianity is against the law, and if you’re a Christian, you’ll be executed.”
But that time is not now. That’s the last leg of the race for Satan. And you don’t get to the last leg of the race without first having stretched, put on your running shoes, and run the first, second, and third leg of the race. And that’s where we are right now: at the beginning of the race.
At the beginning of the race, Satan has to con you into believing there are good reasons for the havoc he’s wreaking on the church, and he’ll even disguise himself as an angel of light and dress up his reasons in the costume of Christian-ese to do it. And that’s exactly what he has done as he has persecuted God’s church with COVID regulations3:
It’s for your safety…
It’s for the safety of others…
It’s loving your neighbor…
The Bible says you have to obey the government, no matter what…
James Coates wasn’t arrested for preaching, he was arrested refusing to obey COVID regulations.
Again, put on your spirit realm thinking cap and your spiritual eyeglasses and see what’s really going on here. Satan doesn’t give a flying flip about COVID regulations, or the virus itself, or how many people it kills or doesn’t kill. His mission (though futile) is to destroy God’s church, and to oppose, rebel against, and attempt to thwart God’s plans and purposes at every turn. And he will use anything he can get his hands on to do that – especially deception that veils what he’s really doing.
Don’t believe me? What capital crime did the Roman government officially charge Jesus with and execute Him for? It wasn’t for preaching or being a “Christian”. It was for insurrection. Because in Rome’s eyes, there was only one King of the Jews, and it wasn’t Jesus.
And what about the riot in Ephesus? When the Ephesian business men grabbed Gaius and Aristarchus, they didn’t say, “We’re about to beat you senseless because you’re Christians.” Nope, it was, “It’s the economy, Stupid.” They were riled up at the Christians because they were losing money.
And when Paul was arrested in Acts 21, the reason given was inciting a riot, not his beliefs or practices as a Christian.
And when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, the capital charge was not: “These men worship the one true God,” The official charge was that they refused to obey the king’s unbiblical law – which as the governmental “servant of God” he had no right to make in the first place, nor to punish God’s people when they obeyed Him rather than man. Selah.
Need I go on? Search your Bible. Search the nightly news. You’ll find many instances in which Satan sets the stage with elaborate props of perfectly logical sounding reasons why God’s people are being attacked, while backstage, he’s singing second verse, same as the first – I hate God and I want to kill what He loves.
He wants you to think pastors are being arrested and fined and sanctioned because of COVID regulations, or that Christian businesses and organizations that won’t get on board with the government’s sexual perversion agenda (let the reader understand) are violating anti-discrimination laws, but that’s not the real reason. They’re being arrested and fined and sanctioned because Satan wants to obliterate the church.
If you are walking in obedience to the Lord and you face opposition or restriction, that’s persecution, regardless of the “official” reason given.
4. Knowing the consequences ahead of time doesn’t mean it’s not persecution.
“James Coates had been warned multiple times that he was violating COVID regulations and he kept doing it, so he can’t cry ‘persecution’ now that he has to pay the piper.”
Um…seriously? Have you ever read your Bible? Persecution is not defined by whether or not you know what the consequences for your actions will be ahead of time. I would even argue that most victims of persecution in the Bible knew what they were in for, and they chose to obey God rather than evil men anyway.
The Apostles had already been beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, so they certainly knew they were in for more of the same when they went out and preached again.
Persecution is when Satan attempts to attack God and His people. It has nothing to do with whether or not the Christian being attacked knows what consequences his actions will bring.
Knowing the consequences ahead of time and obeying God anyway doesn’t mean you aren’t being persecuted, it means you’re a Christian.
There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there about Christian persecution. If you’re a genuinely regenerated Christian, you will face some level of persecution at some point in your life. That’s a promise from Scripture. It’s important to be prepared for that so you can respond in a godly and obedient way, because responding to persecution by refusing to bow to man over God and doing so with a holy, humble, honored attitude is a testimony to the world, and an encouragement to your brothers and sisters, that Jesus Christ is King, and that He alone is worthy to rule and to reign.
1The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia. It literally means a gathering or an assembly. The church, is, by definition, a gathering together – in person – of “the called out ones” – Christians. Watching a church service online is a blessing when you are temporarily Providentially hindered from being there in person, but it is not the same as going to church, as we are commanded, and it is not a biblical substitute for going to church as we are commanded. It is not church at all, because where there is no gathering, there is no church.
2Quote attributed to 19th century French poet, Charles Baudelaire
3Please understand, I’m not saying that if you have to stay home from church temporarily to stay healthy that you’re automatically deceived or unsaved. Remember, we’re talking about the long term, big picture of Satan’s agenda here, not individual trees in the forest.
I did not have an opportunity, before I wrote this article, to listen to James Coates’ last sermon before he was arrested, but he does a much better job of explaining the government’s roles and responsibilities, and exegeting Romans 13 than I ever could. Please give it a listen:
It has long been my perspective that the grit, wonder, and inspiration of true stories far surpasses anything in the fictional realm. And Paint the Wall Black only serves to bolster this belief.
Meet Juan, a dear brother whom God graciously saved out of a number of depravities. Listen to his story of serving Christ and ministering to others through his family’s business…and what happened when he stood his ground on God’s Word on Black Lives Matter during the 2020 riots. Bonus material after the movie: Jon Harris, of the Conversations that Matter Podcast, interviews Juan and Pastor Joe.
A couple of caveats:
The filmmakers nobly attempted the herculean task of bleeping or blurring out every audible or written instance of profanity and vulgarity. But as you will see, it was impossible to edit out all of them. You will see the F-word. You will see middle fingers flying. Many pagans express themselves in such ways. If you cannot handle that, please do not watch this film.
Featuring this film on my blog does not equal an endorsement of Metro Praise International church, which, from its website, appears to be Pentecostal. Though I appreciate their strong focus on preaching the gospel and don’t doubt their confession of Christ based on what I’ve seen in this movie, Pentecostalism holds to some doctrines which are unbiblical. If you’re looking for a church in the Chicago or Dallas areas please see my Searching for a new church? resource instead.
Normally, when I feature a full length video in a post, it’s for leisure time entertainment, or maybe it even focuses on something important that you need to educate yourself about.
This time, it’s urgent.
Let me get this part out of the way first because I know some of you, like me, looked at that 3 hour time stamp on the video and your visceral reaction was, “There’s no way I have the time or the attention span to watch all of that.” I get it. But here’s how the video breaks down:
Justin Peters’ interview with Erin: About 45 minutes long
James Coates’ February 14 sermon: About an hour
GraceLife Associate Pastor Jacob Spenst’s February 21 sermon: A little over an hour.
If you read my article from last Friday, 4 Things You Need to Understand About Christian Persecution, or if you’ve been paying attention to Christian news and social media, you’re familiar with the story of Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (And if not, it’s explained in the video.)
I want to urge you to at least listen to the interview with Erin and pray for her, James, their family, and GraceLife, especially today and tomorrow. Thursday is the hearing to determine whether James can bail out of jail without agreeing to the shamefully discriminatory bail conditions that have been put in place. Erin explains more in this Instagram post:
At the end of the interview, Justin asks Erin if there’s anything we outsiders can do to help. Here’s what you can do:
Contact Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta, Canada via phone, mail, email, or via Facebook and Twitter, and request that all charges against James be dropped. Do so kindly and politely. Remember, you are representing Christ. Mention where you’re from. Even if you don’t live in Alberta or anywhere in Canada, the Premier needs to know this is a bad look for Canada in the eyes of a watching world – and so do other world leaders who are undoubtedly watching to see what Canada will do in this case. Never underestimate the power of negative publicity in the hands of an Almighty God.
Help get the word out. Share this post with your pastor. Post it on social media and ask all your friends to share. If you have any contacts in the media or anyone with a large platform who could aid in spreading the word, ask that they help shine some light on this situation. The more publicity, the better.
Pastors, open your churches. Especially if you’re Alberta. Not only is it obedient to Scripture, can you imagine how encouraging it would be to Pastor James and GraceLife to see other churches and pastors standing in solidarity with them?
Keep your mouth shut. I can’t tell you how many horrifying comments I’ve read from professing Christians about this situation. If you can’t be an encouragement to your brother in Christ, just be quiet, and maybe examine yourself against Scripture. I definitely won’t be publishing any comments or reading any emails that are discouraging or critical.
Watch. And pray.
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you…in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’