Articles

A Century of Persecution

March/April 2007

A Century of Persecution

The 20th century was the "Century of Martyrs". It has been the most devastating period for Christians since the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. But not only in the 20th century, in the 21st century too, the attacks on Christ and Christianity have continued if not increased, especially in the 'free world'. Even in South Africa the Christian faith and lifestyle is besieged. Easter had hardly passed when two prominent members of the Commission for Culture, Religion and Language, which is a government body, declared that Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas should be scrapped and replaced with more indigenous days. 1) Such calls are nothing new. As early as 1990, Dr Albie Sachs, now a Constitutional Court judge, had suggested that "Sunday observance should be a matter of personal conscience... not a question for state law." And Fr. Buti Tlhagale, now Catholic Archbishop of Johannesburg, had added: "Christian imperialism will have to come to an end... It is believers who ought to keep the sabbath holy, not the state, thus imposing it on everybody else." 2) - Today, Sunday in South Africa is a shopping (or working) day like any other.

In America anti-Christianity often goes to ludicrous lengths, e.g. Christians are asked to put up "Holiday trees" instead of "Christmas trees", and to say "Merry Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." The South African Broadcasting Corporation, too, makes their presenters say: "Have a nice long week-end," or "enjoy the holidays." - In short, Christian prayers, signs, symbols, greetings, customs, and holy days are purportedly offending believers of other faiths, and the enemies of Christ use this untrue claim to outlaw them by legislation. - Are these the signs of the times - precursors of a coming persecution even in the "free" world?

The Century of Martyrs

The persecutions of the 20th century were the most severe in the history of the Church. In 1905 they started in the Baltic States. Time and again Bolshevik gangs ill-treated and killed many Christians. It was not only Communism but also Islam which brought catastrophy upon the Christians. From 1894 to 1916 the Armenians, who had been officially Christian since 301, were repeatedly persecuted. In 1915, 1½ million Armenians were killed by the "Young Turks." Today any mention of this massacre is outlawed in Turkey. The aramaic-speaking Assyrian Christians, too, were greatly afflicted, first in 1895, then in 1933, and again in the 1970s and 80s when they were cruelly decimated. In South Eastern Turkey the Syrian Orthodox Church has been reduced to a few thousand members. In 1921-22, when Smyrna was ceded to Turkey, two million Greeks were exiled and thousands murdered. On 9 September 1922, 120.000 Greeks died in Smyrna alone. This brought to an end a 2.000 year old period of Greek Christian history.

But the fiercest persecutions took place in Russia. They started with the victory of the doctrines of Karl Marx, a German Jew who initially embraced Christianity but later turned to Satanism. He wanted to "avenge himself on the One who rules above." 3) His disciple Lenin, at the age of 16, tore his cross from his neck and spit and trampled on it. Stalin studied theology at an orthodox seminary (1894-1899), but was expelled because of his communist activities. "He often spoke of religion as our worst enemy," said his brother-in-law, "he hates religion..." - When communism was established in Russia the Soviets immediately started to persecute the Christians. In 1918 the government decreed the 'separation of church and state,' dispossessed the Orthodox Church and squandered its wealth. Bishops, priests and nuns were tried, shot and deported. In 1922 alone 2690 priests, 1962 monks, and 3447 nuns, altogether 8100 people, were killed for righteousness' sake. The next wave of persecution came in 1928. 5000 Christians perished during the dispossession of the Kulaks (farmers). But the worst came in 1937 after a census identified those who still called themselves Christians. In the next 6 years 12 million people are estimated to have lost their lives. It is assumed that in 70 years of atheism and communism 20 million men, women and children were killed for the sake of Christ. - Now, nearly 20 years after the collapse of the USSR, it is an absolute miracle of God's grace that the Russian Church is rising to new life again.

Even outside Europe Christians suffered great persecution. After 1910 and again 1945 Korea endured affliction from both the Shinto religion and from communism. - Yet Korea, too, has had a glorious revival and now sends missionaries into all the world. - In Mexico a communist-infected liberalism caused the death of 5000 priests. In Spain, during the civil war, 6700 priests and monks were killed by the "Reds." Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria recorded untold suffering of the saints. Yet the 'World' Church, notably the World Council of Churches (WCC), turned a blind eye. But God raised up a defender of the suffering. Pastor Richard Wurmbrand of Romania was a Messianic Jew who, after many years of incarceration and torture, was redeemed for 10.000 US$ by Norwegian Christians. On his arrival in the West he established the "Voice of the Martyrs," an organisation which has brought help and solace to martyred Christians all over the world.

China , Laos and Cuba, too, have not escaped persecution by the Communists. Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have fallen victim to Islamic persecutions.Africa has also had many martyrs, especially Nigeria, the Sudan, and other countries. 4) St Paul describes the lot of the martyrs as follows: "Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated - the world was not worthy of them..." (Hebr. 11:35f) But through such intense suffering persecution brings a believer closer to Christ, and Jesus comforts all who are enduring on His account. "If we endure, we will also reign with him," is the promise. (2 Tim. 2:12) The martyrs have a special place in God's Kingdom, for they are those "who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them... for the Lamb will be their shepherd... and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Rev. 7:14f)

South Africa

South Africa has so far been spared open persecution. But has it? Is there not an ongoing onslaught against Christians and Christianity? This country which, to an extraordinary degree, was once governed by Christian principles and practices has, since 1994, been well-nigh secularised by the powers that be. This has not happened by killing its clergy or by confiscating church property, but by constitutional requirements, court rulings, and legislation. Though the Constitution guarantees "freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion" (Chapter 2, para 15.1) the Marxist government, like that of Russia, began to act against Christianity as soon as it had assumed power. "Submission to Almighty God" was struck from the Constitution. Abortion and homosexual marriage were legalised, and 'human rights' have given legal protection to every vice under the sun. Finally, a 'Hate speech' law was devised to silence the Christian voice.

Just like in Russia, the African National Congress (ANC), now the government, knowing how deeply Christianity was rooted in South Africa, could not achieve this on its own. It needed the help of the Church. Hence there arose in South Africa two Churches - one God-centred Bible believing Church and one man-centred Marxist Church. The "world church" (e.g. the WCC) supported the latter, for it had embraced its "liberation theology." With this "theology" it fomented the revolutionary struggle. Indeed, it demonised the Bible believing Church and charged it with "the abandonment of the gospel of Jesus Christ" (The Road to Damascus) and with "idol worship" (Kairos Document). This propaganda was so effective that in 1993 the ANC could say with satisfaction: "The pyschological warfare through the churches to create a guilt complex with whites was a victory over Christians." 5)

The persecution of the Biblical Church is not a matter of the past. The struggle, especially against Calvinism, continues. The methods are not always open attack but stealth and deceit. Through guilt manipulation believers are persuaded (by their own false leaders) to renounce their faith. For instance, in the name of church unity, the Dutch Reformed Church is still under pressure to accept the Belhar Confession, a "liberation theological" document. And the Hervormde Kerk is urged to confess its guilt before the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. 6) These "confessions", however, amount to recantations not only of their political past, but their doctrine, identity, and mission.

Persecution is a reality in the 21st century, and Christians must stand against the erosion of Biblical Christianity. Communism is by no means dead. It is a religion of hatred against God and His Christ. Islam, too, is an aggressive and oppressive religion, and the other "world religions" are no less hostile. Ever since secular humanist authorities have introduced the absolute "equality" of religions, Christianity has been under constant attack. - The Church of our Lord Jesus Christ needs to wake up, gird itself, and defend its faith. It needs to remember the price paid by its Lord. It needs to think of its martyrs, honour them, pray for them, and help them. It needs to work in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that lost territory may be regained. Today's Christians need to stand for their Lord, that they may overcome Satan "by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony." They, too, need to be known as those who "did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." (Rev. 12:11)

May God bless you richly,

D. Scarborough
Gospel Defence League

Footnotes:

1. They were Mathole Motshekga, former Gauteng Premier, and Ashwin Trikamjee, head of the Hindu Maha Sabha. 2. Believers in the Future, National Inter-Faith Conference on Religion-State Relations, pp. 38 & 44. 3. Richard Wurmbrand, Was Karl Marx a Satanist? 4. Figures taken from Das Jahrhundert der Märtyrer by Dr Rolf Sauerzapf, October 2006. 5. In a circular to senior staff and marshalls dated June 1993. 6. Hervormde Kerk voor kruispad, Die Afrikaner, 9-15.3.07.



PERSECUTION - What does the Bible say?

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St Augustine, the great Church Father, once said: "From Abel until the end of time the pilgrimage of the Church proceeds between the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God."

No one knew this better than St Paul. Therefore he said:

Let "no-one be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them." (1 Thess. 3:3)

"Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12)

"All men will hate you because of me," said Jesus. (Matt. 10:22)

"Do not be surprised if the world hates you." (1 John 3:13)

All the Prophets suffered persecution for righteousness' sake.

"Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered." (James 4:10-11)

"Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven." (Matt. 5:12)

"The world [is] not worthy of them." (Hebr. 11:38)

Jesus suffered enmity and was persecuted from the beginning.

"Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." (Matt. 2:13)

"He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem... who were two years old and under..." (Matt. 2:16)

"They got up, drove him [Jesus] out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill... in order to throw him down the cliff." (Luke 4:29)

Christ even predicted His death: "The Son of Man will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him." (Luke 18:32)

He accepted this in submission to the will of His Father. "He humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place." (Phil. 2:9)

Jesus admonished His disciples to face persecution with all courage.

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." (Luke 9:23-24)

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:21)

"We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (Romans 8:17)

"The gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit." (Mark 13:11)

Jesus honours those who suffer for Him. He says: "You are the those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Luke 22:28-30)

The persecution of Christians has a satanic element, for the devil hates God and His children.

He has been fighting against God from the beginning. "In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you [Christians] will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me [Jesus]." (John 16:2-3)

How then can we overcome the devil? "Resist him, standing firm in the faith." (1 Peter 5:9)

"They [the martyrs] overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." (Rev. 12:11)

The readiness to suffer for Christ makes a missionary testimony very convincing.

Tertullian, an early Christian writer from North Africa, wrote: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

They "preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles..." (1 Cor. 1:23)

"Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a ... sacrifice to God." (Eph. 5:2)

"Greater love has no-one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." (Joh. 15:13)

"Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:13)

"Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution... Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Rev. 2:10)

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28)

Christians have to defend the persecuted and care for them.

"Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoner, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering." (Heb. 13:3)

For "if one part [of the body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it." (1 Cor.12:26)

We must take an interest in one another's "endurance, persecutions and sufferings." (2 Tim. 3:11)

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves!" (Prov. 31:8)

A Church that abandons her martyrs betrays Christ Himself. He says: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me." And... "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (Matt. 25:40, 45)

Christians need to pray for afflicted saints. God has answered many a prayer uttered on their behalf.

"Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matt. 7:7-8)

"Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests... Be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 1:3f; )

"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (James 5:16)

"Be joyful always; pray continually." (1 Thess. 5:17)

Paul wrote to the Philippans: "It has become clear to... the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.. I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance." (Phil. 113,19)

When "Peter was kept in prison, the church was earnestly praying to God for him," (Acts 12:5) and God set him free.

Speak and act with boldness. The victory belongs to Christ.

Jesus Christ has called us to evangelise all the peoples of the earth: "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matt. 24:14)

"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." (Hab. 2:14)

"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise... He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Pet. 3:9)

Be courageous! "Resist him [the devil], standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." (1 Peter 5:9)

"If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things... Christ Jesus... is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." (Rom. 8: 31f)

"Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God,... let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Heb. 4:14f)

The Martyrs will enjoy true blessedness in heaven.

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12)

"These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Rev. 7:14f)

Our great example is the Lord Jesus Christ who was obedient unto death and won the victory.

"We see Jesus... now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." (Heb. 2:9)



Bishop JC Ryle said: "Christ's people shall never be entirely forsaken. Though sorely harassed, they shall not be destroyed. Though cast down they shall not be cast away. At the darkest time let true Christians rest in the thought, that 'greater is He who is for them than all they that be against them.' The winds and waves of political and ecclesiastical trouble may beat fiercely over them, and all hope may seem taken away. But still let them not depair. There is One living for them in heaven, who can make these winds and waves to cease in a moment. The true church, of which Christ is the Head, shall never perish. Its glorious Head is almighty, and lives for evermore, and His believing members shall all live also, and reach home safe at last."

 

 



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