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WHAT IS CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION?
Christians aren’t, of course, the only people who suffer persecution – and Christians may sometimes suffer “man’s inhumanity to man” for reasons other than their faith. However, when we talk about ‘Christian persecution’ we mean situations where Christians suffer because they are Christians: in other words, it is their faith and the practising of their faith that is the cause of someone else persecuting them.
On the night before he was crucified Jesus told his disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you… All these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:19, 21; ESV).
Ultimately, then, the persecution of Christians is the world demonstrating its hatred of Christ.
WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN MARTYR?
In the English language the word ‘martyr’ means someone who is killed for their Christian faith, or for refusing to renounce their Christian faith. From that basic meaning it has often been used, more broadly, for someone who is killed for any particular cause.
A degree of confusion sometimes occurs among Christians today when they hear of the origin of the word. In the Greek of the New Testament the word martus (from which our word ‘martyr’ comes) generally meant someone who was a ‘witness’. The Book of Acts frequently employs the word in this way and translates it accordingly. In these cases death is not implied; the emphasis is on the person (a still living person!) ‘bearing witness’ or ‘giving testimony’ to the gospel.
However, the meaning of words sometimes evolves. It seems that by the end of the 1st Century the Greek word martus had come to mean a Christian who ‘witnessed’ to Christ by his or her being killed. Already in the New Testament there are a few occasions when the word clearly has that meaning (see Acts 22:20; Revelation 2:13; Revelation 17:6). Despite the predominant meaning of the Greek word in the New Testament (‘witness’), it is with this latter meaning that the word has entered the English language. Today, then, when we speak of a Christian martyr we mean someone who has been killed because of their faith in Christ and their witness to the gospel.
IS IT POSSIBLE FOR ME TO SUPPORT A SPECIFIC INDIVIDUAL OR FAMILY?
As a rule, this is not possible. For the sake of honesty and financial integrity we say this because we cannot always guarantee that we can get funds into certain restricted nations. The banking system in many countries is very different from our own, making such sponsorship programs difficult or impossible.
In addition, if certain governments were to learn that a family or individual was regularly receiving money from overseas through a sponsorship program, they could be in great danger.
WHY DOESN'T MY CHURCH TALK ABOUT THE PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS?
There can be a number of reasons why Western Christians tend to ignore the persecution of their fellow Christians around the world:
- In some cases it can simply be a lack of information or awareness. The secular media often seems reluctant to report on these matters, which does not help. At Release International we seek to raise the voice of persecuted Christians in the UK and Ireland.
- In some cases persecution may be perceived as ‘too difficult’ or ‘too negative’ a subject to dwell on, given that we worship one we claim is Lord of all. In a Western context where Christianity seems to be in decline – and yet is not seriously persecuted – it is tempting to want to hear only of Christian ‘success’ or growth, not of Christian suffering.
- Because Christians in the West have not experienced severe persecution for several centuries it is easy – out of a desire to make Scripture relevant – to take Bible passages that speak of persecution and make them apply to suffering of any kind in the Christian life (e.g., illness). This can stifle serious engagement with persecution itself.
- In some churches various forms of what is known as the ‘prosperity gospel’ may so emphasise personal peace and blessing accruing from faith in Christ, that there is little room for the notion of Christians ‘taking up their cross’ and suffering for their faith. At Release International we believe we in the West can learn lessons of Christian discipleship with, and from, those suffering persecution for their faith.