catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 3 :: 2004.01.30 — 2004.02.12


Blessed are those who are persecuted

What is the mission of the Bible League and what is your position in the organization?

The mission of the Bible League is “to provide Scriptures and training worldwide, so that people prepared by the Holy Spirit will be brought into the fellowship of Christ and His Church.” My position is that of Director for Central and Eastern Europe. I am responsible to oversee the Bible League’s offices, staff, ministry efforts, plans and budgets in 6 countries—Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Albania and Serbia-Montenegro.

Last year 145 new churches were started, and 11,254 were baptized or became new church members due to our ministry efforts. We are a non-denominational evangelistic support agency that helps existing churches grow (using our Project Philip program) and helps the Church that is there (we work with all the evangelical denominations) to start new churches in under-reached parts of their country, so that every man, woman and child has a viable opportunity to hear and see the Gospel of Jesus, in order to either accept Him as Savior, or reject Him.

In what areas of the world are Christians currently experiencing extreme religious persecution? What are some of the root causes of such persecution?

The Bible tells us that we who are followers of Jesus can expect persecution. 2 Timothy 3:1 says that in the last times difficult times will come (v. 1). “Difficult” means “hard to deal with, fierce, hard to bear up under.” The “last days” is a phrase commonly used in the New Testament, referring to that span of time between the first and second coming of Christ, a time when salvation is freely offered to all, but Satan (“satan” means “adversary”) actively influences and empowers the world (systems) and all in his grip, to reject God’s gracious offer. It is therefore a time of spiritual warfare, when the lines are drawn, when darkness and light are juxtaposed. The Church is called to take the Gospel to this world (the people held captive in it) in this age (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:6-8). Christ asks us to take the offensive, in order to take back people paid for by His blood—men, women and children in every people group (there are some 13,000 of these) across the globe who now ARE in the grip of Lucifer’s strong grasp (Matthew 16:18). It is difficult for those choosing to represent and communicate Christ to this fallen world, because the world system, energized by Satan, seeks to persecute the world of such people. The word ?persecute? means “to pursue.” Those who stand opposed to Christ’s Gospel—energized by Satan’s power—“pursue” those who bring that Gospel, either in word or deed, to others. Verse 12 tells us we can expect this pursuit, this warfare.

God’s people experience the pursuit of the ungodly in every dimension of life, and at every turn. The media is a source of persecution against Christians. This week Mel Gibson (a born-again Catholic) was again attacked by the media and by Jewish leaders for his film The Passion of the Christ. The message of the cross in that film is one that strikes at our very pride. This message (1 Cor. 1:18) will always be a stumbling block to those in Satan’s control and grasp. Why? It requires that we fully yield to the Sovereign Lord of History. Jesus said, “If a man wants to save his life, he will lose it; but if he loses it for my sake, he will find it.” Hollywood doesn’t want to give up. That is why it persecutes Christians.

Persecution comes in many forms. In the 70s, the Khmer Rouge regime sought to eliminate many groups contrary to its communist ideology—especially evangelicals—from this country. Millions died a horrible death. Today, a revival is now spreading in this nation. Believers in China are today still imprisoned for their faith. Recently a Christian was released from a three-week prison term for delivering Bibles. A house church member was beaten to death in prison for his faith. Russian leaders vowed to stamp out evangelical Christianity throughout Russia in the 60s. This from of persecution is from a political perspective.

In the Central Asian republics, persecution comes from people of the emerging Islamic faith. A church planter was shot and killed on January 12, shortly after the conclusion of a youth service in Isfara, Tajikistan, a city in the northern part of this traditionally Islamic nation. The Isfara church, with regular attendance of about 30, had recently completed the construction of a church facility and received official registration from the local government. Because of this progress, Sergey and wife Tamara were looking forward to additional ministry opportunities in the surrounding neighborhoods including evangelistic outreaches and programs focused on ministering to the city’s youth. But he died a martyr’s death for his faith. The word martyr means “witness.” People around the globe are beaten, tortured and killed for their faith in Christ at the hands of religious zealots who view Christianity as a threat to their way of life. An 18-year-old girl was murdered by a band of teenage boys in Albania. She had given her body to them in the past, but then she came to Christ. She brought God’s message of forgiveness to them. They didn’t’t want to hear this message. She insisted. They killed her. They were NOT arrested due to the ancient Kanoni law practices of (northern) Albania. Historically, those “persecuting” have done so because they actually believe they are the protectors of truth and order, and the purveyors of a way of life.

Persecution may be as simple as a low grade given by an unrighteous professor who despises evangelicals. My son received a “B” when he deserved an “A” in a class in a Chicago junior college, because his teacher said, ‘I don’t give “A’s” to Christians." Persecution may come in economic sanctions. A 5% donation tax was levied this year in Bulgaria by the government against all non-profit organizations. The real purpose was to target the evangelical sects in that country. The evangelical churches in most Eastern European countries are considered a sect, or a cult.

What are some issues that Christians in Eastern Europe are facing in the effort to live lives fully transformed by faith?

Persecution comes to believers in Eastern Europe on many fronts. First, it comes against believers from the government—primarily regional and local expressions of government, including mayors, tax officers, policemen and government agents. These people are friends of the traditional Orthodoxy Church, which views the evangelical’s presence as a threat to their way of life. The Orthodox Church seeks to influence government in several ways in this matter. It influences the legislative branches to pass laws that favor the historic Church, and therefore specially target evangelical practices and influences—in schools, in community houses, and in local townships. It also seeks to influence judges to wrongfully judge evangelicals who are accused of “illegal” practices.

A second broad source of persecution is the Orthodox Church, whose priests directly take it upon themselves to accuse, to actually beat and to drive out those who bring the Gospel to “their” people in “their” villages. After all, to be Russian is to be Orthodox, yes? I recall a team of young people in a village near Bucharest, Romania last summer who brought the Gospel to children in that village. The local priest came out, half-drunk and with a mob, and drove them away. He said, “You have come to destroy our ancient customs and way of life.”

Islam is also a force of religious persecution in Eastern Europe, but this is felt and seen only on the local level, and usually in homes. I can recount many true stories of young women and men forced to leave their families, because they repented and turned to Christ. The father turned them out, and disowned them. This happens all the time in Albania and in Bulgaria.

A third form of persecution is demonism, or the influence of the Devil as seen in many forms—in white and black magic, in occultist strongholds, in new age sects and movements, in practicing witchdoctors, and in the direct demonization of people. The music industry, tattoo parlors, the sinful lairs of the mafia, drug use, prostitution, wicked ways of life—these and many more all are empowered by demons, and whose people stand against and in opposition to evangelical holy living, and against those who express Christ’s life and love. But deliverance is coming to many who were caught in these strongholds.

A final form of persecution comes from the evangelical church itself. It comes from pastors, church leaders and traditional types who confuse form and function. It comes in the form of requiring Christians to have acceptable dress standards, sing certain hymns, require attendance in various church services each week. It is an insidious form of legalism that is nothing but persecution. Such leaders and forms of “church” are forcing younger people who want to find Christ to reject the Gospel—wrongly so—because it is too closely identified with the archaic forms of the past (which do not communicate any longer) and with their proponents. These pastors and church leaders do not release people, but control them, along with their budgets and building. I see this in every country, but especially in Hungary, Romania, Russia and Ukraine.

Ultimately, we cannot escape persecution, but we can find grace from Christ to bear up under it, and this must be the Christian’s response—not to be like the Essenes who ran off to Qumran to live and die away from the world, but to be salt and light in the midst of this dying world. God wants this, and we must be willing to be His tools, His hands—to reach others who will go to hell apart from that Gospel.

Discussion: Religious persecution

Have you ever been persecuted because of your faith? Should we be acting to assist Christians who are being persecuted for their faith in other countries? Should we be acting to assist persecuted people of other faiths around the world? Do you think Christians in the U.S. are being culturally persecuted? If so, how?

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