This afternoon (July 31, 2006) The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada learned from our partner, China Aid Association (CAA) that on the afternoon of July 29, a large house church building in Che Lu Wan Village, Dangshan Town, Xiaoshan District, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province was destroyed and many Christians were arrested and wounded during the confrontation.
According to CAA, eyewitness reported that the destruction of the church building started at 2:30 PM, July 29. Several thousand anti-riot police, military police and government workers along with three hundred military vehicles arrived and surrounded the church building while 10,000 House Church Christians were praying in the building. The church has been under construction since July 17, 2006 and was almost complete when it was destroyed.According to CAA, eyewitnesses reported that the police used "electric shock batons and anti-riot shields to disperse thousands of Christians. Several hundred Christians were observed to be beaten and some were arrested and taken away by police while they attempted to protect their church building.
According to a reliable source from the house church there, on July 28th, the Xiaoshan District government declared the church building 'illegal' because it was built without government permission and asked the Christians to voluntarily destroy it. This church building was on private land purchased by a local Christian couple."
Sources from both the government and the church told CAA that the local government has repeatedly denied the Christian believers' formal request to build a church, even though they have met all the requirements.
Please pray for those who were injured and arrested in the confrontation. The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reports that twenty people were hurt, including four who were seriously injured. Pray for the release of those who were arrested.
We would also urge you to protest the destruction of this church property and the excessive use of police force. Please call and/or write to:
Secretary XI Jinping, Party General Secretary of Zhejinag Province Tel: +86-571-7052463Address: No. 1, Sheng Fu Lu, Xihu District, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province (Zip code: 310025)
Ms. Wu Aiying, Minister of Ministry of Justice of PRCTel: +86-10-65205114 Fax: +86-10-64729863Address: No. 10, Nan Da Jie, Chaoyangmen, Beijing City (Zip Code: 100020)
His Excellency Shumin Lu, Ambassador Embassy of the People's Republic of China 515 St. Patrick Street Ottawa, Ontario K1N 5H3 Tel: (613) 789-3434,3513
Monday, July 31, 2006
This afternoon (July 31, 2006) The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada learned from our partner, China Aid Association (CAA) that on the afternoon of July 29, a large house church building in Che Lu Wan Village, Dangshan Town, Xiaoshan District, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province was destroyed and many Christians were arrested and wounded during the confrontation.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
I have been reading the story of Samson this week for my morning devotions and have been struck how this man had, at least initially, the greatest potential of all of the judges of Israel. No other judge had such promises made of him from before his birth. No other judge was set apart like Samson. His parents responded in godly trust to the announcement of his birth. Yet, all of the recorded events of his life reveal a man who utterly failed to live up to his potential.
Samson's call was to begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:5). Yet, every incident that we find recorded in Scripture involving the Philistines and Samson is one where Samson acts out of self-interest. When he fights the Philistines, it is in order to pursue his own desires and goals or to take personal vengeance upon them. God gives him the opportunities but Samson squanders them in his pursuit of sweets, suits and skirts.
Samson exemplifies the leader who takes the gifts that God gives him and becomes preoccupied with how these gifts can personally benefit him in the here-and-now. Such individuals never seem to realize that you really cannot have the best of both worlds; God does not share his glory with another.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/29/2006
Just in case you still believe that accepting Jesus is the path to safety, success, and prosperity, here is a story I just received from one of our contacts in India.
Brother Chandrappa aged 58, from Upparabeerahalli, Chikkmangalore, Karnataka was thrown out of his family for accepting Jesus as his Savior and Lord. Brother Chandrappa is from the poor scheduled cast community and was baptized on 2nd June 2006.
He lives with his wife and mother-in-law at Upparabeerahalli. On return to his home after baptism, his wife and mother-in-law refused to accept him into their home and asked to leave the house because of his faith. Though his pastor tried contacting brother Chandrappa, he was informed by brother Chandrappa's wife that he is gone out of station for work.
Brother Chandrappa was wandering around with out food and shelter for about one month in various places. After a lot of difficulty he managed to reach the pastor's house in a real bad condition. He was without bath, shave, food and proper clothing.
The pastor immediately arranged for a new set of cloths and other necessary things. As per the advice of the pastor, brother Chandrappa visited his family again and he was chased out again because of his faith in Jesus Christ.
Brother Chandrappa is currently staying with his Pastor at Shimoga.
The fact is, this brother's experience closely matches the teaching of the New Testament where we are promised persecution, even from our own families, when we choose to follow Christ.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/29/2006
Thursday, July 27, 2006
The following is a press release put out by the U.S. State Department on July 19, 2006:
Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford briefed Congress today on religious practice and tolerance issues in Saudi Arabia. Ambassador Hanford's briefing focused on the results of bilateral discussions on these topics, as well the problem of intolerant language in textbooks and educational curricula.
Ambassador Hanford explained that this process has made it possible to identify and confirm a number of key policies that the Saudi Government is pursuing and will continue to pursue for the purpose of promoting greater freedom for religious practice and increased tolerance for religious groups. These include policies designed to halt the dissemination of intolerant literature and extremist ideology, both within Saudi Arabia and around the world, to protect the right to private worship, and to curb harassment of religious practice. For example, the Saudi Government is conducting a comprehensive revision of textbooks and educational curricula to weed out disparaging remarks toward religious groups, a process that will be completed in one to two years. The Saudi Government is also retraining teachers and the religious police to ensure that the rights of Muslims and non-Muslims are protected and to promote tolerance and combat extremism. The Saudi Government has also created a Human Rights Commission to address the full range of human rights complaints.
Saudi Arabia was first designated a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act in 2004. In light of these ongoing developments, and in view of the policies that the Saudi government has put in place to promote greater tolerance for members of the various religious groups in Saudi Arabia, the Secretary has decided to leave in place a waiver "to further the purposes of the Act," as provided for under the legislation.
Ambassador Hanford commented, "I am pleased that the Government of Saudi Arabia has been willing to engage with us in a substantive manner on these critical issues. These policies are significant developments, and I appreciate the Saudi Government's interest in confirming them publicly so that all interested parties may follow progress made in these areas."
Pardon me if I sound cynical, but does anybody really believe that this decision was not made without pressure from the White House to find some reason not to have to impose sanctions on America's favorite Muslim ally in the Middle East? These same promises to reform have been made before by the Saudis and broken. As a nation described as being "of particular concern" in the department's two last annual reports on religious freedom in the world, Saudi Arabia should be subject to commercial sanctions. But Washington has been doing everything possible to avoid this. In December, Saudi Arabia was granted a "temporary added extension of 180 days" to implement reforms requested. The March deadline came and went. And surprise, surprise...nothing changed. Now, because the Saudis set up a human rights commission and made even more promises, the Secretary of State decided to continue waiving punitive measures. Human rights commissions are only as good as the people who sit on them and I think it very unlikely that the Saudis will appoint dissidents who will criticize the government and hold it accountable. Religious freedom simply does not exist in Saudi Arabia for its own citizens. What "various religious groups" can the Saudis possibly be referring to granting more liberties to, when it is illegal for a Saudi to be anything but a Muslim?
This decision is foolish and mocks the intent of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. In 2005, we saw a similar response when Vietnam avoided sanctions by signing a May 2005 agreement with the U.S. undertaking to address religious freedom concerns. It seems that any country that is potentially beneficial to US interests is exempt from the consequences of being designated a Country of Particular Concern. To the best of my knowledge, only Eritrea has suffered sanctions under the Act this year and Eritrea, of course, has little strategic importance to the U.S.
It is unfortunate that President Bush's administration seems willing to sacrifice persecuted Christians and other religious minorities and the ideals of the International Religious Freedom Act on the altar of political pragmatism. But also unfortunate is the silence of the U.S. Christian non-governmental organizations in regards to this decision. For the past week I have waited in vain for one of the many organizations in the United States who work on behalf of persecuted Christians to make a public statement critiquing this announcement. Searching through several of their websites this evening, most make no reference to it at all and only one made a brief and rather muted comment expressing cynicism that the Saudis would really change.
Come on, my dear American friends. I understand that many of you consider President Bush an ally and supporter of religious liberty. But our support of religious liberty must transcend foreign policy and domestic politics if we are to be faithful to God rather than Caesar. Surely faithfulness to God calls for a thoughtful response to an issue like this. I am certainly not pretending to offer one here. As a Canadian, I am hesitant to venture too far into U.S. politics. But I, for one, would welcome a thoughtful American perspective on this decision. Any takers?
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/27/2006
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
So, while Canadian soldiers die in Afghanistan in the name of providing freedom, President Hamid Karzai's cabinet has approved a proposal to reintroduce a Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the body which the Taliban used to enforce its extreme religious doctrine.
The proposal, which came to the cabinet from the country's Ulema council of clerics, will now go before the Afghan parliament when it reconvenes at the end of the month. While government leaders murmur comforting words that this new body will not resort to the draconian measures of its Taliban predecessor, the fact is that this body is entirely unnecessary; the crimes that the department will allegedly focus on, such as terrorism, drugs, alcohol and prostitution, are already covered under criminal law.
Undoubtedly, this is an attempt by Karzai's cabinet to mollify hard-line Islamist conservatives but such a short-sighted concession will undoubtedly have profoundly negative consequences for human rights for ordinary Afghans in the future. Once this department is created, it is hard to see how its power can ultimately be curtailed or withdrawn.
It just doesn't seem like this present Afghan government can stay on track in creating and maintaining a society where true freedom can exist. While I support Canadian troops being in Afghanistan, I am starting to wonder if ten years from now we may be wondering why we bothered.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/25/2006
Sunday, July 23, 2006
The past four years since I was diagnosed with CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) have reinforced my long-held conviction that most western Christians do not know how to handle suffering from a biblical perspective. When fellow believers have learned that I have what is essentially an incurable disease, they have tended to respond in one or more of the following ways:
1. Hyper-faith: "Healing is always God's will. So don't accept what you have and claim God's promises."
2. Faithlessness: "How tragic! How can a good God allow such a thing! You must be angry with God, eh?"
3. Quick Fix: "I had a friend who went on this special diet and the cancer went away. You should try it!"
4. Denial: "Don't worry. Be happy! After all, the Bible says to rejoice in all things!"
5. Avoidance: "Let's not talk about this. I don't know what to say."
6. Resignation: "Well, I suppose your life and usefulness is winding down. Better start planning your legacy."
Now, I recognize that there are elements of truth in all of these responses. And I try hard not to get annoyed by the "friends of Job" that invariably arrive whenever one is going through trials. But lately, I am finding that I would rather sit on the ash heap (cf. Job 2:8) by myself. At least part of me does. Part of me would still like some company, but it is hard to find those who will sit and pray and accept that suffering often involves mystery that requires faith, not sight; trust, not explanations and solutions.
I am satisfied with the knowledge that God allows nothing to come into my life that does not first pass through his sovereign Hands. I trust that He is accomplishing His purposes in and through my life in a way today that He could not do if I were perfectly healthy. Living with a keener sense of mortality is not altogether a bad thing. It tends to bring an edge to your life than is often missing otherwise. You know that you have one shot at life in which to accomplish God's purposes and so you'd better make the best of it. Could this be why many Christians who live under the shadow of persecution are making a greater impact on the world today than those of us who live in relative freedom? We live with diminished sense of urgency.
Anyway, my biggest struggle right now is not retreating to the ash heap, seeking to escape the well-intentioned. I hope that someday they will join me, though, trying to listen to the voice in the whirlwind (Job 38:1).
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/23/2006
Thursday, July 20, 2006
I would like to take the opportunity to introduce you to one of our new staff members who will be joining me in posting weblogs here on persecution.net and persecutedchurch.blogspot.com. Adele Konyndyk joined The Voice of the Martyrs on Monday, taking on the newly created role of Staff Writer. Among her responsibilities, she will be assisting in researching and writing articles for our websites, printed publications, press releases, and The Persecution and Prayer Alert. In short, Adele will taking a big load off of my shoulders which will enable me to focus on the increasing teaching and leadership role that I am assuming here at VOMC. Adele is a graduate of Redeemer University and working on her Master's degree. I am eager to see Adele's input into our work here at The Voice of the Martyrs and look forward to reading her contributions to this weblog in the days to come.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/20/2006
The following column by David Warren appeared in the Sunday Spectator of the Ottawa Citizen on July 9, 2006 (http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/). It has to do with a motion before the General Synod of the Anglican Church in replace St. George with St. Albans as the patron saint of England because St. George is too "militaristic", too "foreign", and crucially, "potentially offensive to Muslims". Thanks to David for allowing us to reprint it here. I look forward to your comments.
Sad little England
A motion before General Synod in the Anglican Church has proposed elevating St Alban to patron of England. This is to get rid of St George, whom various Anglican clergy, starting with the pusillanimous vicar of St Matthew's in Westminster, now consider to be too "militaristic", too "foreign", and crucially, "potentially offensive to Muslims". A private members' bill in the British House of Commons may also advance this cause.
Poor St Alban in heaven, to be used in this way. He was the first British martyr -- a pagan of Verulamium (now St Alban's in Hertfordshire), converted by a priest he was sheltering during the persecution of Diocletian, around 305 A.D. When the Roman soldiers came to search his house, he put on the priest's cloak, and was himself martyred. (The priest was found and stoned a few days later.) He is thus a special symbol for English Catholics, so many of whom were martyred as priests, or sheltering priests, by the gauleiters of Queen Elizabeth I, thirteen centuries later. (The Anglicans incidentally celebrate his feast on the wrong day in June -- owing to a typo in an early edition of the Book of Common Prayer.)
I'm sure St Alban himself will don St George's armour, when the gauleiters of Political Correction arrive to despatch the latter.
The change would necessarily involve the replacement of England's flag, which is St George's red cross on white ground; and then the revision of the Union Jack of which it forms a part. St Alban's cross is a diagonal yellow on blue ground. Britain would thus come to be represented by a thin streak of yellow on the cross of St Andrew.
In the meantime, St George remains the patron not only of England, but of Venice, and other cities in Italy, of the old Kingdom of Aragon, and of all soldiers and armourers. He is the "great martyr" of Eastern Christendom, and one of the "auxiliaries" of the West (saints the praying through whom is especially efficacious). England's Order of the Garter was founded upon his patronage, and similar orders across Europe. He is not a "Little Englander".
The pedantic, early 20th century notion that St George never existed is itself now dismissed as quaint scholarship, on a level with Edward Gibbon's malicious association of him with the Arian heretic, George of Cappadocia. Today, we realize his existence was attested by multiple traditions, as a prominent martyr from Lydia in what is now Turkey, a little before the time of Constantine. It does not follow, from the fact we can no longer construct a detailed biography of the man, that he never lived. We can construct detailed biographies of no one from that place and time.
My reader will recall there were dragons in those days, and the lair of one was in a marsh near Selena in Lydia. It required human sacrifices. Cleodolinda, daughter of the king, drew the lot and was escorted to the marsh in bridal garments. St George, a tribune in the Roman army, happened to ride by. Making the sign of the Cross, he confronted the dragon. Pinning it to earth with his lance, he slew it with his sword. Having converted the Lydian king, and all witnesses, he then rode on to Palestine, where he died a martyr under the same Roman persecution that claimed St Alban.
This fanciful story from out of the Golden Legend (13th century) only adds to his mystique. But it was not part of the legend of St George, when he appeared before the Crusaders as a herald of victory. Or became an honoured and holy figure in Muslim legend, too, under the name Jirgis Baqiya.
Now, apologizing for the Crusades is a vogue among persons who lack both a spine, and historical knowledge. The Crusades were defining events in the development of Western Christendom, and therefore of what we now call the West. They represented the West's first success, in reclaiming Christian territory that had fallen to Islamic conquest. Territory in which, incidentally, Christians were then still in the majority, and living in a state of servitude. Prior to this, Christendom had been only on the defensive; and without the Crusades, almost certainly, we would all be Muslims today. It was the great break-out of a Europe that was surrounded and under siege.
It would be absurd for England to dispense with St George. It would make more sense for St George to dispense with England.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/20/2006
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Recent events in the Middle East have focused world attention on how governments (in this case, Israel) should appropriately respond to the threat of Islamic terrorism (although of course, most main stream media outlets will bend over backwards to avoid labeling Hamas and Hezbollah "terrorist organizations" even though that is exactly what they are!). In the light of this, today's Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin by the World Evangelical Alliance (of which The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is an Associate Member) is particularly helpful. It was written and researched by Elizabeth Kendal.
Terrorism Threatened Religious Liberty and Security
Islamists are striving to 'liberate' and 'reclaim' 'Islamic lands' previously under Islamic rule, such as the former Ottoman Empire. Furthermore they are campaigning both politically and militarily to expand Islamic territory to bring the world ultimately under Islamic domination. Their strategy involves ideological indoctrination, dawa (Islamic proselytism), jihad (Islamic holy war) and international as well as domestic Islamic terrorism. Islamic terrorism is one of the greatest threats to openness and religious liberty in the world today. Needless to say, not all Muslims are militant or Islamist. Whilst multitudes of Muslims do support the Islamist agenda, it is often only because the totalitarian Islamic regimes they live under secure their allegiance by removing their rights and liberties and imprisoning them in fear and ignorance. Moreover liberal and 'reformist' Muslims who genuinely promote secularism, peaceful co-existence, openness and religious liberty are regarded by fundamentalist Islamists as apostates and infidels, deserving of death.
Terrorism is a form of unconventional warfare using or threatening violence to generate fear, terror and hardship. Its ultimate aim is to achieve compliance with specific political, religious, ideological or personal demands. Its real target is not the victim of the terrorist act but the state or group to which that person belongs. Islamists employ terrorism when they know they cannot win politically or militarily, although sometimes it is purely for publicity or popularity. Through terrorism they aim to make resistance to Islamic demands politically or personally nsustainable. The act of terror triggers a battle of wills. There will be a winner and a loser - there can never be a tied result. Capitulating to terrorist demands may give temporary respite from terror but it actually delivers victory to the terrorists. Believing they have the group or state hostage or retreating, they are emboldened to simply move on to the next item on their agenda.
Islamic terrorism could not occur without ideological indoctrination (primarily through madrassahs and mosques), recruitment, military training, and logistics including funding and arming. Since the 1970s Saudi Arabia has been disseminating Wahhabist Islamic material through the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the West. This material is fundamentally Islamist: pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, and virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Christian. This has been a primary source worldwide of Wahhabist ideology and Islamic radicalisation. The Islamic Revolution in Iran (1979) further radicalised and militarised the Shiites, whilst the Afghan jihad against the Russians (ended 1992) did the same with the Sunnis. Altogether this has led to the weakening of Arab and Persian nationalism (which was largely secular and progressive in nature) and the global resurgence of militant Islamism.
All Christians who believe in the principle of religious liberty - that all people should be free to believe, practise their faith, and even change their religion (Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 18) - should pray that the ideology of militant Islamism will fail and that the path to jihad and terror will be disrupted at every level. May God frustrate the ways of the wicked (Psalm 146:9b).
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/19/2006
Monday, July 17, 2006
It had to come to this someday, I suppose. The Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada (CAIR-CAN) is challenging the Canadian government to ban Franklin Graham from entering the country in October on the basis of his critical statements concerning Islam. This comes on the heels of the obstacles that were put up by the government to prevent the visit of the controversial British Imam Riyad ul-Haq recently. Because ul-Haq was prevented access into the country because of hateful statements that he has made about Jews, Christians, and other minorities in his sermons, CAIR-CAN has decided that Franklin Graham should face similar obstacles. Otherwise, they claim, the Canadian government is being hypocritical.
What CAIR-CAN seems to fail to recognize is that Graham makes a distinction between Islam and Muslims; something ul-Haq does not do with Judaism and Jews or Christianity and Christians. Graham has gone on record as saying that while he believes that Islam is an evil religion that oppresses its own people and persecutes minorities who live under it, he is also careful to note that he does not believe that Muslims, themselves, are evil people. Nor does he call Muslims dogs, pigs, or monkeys, as ul-Haq is prone to label Jews and Christians. If ul-Haq and his ilk want to criticize Christianity, please let them feel free to do so but without having to resort to name-calling or slurs of Christians themselves. This also includes resisting calling Franklin Graham an Islamaphobe (as CAIR-CAN labels him) just because he dares to challenge Islamic belief and practice. Graham does not fear or hate Muslims; he does not like Islam. There is a difference, as any thinking person should realize.
To hate a belief system for its actions without hating its adherents is not inconsistent. Richard Wurmbrand also used to challenge us to hate Communism but not Communists. Did this make him a Communaphobe?
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/17/2006
Friday, July 14, 2006
In my opinion, the linking together of national politics and religious persecution is a deadly mix. I have heard repeatedly from friends that I have in the United States how President Bush is an ally in the fight for religious freedom in the world. Some organizations have, accordingly, tended to be very hesitant in criticizing the Bush administration for its unhelpful policies towards Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and China; countries that the US either considers allies or potentially beneficial to US interests.
Let me state for the record that I strongly believe that our support of religious liberty must transcend foreign policy and domestic politics if we are to faithful to God rather than Caesar. I cannot speak for our other offices of The Voice of the Martyrs, but allow me to make the following absolutely clear for The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada: our support of persecuted Christians or reporting of nations will not be influenced by the political winds and foreign policies of our government. We will not hesitate to criticize allies of Canada when and if we believe that their policies are harmful to religious liberty. We will not slant our reporting of persecution in countries which are not friendly to Canada or its allies to make it sound worse than what it is or to justify the military or trade actions of our country. We will not become a spokesman for our nation; we are the voice of the martyrs.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/14/2006
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Ever noticed how often what we say, even as Christians and what Jesus said are often so at odds. This is especially true as we consider the topic of persecution.
Isn't it ironic that whereas the early Christians expressed gratitude for the privilege of suffering for Christ, we often thank God for the privilege of not suffering for Him? We say that we are blessed for living in a country where we are not being persecuted. Yet, we fail to reconcile this with that Jesus said in Matthew 5 when He declared that blessed are those who are persecuted. It is the persecuted who gain the kingdom of heaven.
These latter words appear, of course, in Jesus' teaching of the disciples in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. He begins his teaching by listing characteristics that will be developed in His disciples - characteristics that society sees as weaknesses but which He says are signs of God's blessing, traits that people should be congratulated for possessing. When a man or woman accepts the demands of God's kingdom, having bowed before Jesus Christ and acknowledged Him as Lord, these characteristics begin to be developed. All true followers of Jesus possess them to a certain degree, and the call of Christ is to embrace them even deeper.
There is a call to exhibit these characteristics in the rest of the "sermon," but the Beatitudes are addressed to those who already are these things in some way. Jesus is speaking to those who have surrendered all by deciding to follow Him. In a sense one could say that these characteristics are the fruits of true repentance. All Christians are to be like these, not just mature or exceptional ones. These traits draw a line between those who are in the kingdom and those who are not.
Unfortunately, the Beatitudes are so familiar to many of us that I suspect they have lost their intended impact for many of us. We do not feel the sting that the early listeners must have felt when Jesus calls "blessed" those whom the world calls unfortunate or even cursed. He congratulates those whom the world would pity. He encourages attitudes and conduct that the world would discourage-the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.
Now, conceivably, we might be able to see positive aspects to each of these first seven attitudes. But in verse 10, Jesus calls "blessed" those whom I would suspect almost no one would consider blessed - those who suffer for doing what is right.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 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)
In order to gain Jesus' perspective on the blessedness of persecution, it is essential that we understand what He is teaching in this central passage. Five principles regarding persecution stand out from this passage:
1. The most basic, but not to be overlooked, principle is that this suffering is "on my account." It is for Christ's cause. Men and women suffer in His service, for the fulfillment of His purposes in the world, because of their allegiance to His priorities and standards. Ultimately, God's people do not suffer for their faith; they suffer for Him.
2. Jesus directs their attention to the fate of the prophets, God's messengers in past generations. He means to instruct the disciples that they, like Him, are in the line of the prophets, in that they are God's messengers to the world of their time. They have been chosen specifically for this purpose - to be sent to preach God's message given to them by Jesus, just as He was. After Jesus was killed, they would take His place and continue His ministry. In Matthew 16, Jesus will shock them with the assertion that in order to accomplish the purposes of God, it was necessary for Him and for all who follow after Him to take up crosses. Suffering, sacrifice, and rejection are the norm for those who truly serve as God's messengers. Christ's cross will provide the means of salvation; the disciple's cross will provide the means by which this salvation is taken to the world. Christ's cross is for propitiation; the disciple's cross is for propagation. Both crosses are needed if the message of the kingdom is to be taken into a world in rebellion to its Creator.
3. The disciples are not only to stoically accept the evil done to them by others, but they are to rejoice and be glad. Later in verses 39,44,45, they are instructed to love those who persecute them. As witnesses, their role was to bring the persecutors to God and to salvation. The persecuted are to be in service to those who cause them the suffering. Just as the Father gives light and rain to those who revile Him and refuse to love Him, so are His children to bring blessings to those who curse them, seeking the good for those who seek only to do them harm.
4. There are tremendous past, present, and future promises that the persecuted can lay hold of. In verse 10, persecuted disciples are assured that they are possessors of the kingdom of heaven, just as the "poor in spirit" were (verse 3). The parallel between the two is not accidental. The "poor in spirit" are those to whom the message of the gospel has been preached by the Servant of God (see Isaiah 61:1).
In turn, like the Servant, they have been rejected and despised because they have taken up the Servant's mission: to proclaim the gospel to all nations. They have therefore become possessors of the kingdom of heaven, partakers in a sovereignty ruled by God. This kingdom is already partially present, experienced in part by those who, by faith, have submitted to God's kingly rule over their lives. Its final culmination is still in the future and it is that which the disciples anticipate. In the present, however, they experience ridicule, persecution, and slander (verse 11), as they actively seek to bring others into the kingdom. The additional promise of verse 12 differs from those in the preceding Beatitudes in that it is much more complex. The promise to the persecuted in verse 12 is declared in two causal clauses. The first looks forward to the reward in heaven; the second looks back to the pattern of suffering experienced by the prophets in God's redemptive plan. Disciples are assured that that they will be rewarded in heaven for their service for God. There is hope of better things because of the coming kingdom of God. They are also assured, as we noted earlier, that suffering for the sake of the kingdom is not unusual; indeed, it is the experience of all of God's messengers. The persecuted stand in good company and can be assured that God is present in their ministry. Because of these future and past promises, they can rejoice in the present (verse 12).
5. Persecution will be inevitable. The language used here depicts a situation where persecution is the expected norm for those who choose to follow Him. Jesus wants His disciples to understand right from the start that the path of Christ is not always an easy one. It is the right path, however, even though the world will sometimes move beyond ridicule, misunderstanding, and denunciation to violent rejection - seeking not only to silence the message of the gospel, but to remove the very presence of the messenger.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/13/2006
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
(The following are excerpts from the feature article of the upcoming August 2006 edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter. To subscribe, go to http://www.persecution.net/newsletter.htm)
It was 1945. A pastor and his wife sat listening as one religious leader after another come forward to swear loyalty to the new regime at a national church conference called by the recently installed Communist government in Romania. Although they knew that the Communists had sworn to eradicate religion, the delegates publicly declared how happy they would be to cooperate with the government.
As the pastor's wife listened, she was shocked. Hadn't communism shown its true face in Russia? At least, she thought, these men could remain silent in their fear for their families, jobs and salaries. But this flattery was tantamount to spitting in Jesus' face!
She could tell that her husband was boiling inside. So, she turned to him and said, "Will you not wash this shame from the face of Christ?"
"If I speak, you will lose a husband," he replied.
"I don't need a coward for a husband," she answered.
And with Sabina's words ringing in his ears, Richard Wurmbrand advanced to the front of the auditorium and boldly testified to the truth of God's Word, calling the Romanian church to renewed faithfulness to her Lord. He became a marked man for having the courage to raise a voice against the prevailing attitude of compromise and accommodation that lured so many and proved so deadly for the church in Romania.
In the years that followed, both Richard and Sabina suffered terrible persecution for having the courage to remain true to Christ in a sea of godlessness (see Richard's story In God's Underground and Sabina's in The Pastor's Wife; both available for sale on www.persecution.net). When Pastor Wurmbrand was finally released from prison in 1964 in a general amnesty, the opportunity arose to leave when friends in the West offered to ransom the family for $10,000. The decision to leave Romania was difficult. Years earlier, after Richard's courageous speech in 1945, they had struggled with whether to flee the country at that time. They had decided to stay and never regretted that decision, even though it cost them dearly. Twenty years later, they faced that decision again.
In his book, Tortured for Christ, Richard writes, "I would not have left Romania, despite the dangers, if the leaders of the Underground Church had not commanded me to use this opportunity to leave the country, to be the ‘voice' of the Underground Church to the free world. They wished me to speak to you of the Western world on their behalf about their sufferings and needs. I came to the West, but my heart remained with them. I would never have left Romania if I had not understood the great necessity for you to hear of the sufferings and the courageous work of the Underground Church, but this is my mission."
And Richard Wurmbrand did speak! Despite the Communist threats and the criticism of some Western church leaders, he bore witness to the sufferings of those who endured a Communist hell and spoke of their overcoming faith.
Within his first year in the United States, Pastor Wurmbrand was detained twice for "disrupting" pro-Communist rallies. He was called to testify before the Senate, stripping to the waist to reveal the scars of eighteen embedded wounds from the frequent tortures. Some Christian leaders called him a lunatic; one who had lost his mind in the confines of a solitary prison cell. To others he became the "Iron Curtain Paul" or the "Voice of the Underground Church." A reporter with the Philadelphia Herald said of Wurmbrand, "He stood in the midst of lions, but they could not devour him."
In October 1967, with $100, an old typewriter, and 500 names and addresses, Richard Wurmbrand published the first issue of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter. This small publication was dedicated to communicating the testimonies and trials facing our brothers and sisters in restricted nations worldwide.
This newsletter was like no other. Readers would write to the Wurmbrands appalled at the atrocities he described. "How could this be true?" they asked. Others said the newsletter gave them nightmares and asked not to receive it. But those who looked beyond the sufferings and tortures saw a beauty - a beauty in the hearts of men, women, and even children who refused to renounce Christ. Readers also witnessed a living faith that enabled men like Pastor Wurmbrand to "kiss the bars" of their prison cell, to rejoice in the fellowship of Christ's suffering.
Yes, it was important to the Wurmbrands that Christians in West provide assistance to their persecuted brothers and sisters. Bibles, Christian literature, funds to help the families of martyrs or those whose father and/or mother was in prison for their faith, and radio broadcasts with solid biblical teaching for those cut off from such spiritual nourishment were the major projects in the early days of The Voice of the Martyrs.
Just as Richard Wurmbrand left Romania at the command of underground church leaders to be their voice, The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is continuing to fulfill this command of the Persecuted Church as we share their stories in our monthly newsletter, in books, on the Internet or through television and radio. Some think that monies spend in this way are "administrative" expenses or not real ministry to the persecuted. They want all of their donations to go strictly to overseas projects. Of course, we honour such requests, each and every time. We are also thankful to the many of you who faithfully support our ministry through gifts to our Raising a Voice Fund or by making undesignated gifts. While most of the donations received by our mission do, indeed, go to supporting our ministries outside of Canada, your donations also help us to fulfill the cry of the persecuted and the biblical mandate to defend the defenseless and speak for those who suffer in silence. What some call "administrative expenses", persecuted Christians call ministry.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/11/2006
Monday, July 10, 2006
Watching the World Cup final on Sunday, I could not help but be disappointed and saddened to see Zinedine Zidane's departure from professional football marred by his expulsion from the game for headbutting Italy's Marco Materazzi in the final minutes of the match. It was an ugly departure for one of the world's finest players but who demonstrated that he could not control his temper as skillfully as he could control the ball. I am sure that this is not how he wanted to finish his illustrious career.
It is a sad fact that one's success is often judged by how one finishes. Faithful service over many years can be tarnished when one fails to finish well. I recall a youth pastor I once served with whose ministry had been outstanding for a number of years. For reasons I still do not understand, however, he had accumulated some unresolved grievances during his tenure and during his last few months, he felt free to express them in a way that made me wish that he has resigned months earlier. I wish he could have finished as well as he had served.
In more recent years, I have witnessed this tendency in a number of other situations involving friends and colleagues, where restraints that had upheld godly character in place for years of faithful service seemed to come unraveled at the end. And I have been repeatedly been reminded of Paul's final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8:
"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing."
The phrase "I am already being poured out as a drink offering" is rich imagery. It is reference to the Old Testament sacrificial system where wine was poured in the altar (Numbers 15:5,7,10; 28:7) presented daily (Exodus 29:40), on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9), and on feast-days (28:14). In Numbers 6:16,17, we see the drink offering as part of the peace and grain offerings which were voluntary acts of worship, expressing one's gratitude to God for His goodness and for the fellowship that the worshipper enjoyed with God after having dealt with sin through the sin offering or trespass offering and committing himself completely to God through the burnt offering.
In the Jewish worship prior to the destruction of the temple, the worshipper would lay his hand on the sacrificial lamb he had brought to the tabernacle or temple, confessing his sins. He would witness the lamb slain, and the blood sprinkled over and around the altar. Then he would see the animal skinned and its body cut in pieces, placed on the altar and consumed in the fire of God's wrath. In response to this atoning sacrifice, by which he was assured of his acceptance with the Lord (Leviticus 1), he then would offer a grain offering (Leviticus 2) as symbolic of his whole devotion to the reconciled God who had atoned for his sins. Then, in the drink offering he would lift up a cup of wine and pour it out over the ashes of the lamb and the grain, to express his hearty concurrence with all that he had seen and offered, as he witnessed, by faith, what had transacted between the Lord and him-his heart poured out in gratitude to God's glory of all mercy, love, and forgiveness.
It is this joyous sense that we find in Paul as he finishes his life (and in Philippians 2:17,18). God has used him to proclaim the message of reconciliation between God and man, made possible by the sacrificial death of His Son. He has lived out his life as an act of sacrifice before God of commitment in response to that sacrificial death and now, at the end of his life, Paul sees his martyrdom as the drink offering being poured out as a final act of worship. Then, like the worshipper at the tabernacle/temple, he would depart. His service of worship will have concluded well.
To come to the end of your life knowing that you have accomplished the task that God had called you to do is what all of God's servants should strive toward. To know that you have lived your life as a sacrifice to God, giving life to others in the process-surely this is the kind of life that will receive the rewards of heaven. What a contrast to the all-too-common sentiment expressed by many at the end of their lives: "If only I had had more time. If only I had done more for God. If only my life could have counted for more. If only I could live my life again, I would do it differently. If only..."
This is not Paul's sentiment, however, as he switches metaphors in verse 7 to that of a fight and a race. He says that he has fought a good fight and finished the race. He is now ready to receive his reward.
But lest we begin to think that Paul somehow deserves the accolades and praise for his ministry to the Lord, he is careful to point out that all that he has accomplished is done by the Lord. It is His work, and to Him alone belongs all the glory. As he looks ahead to his "homecoming" he knows that it is God who has delivered him and will bring him safely to his destination (4:17,18). Therefore to Him goes all of the glory (4:19).
Posted by Glenn Penner at 7/10/2006