Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Praying For a Revelation in North Korea (PRNK)

prnk In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Paul gives instructions that "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." The Voice of the Martyrs has committed to pray for the political leadership, and especially for Premier Kim Jong Il, of North Korea throughout 2008. We have developed a special kit designed to assist you in joining us in this worthwhile ministry. Join us in praying for a revelation of God in North Korea in 2008 by asking for our free PRNK kit today! Call us at 905.670.9721 or you can download it here.

You can find out more about this initiative by The Voice of the Martyrs to pray for leaders in persecuting countries by subscribing to The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter. The February edition will focus on praying for the leaders of North Korea, China, and Eritrea. Click here to subscribe today.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

God Knows Their Names. Do We?

name A few years ago, archaeologists in Jerusalem unearthed a communal burial tomb dating back to the 7th century. It was discovered to be the tomb of a number of Christians who had been among thousands of Jerusalem Christians who had been slaughtered when the Sassanid Persians conquered the city in AD 614. In front of the tomb, a chapel had been built and inscribed on the chapel’s floor were the words, “God knows their names.”

It was the evening of June 19, 2000 when warriors with an Islamic group, Laskar Jihad, descended on the quiet little Christian village of Duma on the Indonesian island of Halmahera under the cover of darkness armed with high-powered weapons. Before the night was through, 155 defenceless men, women and children were ruthlessly butchered.

A few days after the massacre, I received a list of those slain. Each of the slain was assigned a number, followed by their name. Among the dead was Alfons Leledana, a teacher and the village head, Ekliopas Sumtaki. Husbands and wives were killed together. Others died alone. Some of their bodies were so badly mutilated that a positive identification was impossible. Their entry on the list reads depressingly, “A child (no other details)”; “a women (no other details). Some are lumped together as a group and simply given a number to identify them: “49,50,51,52,53,54,55 Females (no other details).”

Their names were unknown and cannot be remembered. We do not know who they are. But God knows their names.

From the early days of the church it became the practice to deliberately remember those who had made the ultimate sacrifice for Christ. To remember those whose testimony for Christ

As early as AD 250, the early church father Cyprian encouraged the churches to set aside the day in which a martyr was killed to remember his/her courage and to thank God for his/her faithful witness. This is still the practice among some liturgical churches, although even there, they typically only remember those who have been killed several centuries ago.

Songs were to be sung in their memory. They kept careful records of their last words in order to build up the faith of the rest of the church. They made sure that others knew how God had sustained them to the end.

The early church knew that God knew the names of the martyrs but they wanted to be sure that the church knew as well.

Throughout the centuries, this respect for those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice continued. The early church historian Eusebius carefully documented the names and events of the martyrs during the first three centuries of the church as a testament to the gracious act of God in sustaining his people. To remember the martyrs was a means of expressing one’s gratitude and praise to God for the great things that He had done.

In later years, John Foxe wrote his Book of Martyrs for the same reason. Eventually there came a time in the English speaking world that a home was not considered to be Christian unless it openly displayed a Bible and copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It was read in schools and commonly referred to from the pulpit.

Amoung the Anabaptists, the book Martyrs Mirror gained a similar degree of respect, recounting the courageous faith of those who were willing to die rather than disobey their conscience before God.

We named church buildings, hospitals, colleges and universities after them.

And the church, we KNEW their names. We told their stories to our children. And we knew that persecution was part of what it meant to be a follower of Christ.

But somewhere it changed.

I don’t know when. I don’t know why.

But something changed. And while the persecution of Christians not only continued but actually increased, the attitude of the church shifted from honouring the names of the martyrs to relegating martyrdom and persecution to the dusty shelves of history.

We stopped telling their stories. We stopped recording their testimonies. We no longer cared what their last words were.

Their voices grew silent. We stopped listening. And the sacrifices went unnoticed. The dates of their martyrdom went unmarked.

Their names went beyond being forgotten. In most cases, we never actually heard their names in the first place.

God knew their names, but we no longer did.

And we did not even know that we did not know their names.

In the past several years, in more than forty nations worldwide, untold numbers of Christians were martyred because of their identity or witness as a follower of Jesus Christ. They come from every theological background. Some are church leaders and evangelists. Most are ordinary men, women and children whose only crime was their faith in Christ. And despite living in a day when email, the Internet, and satellite telephones can provide us with up-to-date information on incidents of persecution within days (and even hours) after the event, few Canadian Christians could provide the name of even one of them. Even fewer seem to think that they need to do something on their behalf.

And whereas the early church thanked God for the privilege of suffering for Him, we thank God for the privilege of not suffering for Him. Whereas Jesus said, “Blessed are the persecuted,” we say, “Blessed are we who are not persecuted.”

When the founder of The Voice of the Martyrs was first imprisoned by the communists in Romania on February 29, 1948, he was locked in a solitary cell and stripped of his name. No longer was he to be publicly called “Richard Wurmbrand.” Instead, he was assigned a new name "Vasili Georgescu" so that no one would know who he was. In effect, Richard Wurmbrand vanished without a trace. The hope was that people would eventually forget who he was.

Satan’s strategy has remained unchanged. It is still his desire to keep the names of God’s persecuted children a secret. He rejoices when they suffer alone, forgotten, unprayed for, and uncared for.

This is our calling - to confound the strategy of the enemy by ensuring that they are not.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

No Thanks, Rambo

rambo Apparently those of us who work with persecuted Christians have a new ally. Wait for it…Rambo.

In the latest and most violent of his onscreen adventures, John Rambo, living in northern Thailand and running a longboat business on the Salween River, is approached by a group of Christian human rights missionaries requiring transportation for delivering humanitarian aid to the persecuted Karen people in Burma. This he reluctantly does. Less than two weeks later, the minister in charge of the mission finds Rambo and tells him that the aid workers have not returned and the embassies have not helped locate them. He tells Rambo that he has mortgaged his home and raised money from his congregation to hire mercenaries to rescue the missionaries, who are being held captive by the brutal Burmese army. Rambo is grudgingly convinced by his mentor to take on the mission, despite his having turned from his prior violent life. What follows is the most violent Rambo film yet, as Rambo shots and stabs the missionaries to freedom.

I sincerely hope that no one (and least of all those who persecute Christians) believes that any reputable Christian mission organization would ever engage in such actions. For the record, The Voice of the Martyrs would never condone, much less instigate, vigilante violence to rescue any of our staff should they be taken hostage by a foreign government. We are not even prepared to pay ransom demands. The call of Jesus to turn the other cheek is specifically applicable to such situations.

While I am intrigued that Hollywood has discovered persecution and organizations whose staff risk their own safety and sometimes even their lives to serve those who suffer from it, I am not nearly so pleased with how Hollywood thinks we should deal with those who instigate it. Better to follow some of the suggestions we bring up in the February edition of our newsletter which focuses on how we should respond to persecutors. The call is to take up the weapons of prayer and the pen, not the bullet and the Bowie knife.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sending in the Clowns

clowns Researchers from the University of Sheffield recently polled 250 patients aged between four and 16 for ideas how to improve the decor of hospital children's wards. What they discovered surprised them (but not those of us who have had kids in the hospital).

Kids hate clowns! All 250 patients who were quizzed indicated that they disliked the use of clowns in the hospital. Even the older ones found them scary.

Commenting on the study to Reuters, Penny Curtis, a senior lecturer in research at the university said, "As adults we make assumptions about what works for children.”

Exactly! How often don’t we make assumptions for others based on our own presuppositions, values, likes and dislikes. This even happens in ministry to the persecuted. Western ministries cut funding to programs that persecuted Christians find valuable because the national Christians don't want to use material published by the supporting organization.  Other programs are started that have little or no local support because these are the kinds of programs that the western supporting ministry or its leaders are particularly fond of or easier to raise money for.

One of the values of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is that of respect; serving the Persecuted Church according to their wishes, aspirations, and needs, and not according to our own predetermined strategies. I won’t pretend that this is something that is easy to maintain; we all have preferences, strategies that have worked elsewhere, and it takes discipline not to push these on national believers, even gently, in our planning of projects. It is only later that we learn that some of our well-intentioned projects were really clowns.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Sword and the Cross: Mary, Jesus, and the Family of God

One of the more difficult aspects of following Christ is the demand that it puts upon your family. I am not speaking of just the time involved, although it does include that. But specifically, I refer to the division that Christ brings to families. It is an aspect of Christian discipleship that many find offensive.

I was reminded of this while reading Mary for Evangelicals by Tim Perry. Perry rightfully points out that in each of the Gospels, Jesus’ definition of the family was radically different from that of His (and our) society. For Jesus, family was not so much a matter of biology but discipleship (cf. Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21; John 19:25-27). He knew that His mission and role would sever even the closest relationship in the human family – that of mother and child. Even Mary struggled with this. In Mark 3:20-21, she seeks to restrain Jesus, believing Him to be out of His mind. While her actions are undoubtedly well-intentioned, they how easily the call to follow Jesus may be missed and how divisive it can be for the family. In Luke’s gospel we learn that Mary’s faith in Jesus was not one of pious acceptance but one born out of struggle, thought and doubt. In Luke 2:34-35 we read how “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Generally commentators come to one of two conclusions concerning the sword that will pierce Mary’s heart: 1) it refers to the suffering she endures as she witnesses the rejection and death of her son, or 2) it refers to the difficult, divisive decision that she will need to make in her own life as to whether she will embrace her son’s message and mission or will she insist on seeing him primarily as her son. Mary, like the rest of Israel, will wrestle with accepting her son’s mission (Luke 2:41-50; 8:19-21). It seems to me that the second interpretation is more likely. Mary must learn that her association with Jesus cannot be based on physical kinship but on accomplishing the will of God.

Recently some missiologists have suggested that perhaps we need to rethink what it means to follow Christ so as to minimize the impact that it has on such institutions like the family. Some call it “churchless Christianity.” The thought is that perhaps believers in other religious contexts such as Islam or Hinduism need not separate themselves from those contexts but can remain in them as private believers, thereby preserving themselves from any kind of harm. This would perhaps keep doors open for private witnessing. The converts are never baptized, never make a public declaration of their faith, and never become part of a church.

This is crossless Christianity and must be identified as such. It has no support in the biblical record. It contradicts the words and actions of Jesus and His apostles. Following Christ has a cost. It always has and it always will. True Christianity is always lived out in the shadow of the cross and the sword. Like Mary, we may wrestle with the cost of following Jesus but we cannot avoid it and still call ourselves a follower of Jesus.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

In Defense of Theologians

books The following is an adaptation of a message that I gave at a chapel service in 2006 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma to the staff of The Voice of the Martyrs (United States). It is a message that I think remains pertinent to each of VOMC’s sister missions and, indeed, to any organization that ministers to the persecuted church worldwide.


In 2 Timothy 2:8-16 we read,

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself. Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness."

In the midst of his suffering and persecution, Paul is concerned that God's people who were also suffering persecution elsewhere would understand that God's Word was not bound, even though he was. He was concerned that they would receive teaching that would equip them to stand firm, to endure and to remain faithful. These things, Timothy was to remind them about. There were many things that God's people could talk about, but Paul was concerned that they talk about the things that were found in God's Word and that Timothy handle this Word with skill. The need for sound doctrine, theology (may we say) was critical to Paul's understanding of how to serve the Persecuted Church. We should remember that most of his letters were written while he was in prison to those who were suffering for their faith. Theology, doctrine; this was what Paul saw as a priority. In the face of persecution, God's people needed to be reminded of God's Words, the Bread of Life.

Richard Wurmbrand was right when he chastised colleges and seminaries for not teaching what he would call "sufferology." But as missions, we didn’t pick this up much until recent years when we and the US mission became involved in a program with Oklahoma Wesleyan University in a prototype program.

I think we need to continue to expand this, not just in schools and colleges here in the West, but also amoung the persecuted themselves and even in our own missions. I believe that it is time that we begin to think and act theologically and in this way, fulfill even more effectively Richard Wurmbrand's vision but even more importantly, the admonition and example of the Apostle Paul.

In recent years an environment has been created at the Canadian mission that has encouraged us to think creatively and to study and then to seek to model our ministry accordingly, all the while seeking to stay faithful to the vision of Richard Wurmbrand and the purposes that govern both of our mission. As we look ahead to the next few years, I am committed to making sure that we retain this distinction of seeking to let our theology impact our practice in significant ways.

As many of you know, in 2005, we published my book, In the Shadow of the Cross: A Biblical Theology of Persecution and Discipleship. I am grateful for the reception that it has received. Presently, it has been translated into Chinese, Ukrainian, Sinhalese, Tamil, Dutch, Spanish, Russian and Farsi and is being translated into Turkish, Tigrinya, and German. I praise the Lord for that but I better than anyone know how much more work needs to be done on this subject.

Being labelled a theologian is not a title something that many are prepared to have given to them or which they take upon themselves. But when one writes a theology, as I have, then it stands to reason that one is, therefore, a theologian.

Actually, being called a theologian really doesn’t bother me. I have always loved the study of God's Word and theology and so I feel honoured to bear that name.

It saddens me, however, that it seems that theology and theologians have become a favourite whipping post for two different groups.

First of all, there are those who cry out for spiritual renewal. It is not uncommon for them to cry out that the key to genuine spiritual renewal is to free ourselves from Pharisaical preoccupation with theology. Interesting how theologians, in the minds of some, have become synonymous with the New Testament Pharisees, despite the fact that the Pharisees were a lay renewal movement within Judaism and not an intellectual elite at all. When and why, I wonder, did intellectual skill become incompatible with spiritual fervour in the minds of so many?

Increasingly in western societies, uncertainty has been confused with humility and conviction with arrogance. To be dogmatic is thought to be closed-minded, despite the scriptural admonitions to be certain of what one believes in and to proclaim and teach the truth without fear.

I witnessed this during a plenary session in early 2005 during a congress of church leaders in the Bahamas that I was privileged to attend as a representative for the World Evangelical Alliance. At the time, I was the chairman of the Religious Liberty Commission for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and VOMC had recently become a member of the WEA. I was asked if I would represent the WEA at this gathering of church leaders from across the Caribbean. Besides, February is a great time to escape from winter in Toronto!

It was quite a gathering. I was struck by the quality of the leadership. Yet, despite the fact that many of the plenary and workshop speakers were obviously well-educated key leaders in the Caribbean and worldwide, I sat through an evening session where the key note speaker, a popular evangelist, repeatedly mocked and criticized "theologians" throughout his speech, to the loud cheers of the audience. This bombastic fellow strutted about the stage feeling obviously superior to those "theologians" whom he accused of having a deadening effect on the spiritual devotion of the Caribbean church. Repeatedly he proposed that God was likely to wipe out all of the theologies of the theologians with a single word. "Are you ready for that?" he cried out.

To which I answered "NO" because I am convinced that this fellow is sadly mistaken. What he is seemingly unappreciative of, is the great debt that he and the rest of the Church owe those who have a specific call and skill in theology. Had it not been for theologians, the defence of the faith throughout church history in the face of heresy and schism would have been impossible. In the early church, the role of the apologist was to defend Christians from the accusations and persecution of their society.

The role of the theologian was to defend the faith from the dangers of false teaching and to provide a biblical basis from which to build a foundation for what was appropriate Christian practice and what was not.

It was recognized and appreciated that not all believers were equally skilled in this task. But throughout history, God has raised up those who are able to proclaim and defend the fundamentals of the faith that His people were prepared to give their lives for. This task was particularly necessary during and following times of persecution when teaching of doctrine was difficult and false teaching tended to arise and unbiblical practice would begin to take root. It still is the case today. The role of the theologian is imperative.

But for some time a Gnostic division seems to have taken hold in certain segments of evangelical Christianity (particularly amoung those calling out for renewed vibrancy of faith) between spirit and body, spiritual and intellectual. I am sympathetic to the call for such vibrancy. But I disagree that it must, of necessity, be at the expense of intellectual excellence. Can we not have both? Can we not have Christians with full hearts and full heads?

What we need today, in my opinion, are not fewer theologians but more of them. What we do not need are those who feel compelled to make theological innovations, for it is not the role of the theologian to innovate but to make clear what the church has historically taught under the ultimate authority of Scripture.

Contemporary Methodist theologian Thomas Oden once dreamt that he accidentally stumbled on his own tombstone in a New England cemetery. Its epitaph read: "He made no new contribution to theology." Oden woke up feeling deeply reassured, because he had been impacted to follow the mandate of the early church father Irenaeus: to not invent new doctrine, despite his training to be innovative.

I received this same training. It reflects the spirit of our age and culture; a spirit that seeks the new, the innovative, the unique and despises the old, familiar and traditional.

We need to learn again the value to hearing the voice of the Church throughout the ages, which is why I have been thankful for VOMC's continued emphasis on church history. But we need to be sure that we are not only past-oriented in belief, but also that we do not forget how the examples of the apostles (and Paul in particular) are to be models for us to follow in practice, in how we carry out ministry. How we minister is every bit as important as what we believe.

That brings me to the second group who have tended to despise theologians; ministry practitioners who believe that theologians are too “other-worldly” to have their feet solidly on the ground and able to give direction for not only what we ought to believe but how we ought to carry out our ministry. This is a tragic mistake, with the result that, once again, a Gnostic worldview takes hold; a situation where what we believe personally can be biblical based, but how we tend to operate our ministries is quite separate from biblical principles. We fail to see how we must not only be biblically orthodox in belief but also in practice.

For example, I firmly believe that we as ministries should be looking very carefully at how Paul and the early church ministered to their persecuted brothers and sisters. We might be in for a few surprises. As I study this, I find that I am having some of my preconceptions challenged as to what might be appropriate and what might not. We must especially resist the tendency to allow the pragmatics of what will be popular with our donors have the determining vote as to how we will serve the persecuted. What is true must be more important than what works or what “sells” if we are truly committed to being biblically based in all aspects of our ministry.

I believe that our missions need more theologians who have their hearts and heads firmly in the Word of God and whose feet and hands are actively seeking to serve the persecuted church.

We need theologians who can proclaim the truth of God in such a way that men and women in America and Canada fall in love with Him all over again and dedicate themselves to fulfilling His purposes for the world.

We need theologians who can help our persecuted brothers and sisters know how to respond to persecution in a biblical fashion; to know what the Bible says about persecution in its entirety. Again, my I remind you that much of the Bible was written by persecuted people to persecuted people. It is written to give us a revelation of how we are to live and minister in a hostile world as we seek to carry out God’s will of restoring creation to fellowship with its Creator. My book itself, started as a response to church leaders in Colombia begging me to teach them what the Bible taught about persecution. I found that, despite all of my training and education, I really didn’t know.

Unfortunately, the Western domination in much of the world in theological and biblical studies and published literature has only magnified and propagated the North American misunderstanding or neglect of the scriptural link between persecution and discipleship. This has become increasingly clear to me as I meet with church leaders in societies in South America, Africa, and Asia, where persecution is the norm. Like their western counterparts, they often evidence a tragic lack of understanding of the scriptural teachings on the subject. When they looked to me to supply such answers, I found that I did not have them earlier in my ministry. We have no excuse for not knowing now and we are obliged to put these biblical tools in the hands of our brothers and sisters and to model what it means to be a sacrificial, cross-carrying follower of Jesus Christ.

May I urge you, as a mission, to make this a higher priority; to seek to hire and train staff who not only know how to raise funds and manage projects but who are trained to think theologically and who can help us all to more effectively serve our persecuted family around the world in a way that the gospel will go out even more effectively as we see the Day of the Lord's return hastening.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Personal Plug for “The Christians”

v_2-5 As a lover and teacher of church history, I want to tell you about a project that I support very much. It is the project begun several years ago called “The Christians.” It is a unique series of twelve projected volumes covering the span of church history from the first century to the present. The first six books were completed in 2004 before the company that was publishing it went insolvent. Since then, the Society to Explore and Record Christian History (SEARCH) was organized by Ted Byfield, general editor of the book series with the goal of completing the series by 2010. It is also preparing a movie and television version of the series.

Each volume is hardbound, measures 9 x 12 inches, and is lavishly illustrated with original, commissioned artwork, photos, and maps throughout. The research is impeccable, researched, written and edited by academics and journalists from diverse Christian backgrounds. This is truly a unique series; one that should be in any Christian’s home and every church leader’s library.

I bought the first six volumes as soon as they were published and I was excited to learn last year that the project had been revived after its apparent demise. I am committed to buying the last six books when they, too, become available.

Go to and take a look for yourself.  Buy the first book and see if it is not one of the finest books you have ever owned. By the way, there is no benefit to me or to The Voice of the Martyrs for this “plug”. I just really believe in this series of books and sincerely look in hope to its completion.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Paradigm for Church-State Relations

domitian2 One of the great debates in Christian circles is how Christians are to respond to the State. The problem is that the New Testament, itself, seems inconsistent in its approach. There are times when the authors teach that Christians should support and obey the government fully as a servant of God. There are other times when the government is viewed with caution and believers are told to watch out. A third response is seen most clearly in the book of Revelation where the government is viewed as an enemy of God and His people and believers refuse to submit. This leads to confusion not only in free countries but in restricted ones, with resulting accusations of compromise or rebellion hurled at other believers who take a different approach.

The fact is, as Walter E. Pilgrim points out in his excellent book, Uneasy Neighbors: Church and State in the New Testament, there is no simple biblical rule of thumb that will provide an answer for all circumstances. The Christian’s response to the State depends upon one’s evaluation of the degree to which the government is fulfilling its divine mandate to serve the public good, providing justice and peace to its citizens. There are times when the Christian says “Yes” to good government, times to say “look out,” and times when “No!” must be said loud and fearlessly. All three responses are rooted in the New Testament.

Pilgrim suggested a paradigm for how Christians can respond to the State that I think is extremely helpful. The following are excerpts taken from pages 193-204 of his book. He develops these three responses (critical-constructive, critical-transformative, critically resistive) in the rest of the book but for the sake of summary, I hope that you will find this helpful and perhaps peak your interest in further study:

1. “A critical-constructive stance is appropriate when the powers that be are attempting to achieve justice.”

This stance coheres well with the ethic of subordination to the state. It affirms the divine will for governments to enhance the public good, preserve justice, and maintain peace and order. When the church perceives that the political powers are essentially on the side of justice, it will accordingly respond with loyalty and support. In fact, the church will encourage and assist the state to do its beneficial work and to do it to the best of its ability.

This is not a call to perfection or full justice on the part of the state. The New Testament tradition of loyalty and obedience to the powers that be did not require a superior or impossible standard of justice (or even Christian rulers or Christian nations!). In fact, the call to obey was present in times of acute suffering. But behind the Christian ethic of subordination lay the conviction that the emperor and his representatives are God's instruments to promote peace and justice and to prevent civil chaos and disorder. When this intention is missing or flagrantly violated or the state turns deliberately against the church and the public good, however, then the church has no option but to adopt a strategy to resist those in authority….

2. “A critical-transformative stance when authority errs, but can be realistically moved to salutary change.”

This stance finds its closest counterpart in the ethic of critical distancing from the state, present especially in the Gospels. Like the critical-constructive view, it still regards the political powers as necessary earthly institutions and as representative of the divine will. There is no call to oppose the authorities per se nor a wholesale rejection of their social and political status.

Jesus' own prophetlike ministry...can be viewed as a putting-into-practice of the critical-transformative stance toward those in power. Toward the religious establishment, the preservers of the "sacred tradition;' he called for repentance in light of the coming kingdom; he challenged the "politics of holiness" based on exclusivism and welcomed the unrighteous and sinners; he took the side of the poor and marginalized and announced God's reversal of status in the coming kingdom; his entry provoked the priestly elite to confront his message before it was too late; his cleansing of the Temple symbolized its systemic corruption and imminent destruction. Toward the political establishment, Jesus felt free to oppose his own ruler, Herod Antipas, as well as the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

Did Jesus expect to transform the religious and political authorities? According to the Gospels, he worked and prayed for their renewal, yet finally came to realize his voice would not be heard (Mark 14:25; Luke 19:41-44; 13:34-35). The chain of events from arrest to crucifixion demonstrates that prophetic protest may result in suffering and persecution. The passion history itself vividly illustrates the problem of trying to transform religious and political institutions. And the crucifixion stands as a potent symbol of political authority abusing its power and stubbornly refusing to change, in spite of knowing it has committed a grave injustice. Yet the Gospels picture Jesus willing to stay the course for the greater cause of the kingdom. And he does so without a call to his followers to take up the sword or overthrow those who misuse their political status, unlike the leaders of the other resistance movements in Palestine….

3. "A critically resistive stance when the powers are responsible for demonic injustice or idolatry and refuse to be responsible to change."

This position agrees most fully with the ethic of resistance toward the state found most clearly in the book of Revelation. Governments can become demonic and idolatrous, opposed to God and the church. And they can become perpetrators of systemic injustice and so fundamentally hostile to the civic welfare.

When the church understands this to be the case, it has no choice but to stand in opposition to the political powers. In these moments the church needs to take a bold stance against the idolatrous ideologies and their propaganda, refuse to compromise on essentials, and do battle against the core injustices. And if the governments refuse to change, Christians will find themselves seeking to remove them from power.

This stance obviously takes courage and wisdom and trust in God. It marks the Christian community as a perceived "enemy of the state" and therefore subject to isolation and hostility and various kinds of suffering and persecution. It requires a willingness on the part of individual Christians and the church to accept the consequences of their resistance, whatever that may be, in the confidence they act out of prior obedience to God. Does the church in fact become an enemy of the state when it opposes radically unjust and totalitarian governments? To put it another way, can such governments forfeit their role as divinely willed instruments for good?

Some interpreters think not…. But the author of Revelation never calls idolatrous Rome a "servant of God," even if rebellious. Indeed, the seer believed that Rome had forfeited its right to rule. Hence for Revelation, particular governments do function outside of the divine mandate. Yet even Rome and all such evil empires are subject to God, who will end their rule in God's good time. One can say, therefore, that while Christians are not enemies of the state per se, they may and do resist particular governments who are incorrigibly corrupt and idolatrous….

It seems to me that these three responses also provide a helpful guide in assisting to determine advocacy strategies with governments. Organizations argue whether to use a “carrot” or a “stick” with governments like China or Sudan. Should we organize public protests, boycotts, writing campaigns and the like or should we seek diplomatic solutions, constructive engagement, or investment in restrictive countries as a means of promoting greater rights. Realizing that there is more than one biblical way to deal with governments may help us to determine which means is appropriate in a given situation with a specific government. There is no one way that always works in all circumstances.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

So What Are You Reading in January?

read Last month, I gave a bit of a report on some of the books I was reading at the time and my initial impression on them. I am planning on doing this monthly if, for no other reason, to keep me on track in keeping on top of the learning curve. I find that when I stop reading, I stop growing.

Presently, I am plugging through the following:

I am still reading Born for Battle which I mentioned last month. As I am only reading a chapter a day, it has taken a while, but it has sure been worth it. I will be done in about a week. We will be selling this book here at The Voice of the Martyrs once our supply comes in from OMF.

Over Christmas, I read God and Government by Charles Colson. This is an update and expansion of his earlier work, Kingdoms in Conflict. A very valuable read, especially in light of the ongoing primary elections in the U.S. I learned a lot, particularly in regards to the dangers of churches speaking to political issues. Most valuable was a quote from Rene de Visme Williamson:

In order to avoid the pitfalls of social activism, the church must deal with matters of principle where the principle is very clear….There are controversial issues in which the principle is unmistakable and the command of the hour comes through loud and clear. On these issues the church must make pronouncements....

But there are other general issues in which facts and motives are mixed, consequences contradict the principles involved and equally dedicated and knowledgeable Christians disagree. In these cases the church should remain silent, letting individual Christians and Christian groups decide for themselves what Christian witness means. . . . For the church to sponsor a political party, engage in lobbying, form coalitions with secular pressure groups and become entangled in the decisions of private business corporations, would be to take a position on precisely those issues in which the religious significance is unclear, ambiguous or non-existent.

While other books are probably more helpful in understanding the relation between the Christian and the State from a biblical basis, Colson does provide a fairly balanced view, especially in regards to the Christian’s individual involvement in politics. He encourages it, but within limits. In particular he points out that we ought not to vote for a candidate primarily on the basis of his commitment to Christ. As Luther said, “I would rather be ruled by a competent Turk (i.e. Muslim) than an incompetent Christian.”

I just started reading Tim Perry’s Mary for Evangelicals. I have never read a book on Mary before and am looking forward to seeing Perry’s conclusions. From what I have read to this point, his thoughts are helpful and biblically sound, if a little disconcerting from time to time for this raised-from-cradle evangelical Protestant. I am reading on this subject because I see the need to include something about Mary in my revision of the theology of persecution that I published a few years ago.

I am also reading On the Side of the Angels by Joseph D’Souza and Benedict Rogers. This book’s premise is that fighting for human rights and justice is part of the Kingdom mission. As I paged through the book when I first got it, I wasn’t sure that it would be worth my time, but as I am going through it, I am finding some quite helpful observations. I may say more next month.

Lastly, I am beginning to read Prayers for People Under Pressure by Jonathan Aitken. This will be my weekly devotional read once I finish Born For Battle.

I welcome any comments or questions on these books. I will be happy to share more as I read through some of them. And let me know what you are reading; I am always on the hunt for a good book.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Tale of Two Drivers

old_driver Last week an 85-year-old man became the oldest man to be charged under new legislation here in Ontario, designed to combat "street racing, stunts and contests.” The man was pulled over after being clocked driving 161 km/h (100 mph) on a main highway north of Toronto, where the speed limit is 100 km/h. Apparently, he was on the way to the bank and then planned to do some shopping. Needless to say, he did so without his car, since his car was immediately impounded for a week.

I am a big supporter of this legislation since Ontario roads tend to be plagued by speed demons who drive as if they were operating a video game, slaloming down the highways, oblivious to those around them, seeming to think that if they crash all they have to do is push a “Reset” button.

At the other extreme is 58-year-old Stephanie Cole of Fishponds, Bristol who also lost her car for a week when police pulled her over traveling at less than 10 mph on the M32 motorway. Straddling the shoulder and inside lane, Cole had posted a sign in the back window of the car which said: "I don't do fast, please overtake." At least this lady understood that she should not have been on the road because she was thankful that the police pulled her over so that they could give her a ride home and agreed that she needed to take a driving test before getting behind the wheel again. The octogenarian from Ontario, on the other hand, ignored the police’s first attempts to pull him over, actually speeding up and was so upset about losing his car that he swore at the policewoman.

How do you respond to conviction in your life? When the Holy Spirit tries to pull you over and get your attention, how you tend to react? Do you speed up or stop? Do you realize the need to repent or do you just apologize? Or do you do just ignore God’s voice and hope that it will go away? Do you acknowledge that you have a problem or blame someone else for either causing it or exposing it?

I have only one more question. What has God been saying to you about remembering persecuted Christians lately? Have you been listening? Okay, I guess that was two questions.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Merry Christmas!

christmasorth1 While celebrating Christmas on January 7 is most often associated with Christians of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, it is also celebrated on this date by most Oriental Orthodox Christians such as the Copts in Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (the Armenian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 6, except in Jerusalem where it is observed on January 19). In many countries where Orthodoxy was historically predominant such as Egypt, Russia or Ukraine, Protestant Christians also often honour Christ’s birth in January.

On behalf of the staff and volunteers of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada, I would like to wish many of our brothers and sisters around the world a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Hindrances to Prayer

Recently I have been reading Born to Battle by R. Arthur Mathews, a 31-day devotional study focusing on prayer and its role in the life of the believer. This is one of the most inspiring books that I have read in some time; one that I am sure I will read repeatedly, especially given our mission's renewed focus on prayer.

This morning, my study focused on hindrances to prayer. How often we approach the Throne of the Almighty and not realize that His ear is deaf to us? I wonder if we are likely even to notice that He is not listening, being caught up in our own and many words? So what is it that turns God's face from us? I have identified five things:

1. In Deuteronomy 1:45 we read that "you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you." Why? Because the people of God acted presumptuously (verse 43), claiming to do God's work but without His command, approval, or presence. I wonder how much of what is labeled as "Christian service" would fall into this category? We assume that any good work done in His name must, of necessity, obligate Him to bless it. Are we certain that we are doing God's work or are we doing a good work and then asking Him to bless our own efforts after the fact? Do we rush ahead and then ask Him to bless our efforts, never pausing to consider that perhaps He has not called us to do this work in the first place? How much prayer is spent in preparation of planning compared to prayer afterwards? Do we treat God as our leader or as our follower? Prayers of presumption do not reach the ear of God.

2. In 1 Samuel 8:18 we read, "in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day." Prayers from those who reject God's kingship over their lives are prayers that He does not answer. God is not in the "let's make a deal" business; "Answer my prayer, God, and I'll do this-or-that." Answered prayer begins on a bended knee, acknowledging that He is king.

3. Psalm 66:18 says, "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." How often do we approach the Throne of God with unconfessed sin in our life? Why should the Lord listen to the prayer of a rebel? If we will not listen to His call to repent and confess, why should He listen to our prayers for more blessings and His leading in our life and in the lives of others (including persecuted Christians)? When we do pray for the persecuted, does it not strike us as odd that we are praying for those who are suffering for righteousness while harbouring unrighteousness in our own hearts and lives?

4. As a married man for almost 25 years, 1 Peter 3:7 has often spoken to me as a word of conviction: "Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." One's relationships with others reflect their relationship with their Creator. To refuse to respect the Image of God is to refuse to respect God Himself and nowhere is this more clearly seen than in one's relationship with one's spouse. How many prayers on Sunday morning are nothing more than an exchange of air pressure because of fights on the way to the church? Given the state of many marriages of Christian leaders, is it any wonder that so many churches and Christian organizations are failing and ineffective?

5. Proverbs 21:13 tells us that "Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered. " Seeing the needs of others (especially one's brothers and sisters in Christ) and neglecting to act to assist them is a sure way to make sure that your prayers go unanswered. Several years ago, I studied the results of a poll that showed that while a majority of Americans knew of the persecution facing Christians around the world, the vast majority felt that they had little or no obligation to them. Yet, I am quite sure that they expected to have God's ear in their time of need. Do you?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Has Justice Been Delayed for the Armenians in the Name of Security?

In 1915, 2 million Armenian Christians lived in what is now the country of Turkey. By 1925, at least half of them were dead and most of the others had fled. Why this took place remains a matter of bitter debate between Turkey and anyone who dares to suggest that these were the victims of the first 20th-century genocide.

I have followed this issue off and on for the past several years and recognize how painful and sensitive it is for both Turks and Armenians. Today, Christianity Today online published a significant interview with Mesrob Mutafyan, the patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Turkey and asked him for his response to calls for the international community to label the killing of the Armenians as "genocide" and how Armenians and Turks coexist in Turkey today. It's worth taking a look at.

Last October, the U.S. Congress caused an international firestorm by considering a resolution that labeled the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks "genocide." But the resolution stalled on the House floor, averting a diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Turkey.

The incident serves to spotlight complexities in American-Turkish relations that are compounded by long-standing appeals for justice. [click here to read more]

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

My Message to the Staff of The Voice of the Martyrs for 2008

Dear Team of The Voice of the Martyrs,

The beginning of a new year is traditionally a time to look ahead, to make resolutions or to seek God's direction for the year to come. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been giving some considerable contemplation to what God might be saying to us at The Voice of the Martyrs for 2008. What are His priorities for us for the next twelve months? What does He want to do in and through us as we seek to fulfill His calling on our lives as individuals and as a ministry team?

Two things have sealed themselves in my heart that I would like to share with you. Consider them in the quiet of your heart as you study His Word and seek His face in prayer. I trust that He will stamp them on your heart as well.

First, I believe that God wants us to take even more seriously the call to live out our first value as a ministry; the call to an uncompromising faithfulness to God. According to our values statement, this is reflected in our personal and corporate commitment, for example, to a) glorify God in all that we say and do as individuals and as a ministry, b) acknowledging our dependency upon God in all aspects of our service for Him, c) promote and model prayer above all other acts of service for the Persecuted Church, d) accept the Bible as our absolute authority in both mission belief (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy), e) research, model and teach what it means to be a sacrificial, cross-bearing disciple in the 21st century in Canada and around the world, and f) choose to trust God to supply our needs rather than engaging in direct solicitation methods of fundraising.

Last weekend, I believe that God directed me to look at Deuteronomy 9 with its call to the people of Israel to cross the Jordan and enter the land. For the past couple of years, we as a ministry have been putting together the building blocks that, I believe, will enable us to move to "the next step" as a ministry. I am truly excited and confident about the future of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada. I believe that great, God-glorifying days are ahead for us. God has given us a solid, committed staff, wisdom to establish sound policies, increasing experience, and a growing support base. Now we stand at the river's edge and I believe that it is time to cross the Jordan and begin to take the land, if we dare to trust God for it.

Of course, there are and will be challenges that I need not elaborate on or try to predict. As a ministry and as individuals, we are still far from being all that we could be. The Enemy will certainly seek to hinder our progress. Critics will arise. Doubts will assail. We might be tempted to look at the challenges before us and ask as the Israelites did, "Who can stand before the sons of Anak?" (Deut. 9:2). The answer, of course, is found in the very next verse, "Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you."

Who can stand before the giants in the land? The Lord can! Are we prepared to demonstrate an uncompromising faithfulness to God in 2008, committed to trusting Him in the face of obstacles that may seem too great for us to handle? Are we prepared to accept that the Bible is true in all of its promises and to live accordingly? Are we prepared to live sacrificially for the sake of others, both co-workers and those we serve abroad? Our God is a consuming fire. He is not a safe God. But He is our God and His promises are true.

But with this promise comes the warning in verse 4. "Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, 'It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,' whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you." In 2007 we began to learn the lesson of how we need to keep looking to God in prayer to meet our needs as a ministry. In 2008, I believe that God wants us to continue to live this out even more. Prayer must saturate all that we do at the mission, not just scheduled prayer times (although it does include that too). Before we ship off the newsletters each month or send out the Persecution and Prayer Alert on Wednesday, or write that email to a supporter or co-worker overseas, we should be conscious of the necessity to pray and ask God to speak through the words that we are sending forth into the world. If He does not speak through us, we are wasting our time and resources, depending on our own goodness, methods and ingenuity. Development strategies are all fine but they are simply works of the flesh without the Holy Spirit's initiating, directing and empowering of them.

My call to you as staff of The Voice of the Martyrs, therefore, is to give yourself anew to the Lord today as you seek to do the work that God has called you to do. May 2008 be a year of personal revival in your life, a year in which you draw closer to God than you ever have before. Let us encourage each other on in looking to the Spirit of God to move us forward into the land that He has set before us, knowing that the Consuming Fire goes before us, fighting for us and empowering us for the works He has ordained for us to do as individuals and as a ministry. May our prayer be, "I delight to do your will, O my God" (Psalm 40:8); may it be our all consuming passion and desire.

The second thing that I believe God wants us to take even more earnestly in 2008 is the call to empowerment (our fifth value as a ministry). This, we say, is reflected in our commitment, for example, to: a) standing with the Persecuted Church, encouraging and equipping without creating dependency, maintaining and promoting their ability to be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating, and resisting any programs or ministry that would detract from this, b) unleashing the knowledge, experience, and motivation of each of our staff members through the accountability, direction, and support that only effective cross-centred, servant-leadership and a team-oriented environment can produce, and c) demonstrate trust with our staff by sharing as much as possible with them about the mission's operation.

Recently Floyd has been sharing with me his desire to "build capacity" in the lives of believers and churches that we minister to overseas. This, I believe, is a God-given aspiration. We need to do it at all levels of our work as a mission, here and abroad. This, I believe, will be a significant key to enabling us to do the level of work that we will be called to do as the Lord enlarges our ministry opportunities (as I believe He will). We cannot continue to operate with the old models of ministry to the persecuted that reek of expediency, power, and dependency if we are to see God do a new thing that honours Him and empowers His church worldwide. We must take seriously God's call to minister as servants, in weakness and sacrificially, encouraging dependency upon God (and not man), seeking real, lasting, long-term solutions to the needs of His people in restricted nations.

In conclusion, I would like to ask three things of you as we stand on the banks of the river here at the beginning of a new year.

1. Look to Him for direction. Unless God initiates, guides and leads us on our journey, we will never accomplish what He desires for us this year. May prayer saturate our lives corporately and individually in 2008 as never before.

2. Trust Him for results. Do you believe that God wants to use The Voice of the Martyrs in a new and significant way in 2008; in ways that He has never done so before? Please don't limit God with your fears and doubts. He is a consuming fire!

3. Honour Him with thanksgiving. I do believe that we are going to see some exciting things in the upcoming year as we exhibit an uncompromising faithfulness to Him as never before. But when that happens, let us not forget that it is not our righteousness, power or might (cf. Deut. 8:17-18) that will have done these things, but the grace, power and might of our Lord. To Him be the praise and glory forever and ever.