October 19, 2022 | View All Stories

What is Persecution – a Christian perspective?

The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines persecution as “hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs.” Persecution takes many forms ranging from direct threats to life and property to more subtle guises such as exclusion from employment opportunities, community activities, or family relationships. Persecution, arrest, and imprisonment are nothing new for the followers of Jesus. The book of Acts describes the arrest and harassment of the Apostles Peter and John following the healing of a man and the subsequent proclamation of the Gospel at Solomon’s Porch (or colonnade) near the eastern entrance to the Temple.

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees … seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day … The next day the rulers, the elders, and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. … They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”Acts 4:1a, 3, 5, 7

Peter and John are arrested by the temple guard after “disturbing” (NIV) or “greatly annoying” (ESV) the Sadducee religious party leadership. The location of their preaching and arrest is also where Jesus incensed the religious authorities in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel when He claimed that “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). 

Persecution of Christians today

Minorities are almost always seen by majorities as “disturbing,” “annoying,” and threatening. And majorities, especially religious majorities, almost always retaliate with a rising tide of suppression, oppression, and persecution. Religious majorities throughout the world continue to restrict, marginalize, and oppress Christian minorities. 

Recently I sat in on an interview with ANM native missionary partners from South Asia. The man and his wife described how, following an outdoor baptism service, several angry young men with video cameras began harassing them, along with the local pastors and their church members. A number of new believers in the local church had been baptized in a river. Our native partners were therefore accused of converting “gullible people” from the predominant religion to Christianity. The angry men discussed burning our partner’s vehicle, searched their belongings, and finally called the local police to interrogate our partners and some of the local pastors. 

The police demanded that our partners apologize for attempting to convert people. The man and his wife were treated as criminals, kept standing for hours, and interrogated constantly while being recorded on video. Only after a local Christian political leader contacted a sympathetic government minister to intercede on behalf of our partners, were they allowed to leave the police station and go home. Nevertheless, the police threatened that if our partners ever returned to that area they would be locked up. Interestingly, there was no official police record of a case against our partners. In that way, the authorities can falsely claim there is no persecution against Christians. 

What Can We Learn from the Persecution of Other Christians?

When I reflect upon our native partner’s gripping testimony, I must consider how our Western exposure to persecution compares to their grueling experience. Many of our negative encounters with opposition to Christ and the Gospel involve mocking, belittling, and accusations of phobic hate, but most do not include credible threats of violence or imprisonment. Our native partners also shared with us that several pastors in the region where the baptism took place had not only been threatened, they had been martyred for their faith in Jesus. 

There is much we can learn from our brothers and sisters who live and minister in the context of violent persecution. We can follow their example of patient endurance and faithfulness. Our persecuted faith family throughout the world has learned the hard lessons of perseverance. Are we listening to them, are we walking with them in their suffering, or are we simply feeling sorry for them? In the case of our husband and wife from South Asia, their experience of persecution led them to become more active in advocating for their fellow pastors and believers. When the door of direct ministry in some regions was shut to them, God opened the way to greater opportunities to raise the awareness of Christians to the reality of persecution. 

Our prayer for our faithful native partners is that they may enjoy the blessing that Jesus pronounced over all who are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel. 

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11–12

 

Download “21 Ways You Can Advance the Kingdom Through Prayer” and pray for your Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

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Eric is ANM's International Communications Director.

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