(World Distribution of Christianity: Wikipedia)
Reportedly an average of 100,000 Christians a year have been killed for their faith in the last decade.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, outgoing president of the U.S. Catholic bishops recently referred to the beginning of the 21st century as "a new age of martyrs." Others dispute the use of the term ‘martyrs’ for those killed and maintain that their Christian faith was only one of the reasons for their deaths. Nevertheless there has never been a time since the first and second centuries where more Christians have been killed at least partially if not substantially because of their faith.
Most of the persecution has happened in Muslim dominated countries but there are some major exceptions. In this final article of the series we will look at those exceptions which I believe can be explained as a reaction to the second major ‘religious’ context- a major world-wide Christian revival and harvest.
Previous posts in this series:
-An International ‘War’ on Christians?- Part I
-An International ‘War’ on Christians?- Part II
-An International ‘War’ on Christians?- Part III
-An International ‘War’ on Christians?- Part IV
Second Major Context: World-Wide Christian Revival and Harvest
The ‘Great Commission’ of Jesus to Christians of every generation:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
-Matt 28:19-20 (NIV)
For those of us living in America and in the West it is really hard to understand and even begin to gauge the immensity of the current world-wide Christian revival since in our experience Christianity is in decline and secularism is on the rise in our own cultures. For example, the only ‘revival’ anywhere in Europe is happening among the counter-culture Roma people (Gypsies).
Nevertheless, more people have been converted to Christianity in the last 30 years than in all of the previous centuries combined. One gauge of the current expansion of Christianity is the fact that the Christian Bible is now on an average being translated into 75 new languages every year. It is estimated that by 2025 at least the New Testament will be available in every language on earth and for even every remote tribe and people group in the world.
Fact is there are more Christians living today (est. 2.3 billion) than in all of the previous centuries combined up to the 20th and in more nations than ever before. With this exponential growth has also naturally come some of the exponential opposition and persecution that the Christian community is now experiencing.
Africa is one of the areas where Christianity is presently increasing at an exponential rate. Islam was once the largest religion represented in the continent but no more. The following is a 2007 Al-Jazeerah’s interview with Sheikh Ahmad Al Katani, the president of The Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, complaining that 6 million Muslim per year in Africa were converting to Christianity:
An example of where both ‘religious’ contexts are in play is among the Boko Haram in Nigeria. On one hand this a radical Islamic group that rejects Western culture in every way (Their very name means- “Western education is sinful”) but they have chosen to demonstrate their ‘faithfulness’ by attacking Christian villages, churches and schools. Especially those which have expanded into the Muslim dominated north in that country. They are literally killing thousands per year.
Another area that is experiencing exponential Christian growth is China. When the communists took over in 1949 there were less than 900,000 Christians in that populous country then they expelled all of the Christian ministers and missionaries and shut down all of the churches. By the time of the ‘cultural revolution’ Mrs. Mao Zedong bragged that Christianity had been totally eliminated in that country. But today there are over 100 million Christians in that country and at the present rate of growth China will become a Christian majority country in two generations or less. It has been called the greatest revival of all time. Meanwhile the Chinese government continues to imprison Christian leaders and has killed thousands over the years. Even the ‘official’ church that the government does tolerate and control has grown to include more than 15 million members since Christianity was supposedly eliminated.
India is another case in point. Missionaries were sent there for hundreds of years with little effect until revival started 10 years ago and since then millions have been converted. One group in India that I am personally connected with has grown from a mere handful to over 200,000 members with 5,000 churches planted during that time.
The State of Orissa is one area of India where 1000’s were converted to Christianity in a short period of time. Most from the poorest and lowest rung of society- the ‘Untouchables’ who were expected to do most of the hard work for the other higher castes. It is also an example of how a reaction to that revival led to a major persecution where 50,000 Christians lost their homes in a riot that resulted in over 100 killed, 4,640 houses burned, 252 churches and 13 Christian schools destroyed. The Christian missionary groups had established schools that educated the Dalits for the first time in that area which resulted in major societal changes. Riots and persecution of Christians were the resulting reactions to the revival that brought those unwanted changes.
Korea is another example of what we are talking about. There was actually a revival going on in the north when the communists took over and shut down the churches like they did in China but North Korea is even more oppressive. Later revival came to the South and now the Christian population in South Korea is approaching 50%. Meanwhile, Christianity has been outlawed in the North but there are reports that the Christian community keeps on growing in spite of all of the persecution, imprisonment, and killing of those even caught with a Bible. In fact, missionaries from the South walk into North Korea through China but few ever return to tell of what they experienced. Most are martyred for their faith.
Another case I personally know about is Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge killed nearly all of the Christians in that country during their ‘Killing Fields’ rampage. One Cambodian pastor I know survived and returned to plant churches once more when the Vietnamese government took over but in the midst of another revival most Christian pastors including my friend were arrested and nearly all killed but he miraculously escaped. He returned in the early 90’s and started all over again but now revival conditions have resulted in 1000’s of conversions. So the story continues.
The radical Islamic Republic of Pakistan is another example where both Contexts are in play. The Taliban and radical Islam is on the rise in that country but thousands of Muslims are being converted to Christianity every year in the midst of it all.
Here’s an article about one such move going on in Azam Basti, a suburb of Karachi: “Pakistan’s Pentecost”
The Christian community has been allowed to build a number of large churches in the area. Most started out as small house churches that expanded through conversions to number in the thousands even in the midst of all of the adversity and persecution. According to the article, even a number of imams have come to Christ sacrificing everything. Even more astounding, a recent Marilyn Hickey healing crusade drew more than 200,000 people on one night in Karachi.
I could go on talking about the revival which is taking place in dozens of different countries all around the world. But the most poignant example is in one of the most oppressive Muslim regimes on earth- Iran.
A full blown revival is going on in that country and government officials are trying everything they can to stop it. Authorities continue to arrest pastors and persecute Christians to no avail. Recently the government issued a decree forbidding churches from meeting on Fridays. Friday is the traditional ‘day off’ and the time to worship in the Iranian culture and most of the Middle East for that matter. This decree is only going to affect the ‘official’ churches however since most Iranian Christians meet in illegal house churches in secret.
The Iranian revival continues to expand. Some put number of Christians in that country now at 500,000. It is estimated that nearly 370,000 have converted to Christianity in the last few years. However there is no way to get an accurate account since it is all underground.
Revival and Opposition
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. -Eph 6:12 (NKJV)
First of all exactly what is ‘revival’?
Revival is an environment where God is providing exceptional supernatural activity that results in thousands of new converts and an exponential expansion of Christianity.
Now here’s where I will lose most of my secular readers and even many Western Christians. The reason why this is a "a new age of martyrs" is because what is happening around the world (except in the West) is very similar to what happened during the first age of Christian martyrs in the first three centuries when Christianity grew from being an obscure sect of Judaism into a world religion spread across three or four continents.
Where revival is in full swing today the accounts are very similar to what is recorded in the NT Book of Acts. The exponential expansion is taking place through ‘supernatural’ activity that cannot be explained in any secular way nor can it be controlled or stopped by the opposition.
I will give a few example of what I am talking about even though many of you will probably not believe it. The revival in Iran is a case in point. It is not taking place in the usual way through churches and missionaries. First of all Christian missionaries are not allowed in the country and converting Muslims to Christianity is a capitol offence. Nevertheless at least 370,000 have been converted but not through the efforts of any Christian preachers but through dreams, visions, and healing. Most of those converted claim that Jesus himself or angels appeared to them and told them where to go and who to go to for further teaching and baptism. Pretty incredible and many of the accounts sound like Paul on the road to Damascus. Meanwhile the Iranian authorities are trying to stop it all by putting Christian preachers in prison and by trying to force converts back into Islam but the revival continues unabated.
Here’s another case in point about what we are talking about when we say the word ‘revival’ and we refer to a ‘revival environment.’
A couple that I am close to signed on with a mission group in southeast Africa that has planted over 15,000 churches and has converted hundreds of thousands to Christianity in the last 10 years or so. Typically they would arrive in a new village and set up meetings but first they would demonstrate the ‘Good News’ by healing all of the sick in the village including the blind, the deaf, and the crippled. After that usually a new church would be planted. The flip side was that sometimes opposition rose up when an entire village was converted particularly if it had been Muslim.
Two years ago several different friends of mine went on a mission trip sponsored by our church to India. Over 50,000 people showed up for the meetings during which 1000’s of people were healed and over 20,000 were converted. Everyone my friends prayed for in India were healed including several blind people which is far different from their experience back home.
I could go on and on but the point is that what is happening around the world where there is a revival environment is exceptional and has brought about an exceptional opposition. From the Christian perspective the supernatural activity has engendered a supernatural demonic opposition (Eph 6:12) which is behind much of the natural persecution and exceptional numbers of Christians now being killed in the beginning of the 21st century. *Top