We live in an uncertain world. The persecution of Christians, long rampant in many nations of the world, has accelerated. Christian churches and businesses were bombed in Nigeria in late December and again last month. Andrew White, Rector of one of the few Christian churches left in Baghdad, Iraq, has seen members of his congregation martyred the same week they are baptized. North Korea has a new leader, and no one knows what fellow believers are suffering in Syria and Egypt right now, as political turmoil continues to grow and unfold each day before the eyes of the world.
Yet God gives grace to the humble. It’s a constant theme of Scripture, appearing in Proverbs 3, James 4, I Peter 5, and writ large in the lives of men and women in both the Old and New Testaments. It’s an easy statement to quote, but much more difficult to actually live, particularly in the developed world where our cultures link humility with weakness. Like it or not – and many times our Western sensitivities don’t like it – God’s economy is “backwards” to human reason.
“God gives grace to the humble.” Think about it again. Now think about that statement in the context of the suffering church – dear brothers and sisters in Christ who are daily living and dying for their faith in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, and North Korea… to name only a few. To these brethren, Jesus is not merely a “belief.” He is not simply one part of a larger worldview. And He is not a marketing strategy to get people in the door on Sundays.
Jesus is their all. For the men and women who are the suffering church, every breath may be their last. Yet that fact simply does not matter. Not because they despise life, but because there is no fear of hardship because there is no fear in death. They know where they are going, and why. And the grace of Jesus’ finished work on the cross is poured out in their lives every single day.
That is the message of the challenging and immensely encouraging book The Privilege of Persecution. Published last year by Open Doors USA President and NRB member Dr. Carl Moeller, and Grace Baptist Church Pastor David Hegg, it begins by exploring why the church is experiencing tremendous growth under the ever-watchful eye of the most repressive governments on earth. In essence, examining the grace being poured out in the lives of the people who are suffering.
Yet for those who worship and serve Christ in comfort, the persecuted church is a long way away. The Western church prays for them, and sends tangible resources when possible. But why should it really care?
In part, because the suffering church is healthy. Dr. Moeller and Pastor Hegg argue that the suffering church is actually much healthier than the Western church. They go a step further and challenge Western believers to study the suffering church if they’re seeking to please Christ and deepen the Christian community around them.
“The persecuted church has been given no alternative than to trust God, and they do. They don’t have high tech, or great buildings, or the best music. They have God’s Word and nothing else, so they have learned to trust God… and each other,” says Dr. Moeller and Pastor Hegg. Not only does deep and sincere community exist in the suffering church, but also unity. Its multigenerational members revere God’s Word – seeking the knowledge of God more than experience, and define worship as an “ongoing sacrifice to God” that is characterized by daily living. “In the persecuted church, they follow Christ,” say the authors. “The personal cost to follow the crowd is too expensive.”
Let us thank God for the witness of the suffering church. And may we be mindful that the cross of Christ carries a cost.
By Laurel A. MacLeod, NRB Director of Communications
Sources: Dr. Carl Moeller and David Hegg, The Privilege of Persecution, Moody Publishers, 2011; Andrew White, Faith Under Fire, Monarch Books, 2011.