Since the time of Jesus’ Crucifixion, the Christian Church and those who follow Jesus have suffered persecution. The first record of the persecution of the Apostles is found in Acts 4: after proclaiming the Gospel and leading over 5,000 people to faith, the religious authorities arrested St. Peter and St. John, jailed them and ordered them to stop preaching publicly. The first martyr for the Christian faith was St. Stephen (Acts 7): an angry mob stoned him to death. Persecution is today a very present reality for many believers throughout the world—even if we have not yet had to shed blood for the faith here in the United States.
Persecution takes many forms: being pushed to the margins of society, being systematically underemployed and taxed because of one’s belief in Jesus, not being allowed to affirm one’s faith publicly or to worship Jesus openly. In extreme cases, believers give up their mortal lives for the sake of their faith in Jesus.
Although this is nothing new for Christians who live as minorities in their cultures, over the past few months and years, through reports of persecution in the news and in social media, we in the Western world more widely witness the reality of persecution.
The persecution of Christian believers is not something done only by those from other religions. Historically, the Romans, Greeks, atheists, and secularized societies persecuted Christians, as have members of extreme movements within Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and animist societies.
Many believe that addressing this persecution is part of the responsibility of governments and politicians; but how is the Christian Church throughout the world supposed to respond?
There are three main things that the Church can do:
- Speak up about persecution and make it known that people are suffering for the sake of their faith in Christ.
- Support those who are suffering through financial and material assistance, as well as by visiting the persecuted to encourage and to love them and to remind them of God’s Sovereignty in all we face as His people.
- Most importantly, gather together and pray for the persecuted as fellow believers in Christ, ask God that He would strengthen them, remove persecution from them, turn the hearts of those persecuting them, and that He would move the Gospel forward in the parts of the world where persecution happens and that the Holy Spirit would turn the hearts of the persecutors towards God and help them to become fellow believers in the Love and Grace of God in Jesus Christ.
On Sunday May 17, 2015 at 4:30 PM at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, we will gather as members of Christ’s one Holy Catholic Church to learn more about the reality of persecution in the world today, to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith in the risen and ascended Lord Jesus, and to sing praise to the God who is able to bring good out of all things for those who know and love Jesus.
If you are able, please join us as we engage in this most important of actions to support our brothers and sisters in Christ for a simple service of scripture, hymns and prayer.
Grace and Peace,
(the Rev’d) David O. Browder – Rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church and School
(the Rev’d) Mathew C. Fenlon – Senior Associate Rector