‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).’
Suffering for Christ
I am in the middle of reading ‘Battle for the Church 1517-1644’ by H. J. Gay, which is available at Amazon UK. I must say it makes for a fascinating and sobering study. Sobering because of the level of detail regarding the horrendous and barbaric persecution that was endured by many Christians in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, because of testifying of their unwavering faith in Christ.
It’s the same today. Millions of Christians are being persecuted, just as in *New Testament times. God’s people are enduring unimaginable sufferings, deprivations, tortures, **imprisonments, hunger, loss of possessions and in some cases expulsions from their homes – all because of living as Christ would have them live, as members of local churches. In the main, they are Christians who meet for worship and fellowship in their own homes (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). Larger churches, especially in China are undergoing great **hardships.
In his book David Gay describes some of the atrocities inflicted upon Christians who for the first time in over a thousand years, had been given access to the Word of God in their own language. This was made possible because of the advent of the printing press. William Tyndale translated most of the Bible into English, and despite fierce opposition from the Catholic church, he had it printed and distributed to those who were hungry to read it. Sadly, many were illiterate; so they got together to hear the precious words spoken to them by voluntary readers. It was a risky business, because had they been caught they would have been severely punished; perhaps even to the extent of losing their life.
Two God-chosen characters, Martin Luther and John Calvin unwittingly sparked into motion the Protestant Reformation. At that time there were many clashes in Europe between the civil authorities, the Catholic church, and those who wanted to worship as they saw fit. There were also marked doctrinal differences between Christians; for example, those who practised infant baptism and the Anabaptists who would only baptise confessing Christians and by full immersion in water. Thereafter they could be accepted into their churches as members of the body (Colossians 1:18, 24).
Thousands suffered for their Christian faith; many enduring pain until death, while looking forward to the joy (Matthew 25:21; Luke 6:23) of the resurrection and the coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Here’s what David Gay has to say about their sufferings:
‘But they had powerful enemies – enemies who exacted a price in blood by means of branding iron, stake and hangman’s noose. Even so, those believers who ‘did not love their lives to the death’ took up spiritual arms in the battle for the church. Trusting in God, by his grace they triumphed. This book traces the course of their life-and-death struggle.
But, to put it mildly, the persecution was dreadful in the extreme. Men, women and children suffered agonies and torments beyond the power of words to describe. It is a wonder that flesh and blood could bear it. The Anabaptists were exiled, clapped in irons, kept barely alive on bread and water; they were tied together in chains, the first pushed into the river to drown, each pulling the next in to drown as he died. Many were burned at the stake; some were beheaded; others were branded; others had fingers torn off; some had their tongue pierced through with a stick, or cut out altogether; others had pieces of flesh ripped off with red hot pincers. Some were locked in their meeting houses and burned alive. And all because they would obey Christ as he has revealed his mind in Scripture. They would not baptise their infants, and they would form churches only out of regenerate men and women. Reader, what do you say to this? What do you say of yourself in the light of such things? Are you obedient to Christ? Do you try to do all that he teaches you in his word? Or are you making excuses for disobedience? These Anabaptists put Christ before everything and everyone.’
‘Statistical estimates vary, but it has been said ‘that in Geneva, a town of 16,000 inhabitants, 58 persons were executed and 76 banished in the years 1542-6’.
‘It is true to say that in Calvin’s day thousands of men and women were put to the stake, or otherwise executed in the name of Christ. Life was cheap. Nearly every other section of the professing church had far more blood upon its hands – ‘torturing and burning’ in the name of Christ was virtually universal – the only exception being the Anabaptists and their like.’
Today and Into the Future
It is unbelievable that in recent times people who call themselves Christians could act similarly to those in Calvin’s day, but what occurred during the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants was not far short of it – bombings, murders, tortures, kneecappings and intimidation. However, the atrocities were in the main carried out by paramilitaries allied to the Loyalists or Unionists. Had they been genuine born-again Christians (John 3:3-8) they would not have committed their abominable crimes.
The call is for all Christians to ‘hold fast the word of life’ (Philippians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 15:2; Titus 1:9) i.e., the Bible. And in this respect there will be no shortage of volunteers (Psalm 110:3) willing to lay down their lives (John 15:13) for this cause.
Are we willing to lay down our lives to uphold God’s Word?
The day may not be long in coming when we may be faced with the reality of this choice – even here in the UK! The freedoms and the belief of Christians throughout the world are under unprecedented attack. We must not think it strange, therefore, if we find ourselves being persecuted (Acts 8:1) for Jesus’ sake.
But He will never leave us (Hebrews 13:5) or forsake us, and He comforts us with these words:
‘“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets (Luke 6:22, 23).”’
‘My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (James 1:2, 3).’
Paul the Apostle wrote of his sufferings:
’Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:22-28).’
*New Testament Martyrs
**Christian Prisoners of Conscience: Pastor Wang Yi
**Mass arrests of Chinese megachurch members continue; some ‘violently beaten’