Persecution

Despite persecution, the number of Christian believers in China has reportedly risen to  100 million today from just one million in 1949.

In Western countries, the number of believers is steadily declining.

Why the difference?

On the surface, it doesn’t make sense.

Churches in Europe and North America have an abundance of well-educated theologians and pastors and lots of money for buildings and the latest technology.  The Chinese church lost its leaders in 1949, but the gospel has spread rapidly throughout the country.

This reminds me of the early church in Jerusalem and Judea.

In the book of Acts, we read about persecution of believers beginning just after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven.  Herod and Jewish leaders arrested the apostles repeatedly and had a couple of leaders executed in the early days of the young church.

How did the young believers react?  In Acts 4, they prayed for the courage to share the good news of Jesus Christ boldly.

And the number of believers multiplied.

That is what happened in China.  Many Christians were thrown into prison camps and told other prisoners about Jesus.  Some were killed, but those who survived kept meeting together clandestinely and moving from place to place as the early Christians did.

Like the early Christians, they prayed powerfully and trusted in God to extend his kingdom.  They were willing to risk their lives for Jesus.

How different they are from me and many others in the West.  Like others, I worry about offending friends and acquaintances.  I have shared the good news with a couple of neighbours in the last couple of years, but I do not look habitually for opportunities to speak lovingly and winsomely to others.

Our pastor touched on this today in a sermon on Matthew 5:14-15.

He noted that Jesus called on us to be light to others, using our good deeds as a spotlight on our Lord.  He asked us to show our love to others and make plain that this is Jesus working through us – and we are to pray for them.

Then, he pointed out this passage follows verses 11 and 12 where Jesus says we are to rejoice and be glad when we are persecuted for the sake of Christ.  We will be rewarded for being steadfast in our faith in spite of personal suffering for our Lord.

It seems to me that people like me are too comfortable.  We can attend church and be involved in church activities with no cost.  We don’t have to risk ourselves for Christ.

A major difference between many of us North American believers and Chinese Christians is that they often face and imprisonment for their faith – and we don’t.  So, when they decide to follow Christ, they do so with all their heart.

Chinese Christians are committed to expanding the kingdom of God even if they suffer for it.  They have to trust in the power of God through the Holy Spirit – not on their own wisdom or ability.

Just like the apostles Peter, John and Paul and the early Christians.

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