Obviously the title above needs explaining, especially when so many Christians are already being persecuted in countries where they have no way of defending themselves and the penalties are severe and utterly unjust. And many of these Christians are so brave, when simply being known for being a Christian or being seen carrying a Bible can mean death, torture, jail time away from family and loss of livelihood.
So, like Paul asked for the prayers of the church to help him through heavy persecution (2 Corinthians 1:8-11), I imagine our fellow Christians under similar heavy persecution today appreciate our prayers too.
The reason for the title, therefore, isn’t about Christians already being horribly and unfairly persecuted; it’s about Christians in countries where openly preaching the gospel is still allowed, and preaching it in such a way it gets noticed. And if it isn’t being noticed is that because the gospel isn’t being preached?
I ask that, because reading through the book of Acts, there was always opposition wherever the true gospel was being preached. Luke, the writer of Acts, records whole cities in an uproar with mobs screaming out for blood, and those preaching the gospel being hauled up before kings, magistrates and all manner of secular and religious authorities. True Christianity, in other words, did not go unnoticed, and clearly the Holy Spirit intended it to be that way, because on so many occasions opposition and persecution caused the gospel message to spread (Acts 8:1 and 4, for instance).
And that made me think of the state of the world today, and the opportunities it has thrown our way to show how radically different the true gospel message is. But are those opportunities passing us by, because we’re so taken up instead with getting back to our church communities and traditions, and keeping our church buildings intact?
For many decades now – in our Western countries – Christians have hardly been persecuted. We can go to church whenever we like, and no-one is stopping us. We can advertise what we’re up to inside our churches on large signs and nobody is ripping them down. We can invite people to join us without fear of arousing opposition. We’ve had it easy, in other words. And the result? Churches closing. Attendance decreasing. Fewer people seeing Christianity as something even worth taking notice of, and Christians blending in with the culture to attract people to their doors, as though Romans 12:2 was never written.
The pandemic, however, has ignited some little sparks into flame in some churches, where they stood up against government mandates, citing Scripture that clearly got the point across that Jesus is Lord and as Christians we put him and his teachings first in our lives. And guess what? Even when that wasn’t the most tactfully done, it got noticed. And, what’s more, it hit the headlines too, and maybe woke up other Christians from their slumber and they got the courage to do the same.
I realize there’s a difference between spoiling for a fight and justified resistance, but what a sight to see Christians openly and publicly “preaching in the market place” and gathering a crowd that actually took notice of the message about Jesus, just like the good old days in Acts.
And those preaching willingly took it on the nose too, when opposition came. They paid the price in money and being blacklisted, or being carted off in handcuffs and thrown in jail, because like the apostles and others in Acts they felt compelled to let the world know Jesus is not only in charge of all human life, he also has the answers to the mess we’re in.
And I was particularly moved by the response of one person being persecuted: “Bring it on,” he said. No fear, no buckling to intimidation, no resolve lessened, no accommodating the very human desire for physical comfort and safety. And why “Bring it on”? Because that’s the Holy Spirit’s pattern in the book of Acts for spreading the gospel. It’s not Christians holing up in their churches to get their Sunday booster but taking little interest in getting the true gospel preached publicly in their community. Neither is it church becoming little more than a social club, or buckling to cultural pressures to the point of becoming no different to the culture.
And maybe the pandemic has woken us up to this, that there are some real problems out there that are shattering people’s lives, and these poor people need hope – hope that there really is a Jesus who is Lord of all, and he lives to help those who seek his help (2 Corinthians 1:9-10). They need to hear the gospel, in other words, by the likes of those in the book of Acts who accepted persecution as the way the gospel gets noticed and spreads.
So does that now make sense of the title, “We need more persecuted Christians”? If so, then they are the ones who need our prayers too, for the courage to speak out when opportunity arises.