Do Christians still suffer persecution today? When last were you attacked for being a Christian? And I’m not just talking about being “attacked” online for holding to your beliefs. Rather, I’m asking whether you’ve experienced face-to-face attacks on your Christian beliefs or character.
If you have, remember what Jesus told his disciples: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22). In other words, if you are clinging fast to Jesus and his teachings, you will inevitably experience an attack.
Such attacks can vary in severity, from verbal arguments that seem to cut to the core of your identity to actual physical attacks that harm your body.
This is persecution, and it has been going on since the dawn of Christianity.
In The Global War on Christians, John Allen calls the worldwide persecution of Christians “the most dramatic religion story of the early twenty-first century, yet one that most people in the West have little idea is even happening.” The respected journalist describes this persecution as “the most compelling Christian narrative of the early twenty-first century.” According to him, “Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet.”
While 30 percent of the world’s population identifies as Christian, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination around the world are directed at Christians. One scholar estimates that 90 percent of all people killed based on their religious beliefs are Christians.
Now, a majority of Christians in the US do not face such devastating persecution. Few of us are interrogated, arrested, tortured, or killed for our faith. And for the millions of believers in America who know nothing about such persecution, we ought to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe who must endure these horrific acts against our faith.
However, as Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines persecute, we may be harassed or punished “in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict specifically . . . because of belief.”
When you were attacked for being a Christian, did you acquiesce to cultural pressure?
Or did you stand on the promises of God?
If the former, know that you are forgiven, and know that the biblical story I’m about to relate will encourage your faith.
If the latter, I applaud your efforts to be a culture-changing Christian in your sphere of influence.
But I also know—from personal experience—that none of us always makes the right choice when it comes to following God.
And when someone attacks your beliefs, it can be very challenging indeed to respond well and respond biblically.
An epic battleground
Mount Carmel is a mountain range in northern Israel. Today, Israel’s third-largest city, Haifa, is located on its northern slope. To the range’s east and southeast sits the Valley of Megiddo, which you may know as the place called Armageddon in the book of Revelation. Between the range and the valley sits a spring of water that was the likely setting for one of the most impressive displays of God’s work and one lone prophet’s immense faith.
By the time of this epic battle, the pagan religion of Baal worship had swept the nation of Israel. “Baal” was the Canaanite word for “master” or “lord.” The name described one of the chief male deities of Canaanite religion. He was seen as lord of the weather and storms, so that his voice was heard in the thunder, his spear was the lightning bolt, and his steed the storms.
The Canaanites worshiped Baal in a variety of ways, usually on hilltops called “high places” (so they could be as close to him as possible). They sacrificed animals (and sometimes children) and performed sexual dances on his behalf.
The wife of Baal was Ashtoreth. She was seen as the evening star and the goddess of war and fertility. She was worshiped through temple prostitution (involving both men and women). Sacred pillars (perhaps phallic symbols) were placed near the temples of Baal as altars to her. The Greeks worshiped her as Aphrodite, the Romans as Venus.
These deities were enticing to the Israelites as they entered the land of Canaan, and they remained enticing to them for centuries.
But one would have to imagine that, had the ancient Israelites had access to the kind of immediate news we do today, they would have turned to God after having witnessed what he did for the prophet Elijah in 853 BC at Mount Carmel.
“Lord, answer me”
The full story of Elijah versus the prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth is told in 1 Kings 18:20–40. I recommend reading it, but the condensed version is that Elijah requests 450 of Baal’s prophets and 400 of Ashtoreth’s prophets to meet him at Mount Carmel. Once there, he challenges the prophets to have their god set fire to a sacrificed bull on an altar.
From morning until noon, the prophets cry, limp, and even cut themselves so that their god will hear them. Nothing happens—aside from Elijah mocking their “sleeping” god in verse 27. Then Elijah, full of confidence that God will show his power, douses the bull with water—three times! Realize that, if God doesn’t come through, Elijah’s career as a prophet is over, and his life might be too. In fact, the future of the nation of Israel may have even been in jeopardy at this moment.
Yet Elijah chooses to believe God against 850 other religious zealots.
The conclusion of the story is worth reading in full:
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:36–39).
Is God truly your king?
So, what does Elijah’s inspiring story tell us about living for Christ today?
If you say and believe that God is your king, then you must trust him whether you want to or not, whether it’s popular or not, whether it’s easy or not, whether you’re persecuted or not. The next time you face persecution for being a Christian, ask yourself these simple questions:
- Who comes first: Jesus or me?
- Do my actions truly reveal what I say I believe?
- Remembering the price he paid for me, do I love Jesus enough to pay this price for him?
You will know if God is actually the king of your life by the degree to which you obey him even when—and maybe especially when—you must make a sacrifice to follow his leading.
The millionaire’s sacrifice
When I consider the word sacrifice, I recall the inspiring story of William Borden.
In late nineteenth-century Chicago, Borden was heir to an immense family fortune his father had accrued from mining silver. Upon William’s graduation from boarding school at age sixteen, his parents gifted him a chaperoned trip around the globe. While in London, Borden surrendered his life to Christian service as a missionary.
After graduating from Yale and Princeton Theological Seminary, Borden planned to become a missionary in China so as to reach the Muslims there. However, he contracted meningitis while studying in Egypt and never recovered. Borden died at the age of twenty-five.
According to an Our Daily Bread devotional from 1988, Borden wrote two words in the back of his Bible after having accepted his call to be a missionary: “No Reserves.”
After turning down lucrative job offers after graduating from Yale, he wrote two more words: “No Retreats.”
Prior to his impending death, he added two final words: “No Regrets.”
When that story was made public, thousands of people reportedly gave themselves to foreign mission work. The end of Borden’s earthly story became the beginning for thousands of spiritual stories—maybe even millions.
Out of gratitude for the grace of God, your opportunity today, in the face of any and all attacks, is to say the same as Borden did: No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.
This article originally appeared in Biblical Insight to Tough Questions Vol. 4, currently available in the Denison Forum store.