Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Church In Harm's Way: Christian Persecution Around The World

One of the rationales for the U.S. going to war in both Afghanistan and Iraq was to bring democracy to the Middle East.  The citizens of both countries have been able to exercise their civil rights under governments established by the U.S. and its allies.  Yet in both countries the minority Christian populations find themselves under attack and the Obama administration, like its predecessor, does not seem to be very concerned.  Here is an interview of Mindy Belz, an editor at World Magazine, on Afghan Christians being jailed for their faith and facing the possibility of execution. (Running time: just over 10 minutes.) In Iraq, the Christian population has plummeted from 1.5 million before the invasion to under 700,000 today as Islamic radicals have targeted the Iraqi church with terroristic acts and many Christians have fled.  In the 90's, the U.S. fought to protect European Muslims from ethnic cleansing. Our military has helped establish a government in Iraq that would include all the factions of the Muslim majority.  Yet, according to Mindy Belz, if there was a coordinated attack upon Iraq's Christian minority that becomes a genocide, the U.S. has no plans to intervene. Read the article here from Gene Veith.  From the Touchstone Magazine blog: after terrorist attacks against Christians in Egypt, who has mustered the courage to serve as human shields protecting Coptic Christians at their Christmas services? Egyptian Muslims. At least some people see Christians as worth protecting. And these brave Muslims have none of the resources available to our government to provide protection to Christians.  All they have is themselves and they are willing to put their all on the line.

I did not know that like the Chinese government, the Iranian government allows state sanctioned Christian Churches to function under strict government supervision.  And like Chinese Christians who desire to worship God without their government telling them how to do so, Iranian Christians have begun worshipping at House Churches. This past Christmas day, the Iranian government moved against the House Church movement, arresting 70 Christians.  According to this article from World Magazine, this represents a major escalation in government suppression of Christian activity in Iran

Chinese Christian lawyer and human rights activist Gao Zhisheng has defended the rights not only of Christians but of other religious groups as well, such as the Falun Gong. For this, he has been arrested by the Chinese government and undergone torture that even he cannot completely describe. His family and associates have also undergone incredible persecution.  Here is an article from Christianity Today Liveblog which quotes a letter from Gao describing what he has endured. CT Liveblog also links to a forward to a book written by Gao describing the humanly unendurable persecution he, his family and his associates have undergone. If this article doesn't motivate you to pray for persecuted everywhere, your heart must indeed be very hard.

Speaking of China, Christianity Today posted an interview today with Republican Presidential candidate and self described Evangelical, former MN governor Tim Pawlenty.  He was asked how he would deal with China's human rights abuses if he were elected. His response: China owns most of our debt so we had better pay our bills before we speak up for the persecuted. Here are his exact words:

 "First of all, we should get our finances in order. China has so much leverage over us, and it's hard to tell off your banker. We've given them too much leverage over our economy, which diminishes our ability to speak with the right kind of moral authority and authority in general on other matters. We need to speak consistently about our values as a people, and that includes religious respect and the ability for people to worship freely. We've got to get our own house in order if we're going to be an effective voice on how other countries should change."

So Pawlenty thinks that bad fiscal policy makes it bad policy to speak for the persecuted? And that if one country has us over a barrel, we should remain silent concerning those being tortured by that country? Pawlenty's answer is just as contemptible as Obama's "paygrade" remark concerning abortion.

The government of Bhutan is a small country wedged between China and India. This Buddhist nation has a Christian minority of about 6,000 persons. The government is about to legalize Christianity, but like China and Iran, legalization comes with strings attached. Like China and Iran, only those Churches sanctioned by the state can legally worship. No doubt, the most devout Christians will secretly worship in House Churches, which will trigger government persecution. Will the U.S. speak out against such persecution? Not if we elect "conservative evangelical" Pawlenty to the White House. Bhutan's Christians will first have to wait for President Pawlenty to get our bills paid. The article linked to above is from the CT mag. blog.

Let's not think that persecution against Christians is entirely a non-western reality.  While Christians are not thrown into jail for worshipping the Triune God (not yet), the secular state tries to make Christian worship a private matter in which the rights of Christian conscience do not affect public policy.  Here are two articles on government attacks on the Home Schooling movement, one from the CT Liveblog concerning Germany, and one from World Net Daily concerning the U.S. (Thanks to a friend on Facebook for posting this link.  I don't know if my friend wishes to be cited.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Unity Through Holiness: Jesus' Prayer For The Church

Jn. 17: 11, 20-23- "Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are...I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given to them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me."

It is human nature to be curious concerning the final moments of the life of a public figure.  We are anxious to discover any clues as to what was uppermost on their minds as they came face to face with eternity.  Sometimes they leave statements addressed to those they leave behind so we may know what their primary concern was for those remaining. Scripture contains many such farewell messages. In the Old Testament we have Deuteronomy, Moses' final address to Israel before Israel's entrance into the Promised Land.  The New Testament contains Pauls final letter to Timothy before Paul's expected execution (2Tim.) as well as Peter's farewell to those who had been under his pastoral care (2Pet.)

Jesus himself did not leave behind any written messages, but all four Gospels do contain written accounts of Jesus' last hours on earth with his disciples prior to his death on the Cross.  In John's Gospel we have the historical account of Jesus' prayer for His Church.  What was His overriding concern for disciples down through the ages as He was facing His death and resurrection?  That his disciples would be one as He and the Father are one.  The relationship between the Father and the Son is to be reflected in the relationship of disciples to each other while they are one in the Father and the Son.  This unity, according to Jesus in the above verses, is to be the primary witness to the world that Jesus was indeed sent to earth by the Father.  In Eph. 3, Paul wrote that the mystery of the ages that had been hidden but was revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and prophets was "that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel..." (Eph. 3:6) as Jewish believers in the Messiah.  In Gal. 3:28, Paul declares that in Christ the division between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, had been done away with. The New Testament is filled with imagery illustrating the unity that is to prevail within the Church.  In Jn. 10, Jesus pictures the Church as one flock following Him as the one true shepherd.  In Ephesians, Paul declares the Church to be the family of God (Eph. 3:15) the dwelling place of the Spirit and the Bride of Christ (Eph 5). In 1Tim. 3:15, Paul refers to the Church as the House of the Living God.  Peter refered to individual disciples as living stones being built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood (1Pet. 2:5).

This unity was exhibited by the early Church. When the 120 were gathered on the day of Pentecost, they were of one accord (Acts 2:1). After Pentecost the disciples were of one accord as they worshiped and fellowshiped with one another (Acts 2: 46). But this unity did not consist of everyone being of the same opinion on all issues.  In Acts 1 the disciples had to seek a replacement for Judas.  Some wanted Joseph, others prefered Matthias.  Matthias won by being chosen by lot. The issue was not permitted to cause division because all were in harmony in their desire to spread the gospel.  At the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), differences were discussed and a consensus reached instead of one faction imposing its will upon others. The early Church's unity did not sweep grievences under the rug.  In Acts 6, Hellenistic Jews complained that the Jewish Christians native to Israel were neglecting the Hellenistic widows in the daily distribution of food.  The Church recognized the problem instead of denying it and rebuking those who complained.  The solution, which pleased all concerned, caused more souls to be added to the Church; even priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6: 7). Who were these priests? They were the class of people most resistant to the gospel message, the ones Jesus reserved His harshest language for.  Even priests became obedient to the faith.  As Jesus Himself said in John 17, this unity would be the supreme witness to the fact that the Father had sent the Son.

The world is capable of unity as well.  In Acts 7, when Stephen testified that he saw the heavens opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (v. 56), those who were about to stone him "...cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord..." (v. 57) The same word used for the disciples being of "one accord" is the same word used in Acts 7 refering to those who stoned Stephen.  Lets not forget the most prominent example of men being of one accord in the Old Testament, the building of the Tower of Babel. God had to intervene or else, as God said, "...Indeed the people are one, and they all have one nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them." (Gen. 11: 6) Yes, the world is capable of unity. Jesus told His disciples that the world loves its own because its own are of the world. Today, the most powerful tool for the creation and maintenence of worldly unanimity of thought is the media. It is so powerful that it is Satan's greatest weapon to cause Christian youths to abandon holiness and the Faith altogether.  It is only through Christian unity that disciples can be made and be trained to endure.

How is this unity achieved?  In Rom. 12 and Eph. 4, Paul uses the unity of the human body as a picture of how unity should operate in the Church.  These verses are usually commented on in terms of the spiritual gifts listed in them and how they are to be exercised harmoniously within the Church.  Yet it is the context in which the verses listing spiritual gifts appear that one finds an answer to the question I have just asked.  Lets take Rom. 12.  The verses concerning spiritual gifts are Rom. 12: 4-8. But let's examine the verses that precede and follow this passage.  Rom. 12: 1-3 reads, "I beseech you therefore, bretheren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  For I say, through the grace given to me, that everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith."  In the verses following Rom. 12: 4-8 we read, "Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil.  Cling to what is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another.  Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion...If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peacefully with all men...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom. 12: 9-16, 18,21) The key to Christian unity is our attitude and treatment of each other. One can find a similiar context in Eph. 4.  A good biblical word for this kind of unity: holiness.  Where holiness is absent in the Church, it will result in division: "For where there are envy and strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" 1Cor 3:3. There can be no personal purity without the holiness which produces unity among brothers and sisters.  Not only will personal purity be impossible without holiness, but the entire Church will suffer division as well as backsliding among the redeemed as only a unified Church can encourage one another (Heb. 10:25).

Christian unity is to be fought for.  Paul warns us, "Note those which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them." (Rom. 16:17)  Yes, right doctrine does divide.  But it appears that the doctrine the Apostles of the early Church taught did not consist solely of orthodox opinions, but also holiness in heart leading to Christian unity. In 19th century America, revivals were not sectarian, but reached beyond denominational boundries.  The Chinese Christian Brother Yun laments divisions within the Chinese Church fostered by Western Christians.  The Underground Church in China had experienced biblical unity until certain Christian groups began sending partisan theological literature along with clandestine shipments of Bibles. Such activity has fostered division in the face of persecution by the Chinese government.  If those sending this literature continue to do so with full knowledge of the divisions they cause, then this is evidence that no matter how theologically orthodox they are, they are not operating in the holiness that produces Christian unity, which is Jesus' will for His Church. 

(All Scripture quotations are taken from the NKJV.)                        

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pro Life Articles Of Interest

The New Abortion StrategyAbortion advocates have a new strategy to facilitate widespread acceptance of abortion among the public.  After Roe v. Wade, hospitals, which did 80% of abortions, got out of the abortion business and so the murder of the unborn is committed mostly at clinics.  Planned Parenthood makes millions every year from performing abortions.  Now much money is being spent by supporters of abortion to train physicians in medical schools to integrate abortion into their services as private physicians.  The aim is to shift the scene of the crime from clinics to doctors' offices and back into hospitals.  The aim is to convince the public that abortion is just as an important function of the family doctor as any other service the doctor performs; the aim is to make the acceptance of abortion mainstream.  One who has donated much money to this effort is Warren Buffett.  From Al Mohler's blog.

Coming Out of Planned Parenthood- Abortion has been big business for Planned Parenthood.  In fact, the ideological origins of Planned Parenthood are in the Eugenics movement, a movement that grew out of Darwinian Evolution. The Eugenics movement viewed the physically and mentally challenged as a threat to the progress of the human race and sought ways to gradually eliminate their existance.  Magaret Sanger was a disciple of the Eugenics movement and started Planned Parenthood as a means to further the goals of the movement. Abby Johnson, a 2008 Employee of the Year at a Planned Parenthood clinic, became so disturbed at what actually goes on at Planned Parenthood clinics that she resigned her position and joined the Pro Life movement. Here is a podcast of an interview she did detailing what she saw at these clinics and how Planned Parenthood tried to silence her. From the Touchstone Magazine blog.

The Power of an Image- The Family Research Council (FRC) blog posted a brief post concerning a new technique developed by French scientists to view the first few minutes of life.  The FRC post features a video of the beginning of the life of a zebrafish from a one celled embryo to a 512 celled organism.  The blog writer asks that if this is the beginning of life for a zebrafish beginning at the one celled stage, what does this say concerning the human embryo and the beginning of life. Here is a picture of a human embryo at ten weeks from the His Peace Upon Us blog.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dr. James White And Dr. Steve Blakemore Debate: Calvinism v. Arminianism

The only portion of the debate between Dr. James R. White and Dr. Steve Blakemore (a former professor of mine at Wesley Biblical Seminary) that has appeared online thus far is this 21 minute segment.  It appears on Dr. White's Alpha and Omega site.  The entire debate may be posted on Youtube at a later date. If this happens, I will link to it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

WBS Professor Debates Dr. James White

Dr. Steve Blakemore, one of my former professors at Wesley Biblical Seminary, in Jackson, MS, will debate Dr. James White on the topic Calvinism v. Arminianism.  The debate will be this Thursday at Grace Baptist Church across from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson.  If the audio is made available at the WBS site, or at Dr. Blakemore's site, I will link to it.  If you are able to attend, you can register at the Grace Baptist Church website linked to above.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Christ The Redeemer

A video artist has done an amazing job projecting a panoramic view of Rio de janeiro onto "The Christ The Redeemer" statue which overlooks the city.  From Dr. Claude Mariottini's blog.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Love Of God In The Midst Of Persecution

Here is a video testimony of an 18 year old girl whose family has paid a great price for their Christian faith.  From the Out of Ur blog.  She spoke at the 2010 Lausanne Conference in Capetown, South Africa.  In the Out of Ur comment section someone wrote that it should not be posted online and that the Lausanne website did not post it.  I checked.  That is incorrect. It is posted at that site, so I think it is all right if other Christians get a chance to see it as well.