Today we begin examining blind spots obstructing the view of churches to responsibilities clearly spelled out in scriptures. Pastors and members alike gloss over selected verses, not seeing problems outside the church as their responsibility. Instead, a topic Jesus and Paul considered among the foremost indicators of our faith and salvation – our love for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ – is almost completely ignored by nearly all churches in America.
As “church” has become redefined as a place and the Church’s “customer” redefined as members (insiders) rather than as those outside the congregation, issues outside the “4 walls” became someone else’s responsibility. Local and international needs are afterthoughts, nice things to do if we have budget and time left over beyond what’s required to run the church and placate members.
Therefore, the estimated 200 million Christians worldwide who are oppressed and persecuted receive little support from America. In fact, the budgets of the leading ministries in the U.S. that serve persecuted Christians are eerily small – starting at roughly $40 million (Voice of the Martyrs), dropping precipitously to $14 million (Open Doors), then down to $3 million (International Christian Concern), followed by a few others at around $1 million each. A ministry advocating on behalf of persecuted believers contacted the leaders of the 150 largest churches and the twenty largest Christian denominational organizations in the U.S. Only two of the denominations and three of the churches indicated that they consider support for the persecuted a high priority – with only one of those giving significantly toward that cause. Eight others indicated that they sometimes, albeit infrequently, provide some assistance to persecuted Christians.
Meanwhile, the number of Christians who are persecuted and struggling to survive has never been greater. In northern Nigeria, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes by the Islamic group, Boko Haram. They are living right now without food, literally starving to death. In Syria and Iraq, more than a million Christians are homeless and unemployed because of ISIS.
Helping Persecuted Christians is Not Optional
Persecution was also rampant in the early church. The New Testament frequently emphasizes the importance of churches coming to the aid of Christians persecuted in other cities and countries. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul ordered the church to take up an offering on the first day of the week. This is the only biblical record of Sunday collections and its purpose was specifically to support suffering and persecuted Christians in a foreign land. 2 Corinthians 8-9 is the most comprehensive teaching and example of stewardship in the New Testament. Pastors preach on 2 Corinthians to exhort Christians to give to their church; however, it was written about raising money for a persecuted church in another nation. Yet less than ½ of 1 percent of American church collections are used to bless God’s persecuted children – the intended beneficiaries in those chapters. Even verses about extending biblical hospitality written about providing food and shelter to homeless Christians seeking refuge from persecution are routinely reinterpreted and minimized today to encourage congregants to have neighbors over for dinner.
According to Scripture, it’s our love for one other, particularly those among us who are suffering, that will:
- Convince the world that Jesus is the Son of God (John 17:21)
- Show we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35)
- Produce the fruit that will transform our culture and grow our churches (John 15:1-17)
- Indicate whether professing Christians are truly saved (James 2:14-20; 1 John 3:10-20)
- Be used by the Lord to separate the “sheep” from the “goats” on Judgment Day (Matthew 25:31-46)
In Matthew 25, at the culmination of the ages, Jesus will identify those who had saving faith as those who served suffering Christians. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Why did Jesus include those in prison each time in His list of the brethren He expected us to help? Were those Christians hardened criminals? No, they were believers persecuted and jailed for their faith, suffering like Jesus for putting their trust in Him. Hebrews 13:3 also references those in prison, again identifying them as persecuted Christians, telling us to remember them “as though with them” detained behind bars.
Why Few Churches Help Persecuted Christians
Given those compelling mandates, the minimal attention paid to persecution can only be explained by one (or more) of 4 possible “blind spots”. Church leaders and members are either:
- Unaware of it – Our vision could be impaired by other (internal) priorities, although it’s becoming harder to stay in the dark as campaigns and attacks targeting Christians mount
- Consciously or unwittingly ignoring it – Turning a blind eye to reports of Christians slaughtered mercilessly just because it didn’t happen here in the U.S.
- Don’t sense a responsibility to act on it – Seminary-trained biblical scholars have little justification for believing their church has no obligation to respond to biblical imperatives
- Want to do something but not sure how – Some can’t imagine how their church, particularly a small one, could conceivably alleviate persecution occurring so far away
In fact, the first thing we should do is to become more aware. Knowing how important it is in the eyes of Jesus and Paul we have no excuse for remaining blind. Sharing persecution news and encouraging prayer should be priorities for every church. Following Paul’s example, taking up collections for persecuted Christians should be standard practice for all churches. Persecuted families need money because oppression typically comes in the form of loss of homes, farms, livelihoods, food and education.
Yet our redefinition of “church” and our biblical “customer” provides powerful motivation not to search the news outlets nor the Bible on the topic of persecution. If we knew more about the atrocities taking place against Christians or what the Lord says we should do to help them, we’d be forced to act. Giving dollars is a critical way we can help end the virtual slavery and genocide of fellow believers; however, our institution-centric models for running today’s churches leave little left over to help those outside the building. Allocating more funds to help those persecuted overseas would compete directly with meeting church budget needs here at home. Therefore, pastors hesitate to make it a big deal, opting instead to emphasize self-serving initiatives couched in terms like “reaching the community for Christ” by sending out mailers, building a new facility, or sprucing up the children’s ministry.
How Ignoring Persecution Brings it to U.S. Soil
Remaining uninformed and unconcerned, blinded by our modern definition of “church” to our responsibilities in our communities and overseas, is the reason why we aren’t we manifesting God’s love to a watching world. Replacing institution-building with disciple building would lead to awareness and action. Disciples study, abide, obey and love their brothers and sisters. Discipleship costs nothing, freeing up funds to aid those who are destitute as a result of their love for Jesus.
The same disobedience that causes us to ignore persecuted Christians is behind the American Church’s declining growth, impact, influence and perception. The unsaved world is looking and longing for the perfect love that comes from above. Yet they don’t see love but division among the Church in America, not united in serving each other or churches abroad. A truly global body of Christ would cause Satan to tremble. It would spark revival here in the U.S. It would shake up the Muslim world. It would stem the rising tide of persecution approaching our shores as those advocating Sharia law begin outnumbering Christians in some neighborhoods, communities and entire zip codes.
Meanwhile churches go about conducting business as usual, not any unusual business. Rather than reaching out to Muslim populations with the love of Jesus and coming to the rescue of those they persecute, pastors worry about attendance and giving. Our failure to follow Jesus’ “new command” to love one another is doing what Islam cannot – weakening the body from within, preparing the way for Muslims to twist the knife we have already inserted ourselves. Ironically, persecution usually strengthens the Church (e.g. the early church and China). But how weak will American churches be from their self-inflicted wounds of disobedience by the time persecution eventually arrives in earnest here in the U.S.?
In other words, ignoring persecution “there” is helping to bring it here. If our churches were more compassionate and engaged in society, they would still have a voice. If they made helping persecuted Christians a higher priority, investing more IN them and advocating more FOR them, our nation would be better informed of the dangers awaiting us one day. Our government would possibly step in to do what our churches cannot – take political, diplomatic or military action against leaders and nations persecuting Christians in the name of protecting the human rights our country claims to defend.
Building awareness and taking action is the Church’s responsibility. We cannot expect the government or liberal media to report on that subject. Journalists are far more interested in writing about those who are “persecuted” by Christians than about Christians who are persecuted. Our media stands in defense of personal identity and lifestyle convictions yet refuses to defend the Christian religious freedoms our forefathers held so dear. Despite all this, the Church’s silence on the persecution of Christians is deafening.
It’s Your Turn
Keep up with the latest news and developments on persecution of Christians worldwide at Mute No More. I also recommend the book Heirloom Love – it has awakened me and thousands of other believers to the severity and extent of persecution of our brothers and sisters across the globe.
This blog post was coauthored by Dominic Sputo, who exemplifies the sheep on Jesus’ right in Matthew 25, refusing to sit still as long as anyone suffers for their belief in our Lord and Savior.
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