In late May, 29 Egyptian Christians courageously chose martyrdom for their faith in Christ. According to the Christian Post, Islamic terrorists massacred a busload of Coptic Christians who were taking a pilgrimage to a monastery to pray. Coptics account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s 93 million people.
According to a chaplain, the massacre occurred after Islamic radicals marched them off the bus and asked each one to deny their faith in Jesus Christ. A priest identified as Father Rashed said all of them—even children—refused. Each was killed in cold blood with a gunshot to the head or the throat.
Coming at the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, this incident was another devastating blow to Egypt’s minority Copts. In in the past year, they have suffered many massacres at the hands of radicals, including Palm Sunday church bombings that killed 46 believers.
That gut-wrenching account of the persecution of fellow believers should challenge us to do several things:
(1) Pray daily for our brothers and sisters in Christ who live under threat of persecution.
The Bible instructs us to “remember those in prison as if you yourselves were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).
(2) Anticipate increased opposition in our culture.
In the late 1970’s, a Gallup poll revealed that 40 percent of Americans believed the Bible to be the literal Word of God. A recent poll reveals this has dropped to 28 percent. The most disturbing statistic: only 12 percent of those 18 to 29 believe the Bible to be the literal Word of God.
From all indications, opposition to those of us who hold to a Biblical world-view is going to intensify in the future. In the past, the United States prided itself in religious freedom but today hostility toward Bible-believing Christians is escalating.
CEO’s have been forced to resign, restaurant chains boycotted, bakers fined, teachers fired and clerks imprisoned because they dared take a biblical stand for marriage, creation, the sanctity of life or religious freedom. I think that’s just the beginning.
(3) Don’t be surprised by spiritual defections.
Not everyone is going to withstand the intensifying antagonism. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus related that some seed fell on shallow soil and sprang up quickly. But it soon withered under the heat of the sun because it didn’t have deep enough roots to survive.
Jesus explained that the shallow soil represents the superficial Christian who receives the gospel with joy: “But when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away” (Matthew 13:21).
A few years ago, when Kentucky was about to vote on a constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage, our church took a strong stand for the biblical definition, including radio ads and billboards that said: “One man, One woman—God’s plan for marriage.” The local newspaper carried a story about our stance and then reprinted several mean-spirited letters from local residents who accused us of being bigoted and intolerant.
The following week I received a letter from a church member requesting his membership be withdrawn because he didn’t want to be associated with such “haters.” Just a little persecution, just a little criticism and some who claim to follow Christ quickly wilt under pressure. That’s disappointing, but to be expected.
Evangelical churches who stand for biblical values can anticipate an increased number of defections and betrayals because many who claim to follow Christ love the praise of men more than the praise of God.
(4) Be intentional about deepening the faith of your family.
Don’t assume your children understand the issues and have assimilated your beliefs. Every day they are bombarded with subtle anti-scriptural messages. Make an effort to teach them what the Bible says and help them to be able to give a reason for their hope in Christ.
Then whatever persecution comes, be it verbal abuse or physical attacks, the circle of your family will remain unbroken. Stand with Joshua of old who courageously announced, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Pastors need to lead the way on this. Remind your congregation that Christianity has never been a popularity contest or “going along to get along.” God’s ways often conflict with worldly ones.
At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches & conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups.www