Why Persecution Is a Social Justice Priority


Persecution Social JusticeBrooke Parks at Persecutionblog asks an excellent question: Is Christian Persecution a Social Justice Issue? I believe that it is. At least, I believe that persecution is a justice issue. Parks is correct to note the limits of social justice. Parks points out that the goal of ministry to the persecuted is not to remove inequality. The goal is not simply to make the persecution go away. The goal, according to Parks, is “for the church to be the body of Christ to them and with them.” I completely agree. From the New Testament perspective, “Being the body of Christ to them and with them” is primarily an action of justice.  Caring for the persecuted is a fundamental expression of biblical justice. Perhaps the term “social” can be abandoned, but the idea of justice cannot. And here is why.

In the Old Testament, God Himself proved to be the one who would always “execute justice” and “love” the strangers and aliens among Israel (Deuteronomy 10). The revelation of God as the source of justice and love was supposed to govern Israel. Israel was expected to be like God, executing justice in her own midst, making sure that the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the powerless were not forgotten.  In addition, Israel was supposed to show love to those who came into her midst from the nations around. In this way, Israel, like God, was supposed to model justice and love.

When the time came for Israel to adopt a king, the Lord gave specific instructions for the king: (1) That the king should first read, study, meditate upon, and obey carefully God’s law (Deut 17:18-20); (2) Then, second, that the king would execute justice and righteousness. This function of the king was on splendid display when the Queen of Sheba came to call upon Solomon. She proclaimed,

because the LORD loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9)

According to God, the king’s task was first to be just and, next, to execute laws of justice and righteousness for all of Israel.

When Christ came to establish His kingdom, He did so in righteousness. Christ was, of course, just. As He announced to John the Baptist, Christ also fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  Christ would later explain that basic discipleship—that is, a basic knowledge of what it means to follow Him—includes learning to be obedient to all His commands (Matthew 28:18-20, commonly called the Great Commission). Being obedient to Christ’s commands is essentially putting God’s justice and righteousness into action.

Christ came as a righteous king to establish God’s righteous kingdom. Consequently, Christ taught His followers that they must pursue righteousnessRighteousness Persecution and the kingdom as matters of first importance (Matthew 6:33).  Christ also taught His followers that their pursuit of justice/righteousness would lead them to be persecuted (see Matthew 5:10-12).

What all of this means is that to live the Christian life is to display God’s justice. Such a display will provoke persecution now just as it did when Christ and the Apostles ministered on earth. When Christ’s followers suffer persecution, they do so on account of righteousness (justice). They suffer for doing what is right in His name. It is His authority and His presence in His people which provokes the persecution.

So, in the New Testament, the first priority for social justice—that is, for feeding the poor, caring for widows, providing for orphans, and showing mercy to prisoners—is to minister to the persecuted and oppressed church. To use a common metaphor applied to the people of God in the New Testament, the first priority is to care for one’s own family—the family of God.

The idea of family first is evident in Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the care of widows:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Christians are to do good to all people, but, especially, we are to do good to those who are of the household of faith, according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:10). Not surprisingly, the New Testament is replete with examples of Christians doing good for fellow saints who are suffering.

Most references in the New Testament concerning feeding the poor actually understand the poor to be persecuted and suffering Christians. The offering Paul took from the churches was collected to care for needy, suffering saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-4, Rom. 15:25). Paul Himself was partly responsible for the persecution which put these saints in such a needy state (see Acts 9:1-13). Little wonder, then, that after his conversion he felt responsible for their care.

When Paul went before Peter, James, and John to validate his commission to preach to the Gentiles, they gave him the right hand of fellowship and encouraged him to continue caring for the poor believers as he had been doing in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:1-10).[1] Likewise, the admonitions in the book of James concerning the poor also are references to the brother or sister among you, that is, to the poor and needy Christians.

Further, the care of widows and orphans—which is called by James a “pure and undefiled religion”—is care for widows and orphans in the household of faith. These issues—typically called issues of social justice—are primarily issues of Christians acting rightly toward fellow brothers and sisters of the faith. They are issues of justice within the household of faith.

When the New Testament speaks of visiting prisoners, it means that Christians are responsible to remember (Hebrews 13:3) and care for fellow Christians who have been thrown into prison on account of Christ (cf. Hebrews 10:34). In fact, Peter made sure the early church held to an important distinction in categorizing imprisonment:

Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Peter 4:15-16; cf. 1 Peter 3:17).

John love persecutionIn the New Testament, issues of justice begin with the household of faith. As the household of faith learns to love one another rightly and, thus, executes the justice of God rightly so that God’s righteousness is on display, the world begins to see what justice and love actually are like. The whole world begins to know that Jesus Christ is present because of the way the Church loves one another (John 13:35). In this way, the Church witnesses to the world of Christ’s love.

So, it is important that the church exercises “justice” in caring for the poor and suffering Christians. In this way, ministry to the persecuted is the first order of “social justice” business. Our love for one another is crucial to our witness before the watching world.

Brooke Parks’ question has to be answered affirmatively: “Yes!” Persecution ministry is the foremost and primary act of social justice. Parks answered the question negatively, but only with regard to the non-biblical idea that justice concerns equality. Parks is correct to say that the goal of persecution ministry is not to bring society back into some arbitrary notion of balance or equity.  Rather, the goal of persecution ministry is to display the righteousness of God in the face of world’s unrighteous desire to be rid of Christ by executing His people.

See also:

http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2014/5/christian-persecution-an-injustice-for-all

 

[1] For fuller discussion, see Thomas Schreiner, Galatians, in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, published by Zondervan.

Simple Ways to Stay Informed about Christian Persecution


Not long ago, I posted a couple of articles concerning why Christian persecution is such a neglected topic both among Christians and non-Christians alike. I’m sure those articles had a negative tone about them because it is difficult to understand why so many people neglect such an important Christian priority. Yet, as Christians, our message and our lives are inherently oriented in the Resurrection of Christ toward the positive–always toward redemption! And I want this to be reflected in my thinking and my writing.

Prayer Persecuted Christian persecutionSo, I was graciously reminded yesterday of how the Lord is stirring His people to share His concern for His suffering church. Two young men came to my office to ask for help in leading a ministry of prayer for the persecuted church. They will be meeting on Thursday nights on the campus of California Baptist University to pray for persecuted Christians around the world. This movement is so refreshing and encouraging. Young Christians are aware of and concerned for the persecuted church.

And these young Christians are not alone. There are a number of good ministries working to serve the persecuted church and to raise awareness for those suffering on account of Christ.  Among those paying attention to Christian persecution, a few organizations stand out.  First, there are ministries dedicated to serving the persecuted church. Three of the more popular ministries are Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com); Open Doors (www.opendoors.org); and Barnabas Fund (www.barnabasfund.org), the latter of which operates out of the United Kingdom.  These three organizations have long track records of ministry to the persecuted.

Second, there are research agencies dedicated (at least partially) to discovering the extent Christians are being persecuted around the world.  Among the largest and most respected of these is the Pew Research Center, particularly the Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, which publishes an annual report each January detailing religious hostilities around the world (www.pewforum.org).  In addition to the Pew Research Center’s work, other entities provide global documentation of Christian persecution:

  • The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), chaired by Dr. Robert P. George, is a bipartisan commission which produces an annual report to the Congress of the United States detailing issues germane to religious freedom around the world (www.uscirf.gov).
  • WorldWatch Monitor is a news agency which focuses on the persecution of Christians around the world (www.worldwatchmonitor.org).
  • Forum 18 is a Norwegian human rights organization which covers religious freedom all over the world, but focuses primary attention on the former Soviet countries (www.forum18.org). The name is derived from Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which promises freedom of religion.
  • The Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom provides publications, Op-eds, and information related to religious freedom in the U.S. and around the world (http://crf.hudson.org/).
  • China Aid is a human rights organization focused on religious liberty issues in China. Founder Bob Fu was instrumental in negotiating the escape and eventual release of the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng in 2012 (www.chinaaid.org).
  • The Center for the Global Study of Christianity is a research institution which works diligently to uncover accurate demographic data “to the ends of the earth.” This center is an outgrowth of work begun by David Barrett and his World Christian Encyclopedia research. This center resides on the campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Center-for-the-Study-of-Global-Christianity.cfm).

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission provides information about and raises awareness of religious liberty issues in the U.S. and around the world (www.erlc.com).

We have more access to information about persecution than at any time in history. The internet is an amazing resource if we employ it for good. I am so thankful that many Christians and human rights organizations are employing this resource for the good of the suffering Bride of Christ. May the Lord prosper these ministries.

Tom White: What Happened (and What Might We Learn)


Tom white what happened to Tom White vom

Tom White has been the face of Voice of the Martyrs for the past two decades. With Tom White as its head, the ministry of Voice of the Martyrs increased exponentially.  What will happen next to that ministry is in the Lord’s hands (which is the best place for it to be).

The tragic details of Tom White’s death are just now coming to light. I searched two days for answers after first learning of White’s death on Wednesday. His death was so sudden. It seemed something had to be wrong.

As it turns out, something was wrong indeed. Word is now leaking out from Bartlesville, OK (headquarters of Voice of the Martyrs) that Tom White was being investigated for inappropriate relations with a young girl.  The official blog page from Voice of the Martyrs has posted an announcement admitting there were allegations and acknowledging that those circumstances apparently led Tom White to take his own life.

I do not report this gladly. I have wept over the tragedy. Tom White has been a great influence in my life and has shaped to some degree my desire to know the persecuted church of Christ. I have fond memories of an evening I was able to spend with him in Cincinnati. Between the various courses of sushi, we spoke of the church in Iran, Pakistan, Vietnam, Laos, China, and Iraq. His knowledge of particular examples of persecution was unparalleled. Even more edifying was his ability to recount example after example of Christians being wise as serpents yet innocent as doves in the face of horrendous suffering. I told my wife that night that I hope to be like that some day—able to unfold global gospel encounters one after the other as an encouragement to all believers.

Sadly, I can now be reminded of an even more crucial lesson from Tom White. The evil one prowls like a lion seeking whom to devour. Sin is not limited to the down and out. Sin is capable of destroying any of us, and, certainly, the evil one desires for it to ruin pastors and leaders—striking the shepherd in hopes of causing the sheep to flee. It is an old strategy—but still a terribly effective one.

My response to all of this is not to doubt Voice of the Martyrs and most definitely NOT to doubt ministry to the persecuted church. My response is to remember that the real battle we must win is the personal battle over sin and death. Or, better put, we must remember the battle Christ has won over sin and over death and remain extremely close to Him. May the Lord bring His miraculous power to Tom White’s family, especially his wife and children. May the Lord remind us all to pray diligently for our pastors and leaders.