I have studied persecution for a long time now. Through my studies, I have learned a lot about the subject and am still learning more and more. The subject became even more interesting to me when we decided to come to China as missionaries.
I have prepared material for and taught a course called the “Theology of Persecution”. In this course, I attempted to form the doctrine of persecution from Genesis to Revelation. My hope was to show that servants of God through the ages have endured some form of persecution, and it still is happening today. (I have wanted to turn this into a blog series, but this post will do for the time being.)
The following is from the introduction of the course, but it will help us better understand what persecution is.
In this study we define persecution in the following way:
Persecution is hostility, harm, harassment, death or any other ill-treatment towards Christians because of their obedience to the will of God, even more so, to His will as revealed in Scripture.
Though this definition may seem broad, below are some points to narrow our position: We are not referring to human rights. We are not referring to principles or grey areas. We are referring to the clear and unchanging mandates of the will of God. We will be focusing on current mandates given to the New Testament Church. We are not referring to suffering in a general sense.
Also, as we considered those persecuted for righteousness sake, we noted there are three areas or reasons why people suffered persecution:
Association – Because they identify with God or the people of God.
Proclamation – Because of the message they preach or proclaim.
Submission – Because they are obedient to and do the will of God.
So with this as a basis for understanding persecution, the next question to ask is “Is what is happening now considered persecution?” I undoubtedly say, “yes.” As I had written before: “Church services were stopped. Christians were detained and questioned. Some were threatened to be kicked out of the country. Items were confiscated by the police (computers, money, song books, etc.). Houses were searched though, and privacy was invaded.”
Why did this happen? Why are our friends being threatened to be expelled from the country? As I noted in an earlier post: “The reason for the persecution is simple: believers were actively, consistently, and boldly teaching the Bible and establishing local independent churches.” If the Chinese nationals or the American missionaries would stop doing this, then they would not have a problem with the government which does not allow this to take place.
Let me be clear, there has not been any violent persecution. There has been no beatings, stoning, or jail time. The police and those that have been involved have not had to use force because the Christians have been “harmless as doves” during the process. But that does not mean things can not escalate in the future. If often happens like that in the Bible.
Persecution also isn’t just measured in degrees of physical pain. I do think there are degrees of persecution, some obviously worse than others (the greatest being martyrdom), but that does not diminish the less painful forms.
It is hard to fully understand the context of what is happening here unless you are living in it.
Yes, the Americans will be sent back to the comforts of America (if they get deported) so it does not seem like persecution. But when your entire family is forced to uproot themselves and leave the place they have labored in for so long simply because they were serving Jesus, that is considered to be persecution in my book. Their hearts will be broken for the people they desire so much to give the gospel to and yet blessed because they were worthy to suffer in a small way for the sake of the gospel.
The Chinese will stay. They have been warned in the past with multiple offenses. They will continue leading the churches despite the illegal status of the churches. Maybe the government will allow the churches to register (they haven’t in the past) or maybe they will continue to cause them trouble. The Chinese believers will need your continued prayers.
Finally, let me end with this Bible example of persecution that is relevant to this situation:
Who was Persecuted?
Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:46)
Type(s) of Persecution? (how)
They spoke against the things spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming them (Acts 13:45), raised persecution and expelled them from their coast (Acts 13:50)
Reason(s) for Persecution? (why)
He preached Jesus to them in the Synagogue. (Acts 13:16-41)
Response(s) and Result(s) to the Persecution?
They first turned to the gentiles and preached to them (Acts 13:46-48) and then they shook the dust off their feet against them and went to Iconium (Acts 13:51). The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Ghost (Acts 13:52)