Few individuals are more hypocritical than modern secular historians and other secular humanists. They delight to parade in print and media the bloody reputation of the Christianity of the Middle Ages, implying or arguing that Christianity today is an intolerant, persecuting Faith that must be barred from modern public life at all costs. They depict Christians as hateful, undereducated, uncouth fascists who salivate to erode constitutional liberties of religious freedom and conspire to persecute all who disagree with them. That this canard is scandalously libelous is no more evident than that it conveniently overlooks the fact that the record of cruelty of secular empires in the modern century — Nazi Germany; Fascist Italy; and Communist Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Eastern Europe, North Korea, and Vietnam — makes Torquemada look like a mischievous teenager by comparison.
There is an obvious rationale for this convenient omission: many of the modern, bloodthirsty regimes constitute the apex of consistent secular humanism. For the longest time American (liberal) intellectuals endorsed the Soviet Union, despite the abundant evidence of its totalitarianism. Why? Because Lenin and Stalin were simply epistemologically self-conscious, "enlightened" secular humanists. Secular liberals in the West could not consistently criticize the horrors of Stalinism as the logical conclusion of their own sordid worldview (they finally did anyway), but the abundant evidence of totalitarian evil for some reason did not lead American liberals to repudiate their own secularism.
Our Persecuted Brethren
Today Christians the world over languish in prison cells, suffer indescribable torture, and give their lives in martyrdom for their Lord. The Western media, laced in hypocrisy, somehow can locate every last example of "oppression" in the world — oppressed women; oppressed homosexuals; oppressed freedom-fighters (as in, Chinese liberals or African Marxists); oppressed Muslims, Jews or Blacks; even oppressed spotted owls and lions. Rarely do they expose the intense persecution of Christians. When they do, as U. S. News and World Report did last spring, they tend to obscure it in some inconspicuous place befitting the revelation of the latest statistics on male hair loss. The March 31, 1997 issue of U. S. News buried a slight account on page 15 (just next to the IBM ad, and just below the story about displaced nineteenth-century Greek sculptures). For modern liberals (and even most conservatives), all persecutions are equal, but some persecutions are more equal than others.
Moreover, few Christians and ministries in the West publicize the plight of their persecuted brothers and sisters. They are much more interested in seeker-sensitive church-growth schemes, Sunday morning self-help lectures, divorce-recovery seminars, mule-braying laughing revivals, stadium-glutting male-bonding Tupperware parties, hot-gospel evangelistic crusades, and the latest rap release on the Contemporary Christian Music circuit. The mention of Christians' suffering defamation, torture, and murder around the globe is, well, inappropriate at best and tactless at worst. It is simply not a suitable subject for polite dinner conversation. Moreover it is frankly inconvenient. It impedes all the narcissistic fun operating under the guise of modern existential Christianity. Why worry much about a Christian pastor's wife halfway around the world losing her husband to an atheistic regime and children to molestation when we can get hot-gospel flashes over the latest wave of loony but lucrative "high-voltage Holy-Ghost revival" in northwest Florida?
In stark contrast, when St. Paul stated succinctly, "Remember my bonds" (Col. 4:18), he could scarcely have uttered words more pregnant with meaning. Pathos is restrained, explanation avoided. The connotation is: "To describe the suffering would be superfluous; its mere mention will suffice to remind you of my plight and of your obligation." Where one member of Christ's body suffers, St. Paul elsewhere notes (1 Cor. 12:26), all members suffer. The very notion of an atomized or individualistic ecclesiology is a contradiction of terms — we are obligated to our brothers and sisters suffering for their faith, wherever they may be.
Reminders of Westerners' relative ease in the face of our brothers' torment are not designed to induce guilt. God has placed us here in the relatively free and affluent West for his sovereign purposes, and we can thank him for that blessing (1 Tim. 6:17b). Knowledge of our brethren's suffering, therefore, should not induce guilt, but action. St. James rhetorically inquires (2:14-16): "What doth it profit, my brethren, though if a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful for the body; what doth it profit?"
Chalcedon has chosen to focus its recent attention on Africa, where the most massive suffering by Christians is presently occurring. Peter Hammond is courageously taking the gospel right to the front lines of conflict — to Communists, Muslims, Animists, and even "ordinary" sinners. At great personal risk, he and his team relentlessly traverse sub-Saharan Africa with the world-conquering Faith. Peter goes places other Christians refuse to go — and therefore is poised to preach the word where others refuse to preach it and comfort the saints where others refuse to comfort them. He is doing what he can — and more.
None of us can do everything, but each of us can do something: supporting Peter Hammond and Frontline Fellowship, or other organizations assisting our persecuted brethren, like the Voice of the Martyrs (see page 16); contacting our political representatives to remind them to confront totalitarian nations about of the plight of those Christians they vex; sending e-mail and snail-mail messages to the churches and families of Christian prisoners; praying imprecatory prayer against those wicked regimes that torment our Christian brothers (Rev. 6:9-11; 19:1-4); and even, in some cases, traveling to totalitarian nations to protest their cruel polices.
Each of us may be able to do only a little, but if we say we can do nothing, are we not belying our profession of faith, acknowledging by our actions (or inactions) that our religion is spurious?
Christian Victory in History
But this is not the whole story. The Bible does not predict that the godly will forever suffer at the hands of godless regimes. Indeed, the pledge of earthly victory for Christ's church is a theme not only of the Old Testament (Num. 14:21; Ps. 47:2, 3, 7, 8; 72; 86:9; Is. 2:2-4; 49:22-23), but of the book of Revelation as well (chapters 17-20).The Bible presents a postmillennial vision — Christ's church will be victorious before the second Advent. To assert that the church will forever suffer from an adversarial role with godless states is to deny Scripture. The gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ's church (Mt. 16:18). This means that when the church assaults the very gates of Hell, dragging away precious souls from Satan's depraved clutches (Jude 22-23), subordinating all nations to Christ's authority (Mt. 28:18-20), Satan and his hosts will be impotent to resist. Today, regimes murder Christians; one day, they will honor them.
Christianity is no dualistic religion. Contrary to medieval depictions, eternity and Heaven and Hell do not constitute ethereal modes of existence. They are not dimensions of blissful tranquillity, in contrast to an earthly life characterized by nothing more than sin, defeat, suffering, and persecution. On the contrary, Revelation depicts heaven as a place of vigorous activity, and the Bible elsewhere predicts that the earth — and a majority of mankind — will be progressively redeemed in time and history. Since the Fall was a historical fact, occurring while man was on probation, so the reversal of the Fall will be a historical fact, occurring while man is on "probation." Just as Satan used man to assault God's earthly kingdom, so God will use man to thwart Satan's earthly kingdom. To assert that earthly existence is inherently one of defeat and suffering is to deny the power of God in history. For further instruction on this theme, see Loraine Boettner's The Millennium, Ken Gentry's He Shall Have Dominion, Marcellus Kik's An Eschatology of Victory, R. J. Rushdoony's God's Plan for Victory, and the editor's A Postmillennial Primer.
We are enjoined today to assist our suffering brethren; and we enjoy the hope that one day on earth the intense suffering of God's saints will come to an end, when the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.
- P. Andrew Sandlin
P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author. He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California. He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation. He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).