RESPONDING TO PERSECUTION: FOUR TACTICS OF THE CHURCH
When persecution strikes, how does the Christian church respond?
Every day persecuted Christians the world over face stark dilemmas.
"Can I practise the Christian faith without telling anyone?"
"How can we worship and evangelise without incurring the wrath of the mob?"
"Can we live out our faith in society when the eyes of the government are everywhere?"
"Can we get to a place where our house or church will not be bombed tomorrow?"
Generally, Christians respond to these kind of issues in four ways...
1. DIVE AND SURVIVE
Go deep underground and keep clear of the persecutor - usually the state. Keep clear and keep safe. The advantage is that you avoid jail and stay alive. The disadvantage is that Christianity has little chance to influence cultural change or be passed on from generation to generation.
In Afghanistan, this is the only choice. All Afghan believers are secret converts from Islam. Leaving Islam is seen as apostasy, and anyone suspected of converting to Christianity is arrested. The result is that there is no visible church; only God knows how many secret believers there are in Afghanistan.
2. REGISTER AND SUBMIT
In some places, it is possible to register a church and deal with the authorities. Depending on the conditions, this could be beneficial - although it means the state having a say in church affairs.
In China today many Christians are in state-organised churches. Over 10 million Catholics and over 20 million Protestants have taken this option. They have freedom to worship, but within limits. Many decisions - who to invite to the country, who may travel, what may be published or preached, what can be taught at seminaries - are supervised by the authorities. Nevertheless, there are many strong Christians in these churches, and huge opportunities can be grasped because of this legal status. For example, the Amity Foundation, which is the social arm of the official Protestant church, has printing presses that have printed more than 100 million Bibles. Even some house churches, while technically illegal, can practise their faith relatively openly, having reached an understanding with local authorities over what is permissible.
3. FLEE AND LIVE
Many believers who convert to Christianity from a tribe or another religion have to flee in order to save their lives and the lives of their families. This is more widespread than many think. Tens of thousands of believers from a Muslim background face this dilemma every day, as do those from tribal minorities in South East Asia.
In Somalia at least 12 believers from a Muslim background were killed in 2016. As a World Watch researcher said, "This is a very tight society. If you stop going to the mosque, it is really noticed after a couple of weeks. You get told to come. If you don't, you'd better leave if you want to live."
4. STAY AND DIE
In extreme cases, a Christian may simply decide that their best option is to stay and suffer the consequences. Even if it means their death.
In North Korea this has been the reality for many, many Christians. If a secret church is discovered, everyone is taken to the death camps, including all relatives of the families - even if they have not been involved in worship activities. One Christian was found in possession of a Bible and taken to prison. A friend said of him, "When he came to faith, he made the decision that one day he would die for Christ. Every Christian in North Korea has made that choice."