When will the church in the west become an Acts 4 church? Only when the circumstances around us mirror the conditions of the early church. Fortunately, we are seeing many examples of it happening in the Middle East where the church has come under intense Islamic persecution. We are being given an example of what our Lord requires of us during the prophesied coming Tribulation.
In Egypt, where more than forty churches were destroyed in the months following former President Morsi’s (Muslim Brotherhood) removal from office via a military coup in July 2013, Christians who had not fled the country continued to calmly meet for worship and show forgiveness to Muslims who broke the steeples of their churches as they screamed, “Allah is great”! As one church’s caretaker said, sitting in front of a devastated church building, “Whatever they didn’t take they destroyed”. Believers met while sitting in front of a wall with graffiti proclaiming “Egypt is Islamic!”
Bob Simon reported on 60 Minutes that Egyptian Copts believe suffering deepens their faith. “We were surprised that there was no anger, no call for revenge.” he added, after attending a worship service in the one room not burned to the ground in one church. Bob Simon explored this further with Bishop Thomas , a Copt leader, who replied, “Forgiveness is a very important principle of the Christian life. When you are able to present forgiveness and love, you are able as well to ask for justice. One day, justice has to be fulfilled.”
Middle Eastern Christians have learned what it mean to bless those who persecute them, but also insist on justice where possible.
In other words, Copts are willing to die for their faith, but they also will continue to insist on constitutional protection of their people, as any Christian should. When Jesus said “turn the other cheek”. He said it in a society that guaranteed no rights for His followers. If we live in a country that does protect those rights, we should insist on them for as long as the legal code covers us, which it probably will in the early days of the Tribulation.
Christians in Syria have learned how to do this. many have chosen to stay in their towns and cities, even if Islamist’s rebels have overrun them and looted, tortured, raped and killed them. As Open Doors USA spokesperson, Emily Fuentes has reported, based on eye witness accounts:
“There are some Christians who are fleeing because they have no other choice, but there are many Christians that have really felt God’s call to stay in town, even though they have been attacked and targeted because of their faith. They realise that God is using them, and are reaching out to their Muslim neighbours.”
Can you put yourself in that setting? Close your eyes and picture that for a moment. What would you feel? How would you act? At least, say a pray for your Middle Eastern brothers and sisters that are living this right now.
Churches have become de facto refugee care centres in the Middle East, not houses of worship alone.
In the parts of Syria where church buildings have not been desecrated, they have become de facto relief agencies, providing clothes, food, and Christian teaching. These churches are seeing people come to faith in Christ as the congregants love everyone who has been made homeless, not just for Christians. This is in stark contrast to the Islamic approach to provide aid for Muslims only. What an amazing witness, to care for everyone in the midst of intense suffering. The church has done this throughout history and no doubt will do it again during the coming Tribulation.
What will we do when faced with a similar situation, will we run or stay? Will we stay to win our attackers and fellow refugees to Christ? Will we show grace to other Christians who choose differently to us? Maybe, we will be in a church where people go separate ways as persecution intensifies.
Can I suggest church, we need to start to pray and prepare now, to know what God will have us to do to help our brothers and sisters under persecution around the world, not only in the Middle East, but also to know what we should be doing to prepare, in our own church, community, and nation.