The Disappearing Churches in the World

Source:

WASHINGTON (RNS) The highest-ranking Muslim in the British government on Friday (Nov. 15) called on Western governments to do more to protect besieged Christian minorities across the world, particularly in the Holy Land where they are now seen as “outsiders.”

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the government’s minister for faith and the first Muslim member of a British cabinet, said religious freedom is a proxy for human rights and must not be an “add-on” to foreign policy.

“A mass exodus is taking place, on a biblical scale,” she said in a speech at Georgetown University. “In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.”

Warsi, a mother of five and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, said Christian minorities in war-torn regions of Egypt, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere are threatened by Muslim majorities in the very places that gave rise to Christianity.

“What concerns me is that these communities … are now being seen as outsiders,” she said in a forum hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. And when the majority religion is offended or aggrieved, “the local Christian community is fair game, and that somehow collective punishment can be meted out against these communities for what they see as the perceived actions of their co-religionists” abroad.

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  • Mark Nieweg

    Scot,

    This post is a very interesting coincidence for me, as I have begun to read David W. Shenk’s book Journeys of the Muslim Nation and the Christian Church: Exploring the Mission of Two Communities. There, he lays out a bit of history that I think uncannily informs the current circumstances. Given the propensity Western Christians have to continually grasp for the power of security in collusion with whatever nation they happen to inhabit, using the ever newer forms of the Constantinian paradigm, maybe “perceived actions of their co-religionists abroad” ought to replace “perceived” with “actual,” making the call for “Western Governments” to become responsible for the protection of these minorities more of the same, rather than a call to repentence on the part of those Christians who contribute to creating the impression (I am thinking of the “Land Letter” as an example). Here is a quote from Shenk’s book (page 27-28):

    Terrific Persecution in Persia

    The union of caesar and pope in the European West also had devastating consequences for the churches of the Asian East. For the first three centuries of the Christian era, it was mostly the churches within the Roman Empire that were persecuted. However, with the conversion of Constantine and the emergence of caesaropapacy in the West, it was the churches in the Asian East that began to experience the wrath of the persecutors. Under Constantine, Christianity in the West had become the religion of empire. Peace had come to the Western church; as Bishop Mar Jacob of Edessa wrote, “Constantine, the chief of victors, reigns and now the cross the emperor’s diadem surmounts.”

    In Persia there was no such rejoicing, for the Persian church was caught in the conflict between empires. For three centuries Persian shahs and Roman emperors had made intermittent war with one another. With yet another war threatening, Constantine wrote to the Shah of Persia, Shapur II, “I rejoice to hear that the fairest provinces of Persia are adorned with … Christians…. Since you are so powerful and pious, I commend them to your care, and leave them in your protection.” For the shah, this meant only one thing: The Christians were a Roman fifth column sabotaging Zoroastrian Persia from within.

    Twenty years later Constantine massed his troops of war against Persia with bishops accompanying his armies. According to the contemporary church historian, Eusebius, the bishops accompanied Constantine “to battle with him and for him by the prayers to God from whom all victory proceeds.”

    Consequently the rage of the Persians against the Christians knew no boundaries. For more than twenty years, the Christians were systematically hunted from one end of the Persian Empire to the other, tortured and killed. The Persian church was nearly eradicated by this, “the Great Persecution.” It has never recovered from that blow.

    This development made it clear that the church in the Asian East had to forthrightly distance itself from the church in the West…

    History repeats itself.

  • Westcoastlife

    Wow, I’ve read Greg Boyd’s regret that the church joined Rome, but this nails it. It really has been a disaster, as our faith’s survival is only as strong as the empires (or nations) who claim our faith their interest. If the west ever falls, it may mean the end of western Christianity. EO will make it, they have survived despite every foe against them, us, not so much.

  • Richie

    How refreshing! And, from a Muslim woman British official no less! Irrespective of her own religious beliefs she expects governments to live up to their responsibility to protect all of their citizens. But what is the point of your posting, Scot? Are you just reporting this or are you supporting her call for “Western governments to do more to protect besieged Christian minorities across the world”? If so, how does this fit with your beliefs about non-resistance to evil and pacifism? How can this “protection of besieged Christian minorities” be achieved without the use of force? Can you point me to an article(s) or book that coherently and consistently explains your understanding of the proper role of government and Christians relationship to it? Nothing I’ve ever read about pacifism or non-resistance to evil seems coherent, consistent, or for that matter, compassionate when dealing with real world situations such as those described above. And, more importantly, none of it fits with what seems to be the plane sense of Romans 13, etc.. On the other hand, for Christians to support the proper use of force by government – and to even participate in it as government/military officials and/or to pay taxes to support it – seems to fit with the Bible as a whole, Rom. 13, etc., and this particular real-world situation.

  • scotmcknight

    It’s news of interest to this blog.

  • Mark Nieweg

    Hi Richie,

    I had just commented before you on this particular blog. Let
    me attempt to answer your challenges – having been a non-pacifist for many years, using the same justifications you use here to not embrace that “way.”

    First, I’d say your challenge to Scot ought to be addressed, simply because it is a valid one to those who espouse non-resistance. It is
    right here that most people, including myself before my change of view, would make that challenge: at the place of what one sees as
    “responsibility,” and that mainly not to protect oneself, but to
    assist the oppressed, the helpless, as we are seeing in the post. Pacifists
    tend to trip all over this, or ignore it, as it is one where we know God promises to act on the behalf of the helpless. Just how that is to be prosecuted is the issue.

    There has to some groundwork laid for this. My comment dealt
    with some parallel history of the implications of the church embracing worldly power to do anything – righteous or otherwise. That history, bolstered by your interpretation of Romans 13, already assumes that Christians, or Pagans for that matter, can wield that kind of power righteously. But the church could do no such thing at the time of Paul. And history demonstrates time and again what happens when we get the chance. Your interpretation also assumes that Jesus’ teaching falls in line with it. But Jesus has a very different way of battling injustice, a way incidentally, used by Peter in his epistles, to exhort the
    followers of Jesus to emulate him anytime they are in the position found by our fellow brethren in the Middle East, even today. But to do that, one has to have the same faith that Jesus did, entrusting himself to his Father, having an unshakable confidence in the ability of a God “who raises the dead.” (II Corinthians 1:9). How to “bless” and not “curse” (or kill for that matter!) is certainly a challenge in those circumstances.

    But what about those positive things said by Peter and Paul
    about government? Maybe, instead of the Constantinian assumptions brought to Paul from our current context, we might want to talk rather about what the nascent church was in a world where these structures already exist. Old Testament history at least shows that God uses nations in varied ways, even as judgment upon a “more righteous” or “less wicked” Israel, however you want to look at that. That could be more what Paul and Peter mean by the government punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous, especially when we see what it
    did to Jesus and Paul, and anyone the empire suspected was treasonous. We just don’t know where that “righteousness” and “wickedness” reside (but most times we are certain it’s those “others” that we peg wickedness to). Peter even goes so far to say “judgment begins with the household of God”:

    “Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so
    that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or as a troublemaker. But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name. For it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God? And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners? So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good.” (II Peter 4:12-19)

    Should I, as a Western Christian, who bears the benefits of
    a church that has sidelined Jesus’ call for a millennia and a half, exhort our Middle Eastern brethren this way? Maybe not. Repentance is the call to me. However, they at least have Peter’s exhortation because of a certain hope.

    After all, it was Jesus who exposed both Judaism’s and
    Rome’s self-righteousness, not by being “resistant” in the way even
    of non-violent resistance, but by allowing his enemies to put him on Caesar’s implement of execution, exposing the hypocrisy of religion and politics in one fell swoop. The only vindication that Jesus would receive is by resurrection, reversing the judgment of the world towards him.

    If we could only grasp Jesus’ call and mission to us in this
    way, what God might do through us to help the nations see the kind of God we have, who in His forbearance and patience saved us, and is willing, through our (mind you) faithful testimony, to forbear with this wickedness in order to give time for repentance! Again, I am not calling on our brethren to think this way; Jesus is.

    In Romans 13, Paul is not talking about some kind of “dual citizenship” with their commensurate “responsibilities,” but directing the church in Rome, which is trying to find its place in a world similar to Jesus’ where he said “the son of man has nowhere to lay his head,” to be faithful to their
    Messiah and his mission. In other words, it is seven verses – in a context – on how to relate to what is there, and that God uses it for his purposes; how does this Kingdom they are now part of relate to kingdoms of the world? If set in this context, they are not something to be opposed, but supported, even respected and honored, insofar as it does not distract us from our mission and the obedience it absolutely requires. And that is
    exactly what Constantinianism is – distraction – and always a fatal one to the life and mission of the church.

    It is in this way that I see the church as an “embassy” of the Kingdom of God that is going to come some day. It sits living the “new creation” of reconciliation that will come in fulness, but now in the midst of the nations. What embassy would last if it thumbed its nose at the nation in which it resides – dishonoring and disrespecting it? Honor and respect might even give us a hearing. But don’t bet on a glad welcome given the perspective from the Kingdom of God. Right now, because the nations
    of the world continue in their ways contrary to God, it will be in inevitable
    conflict with us. We are representatives of a “crucified Messiah,”
    the only way for the world to see how rebellious it is to the Creator, and to
    what lengths He had to go to save us. That He is even willing, given our
    attitudes, is amazing, and is what sets the Christian God apart from every
    imagination of man. But it is also why Paul has to say that such a thing is a “scandal to Jews” and “foolishness to Greeks.” Anything
    else, including the Constantinian variety of Christianity, is simply
    conventional wisdom. That variety of Christianity will resonate with a Muslim’s call for Western intervention, simply because it all is conventional wisdom. The tug, even now for me, to this kind of responsibility, is almost irresistible; I feel the temptation to be ashamed of myself. Dare I remind our brethren of Peter’s words, when I myself need to hear them – and do them (you know, the solid rock kind of posture)?

    And that is why Jesus has to warn us, right at this very point of what it means to follow him: not to be “ashamed of him.” That is the crunch point of this whole discussion.

    We sit here accusing pacifists that they just sit back and
    let wickedness reign. I used to do it, until I realized that Jesus would have
    to be accused of the same thing. In fact John the Baptist is tempted to do just that, being in prison, having preached about a Messiah that would “sweep the threshing floor of wickedness,” but now sits under the despot Herod with the Messiah doing absolutely nothing. That is where Jesus issues his challenge to “not be ashamed of him.” And we later see John the Baptist’s head on a platter! Later still we see the apostles bearing up under death in such ignominious ways that we cannot even imagine. It mocks faith in this Messiah who actually said “no greater love is this than that one gives his life for his friends.” Always useful in a military context, but at the same time stripping Jesus’ words of its content and intention completely.

    Some Messiah! But he IS the Messiah!

    This story is compelling, but only if Jesus himself is part of the conversation. He is the missing voice in the room here, as anywhere
    these kinds of issues are discussed on the blog sites. And I can guarantee you, Richie, just as the Constantinian church has so longed sidelined him, he will not, at any rate the one in the gospels, be a part of the conversation of any call to the Western nations in how to
    do what is expected of them by Western “Christians.” I suspect, if
    Peter has anything to tell us about “trials by fire” we will be once again be paying the piper without even knowing it, sooner rather than later, simply because “judgment begins with the household of God.”

  • Richie

    Mark,
    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my post in such a relatively comprehensive way given the forum. Although as fellow Christians we agree on much, we certainly disagree on this topic. Your viewpoint, of course, corresponds to the standard views of Christian pacifism as expressed by Yoder in “Politics of Jesus”, Hays in “Moral Vision of the NT”, etc. The heart of our disagreement is that I (and many equally committed Christians) don’t believe that the statements of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are meant to be understand as “absolutes” apart from qualifications by other biblical principles. “Do not resist one who is evil” is qualified at many levels throughout both the OT and NT and the proper government use of force – as outlined in Rom. 13 and 1 Pet. 2 – is only one, though an important one, qualification of it. It is not “obedience to Jesus” that is the question; rather, it is the proper interpretation of Jesus – and then his apostles in Acts and the NT Letters – that is the question. We all want to “be obedient” – that, when speaking amongst fellow Christians – should be a given.

    Clearly, both the OT and the NT view the proper role of government as good – not, as evil. There is every reason that Christians can, and should, both support its proper functioning through taxes, etc. and participate in it. It is precisely the fact that government is not functioning properly in the Middle East that is the problem. And it is precisely the fact that Western governments can – to a greater or lesser degree – influence those governments for good that is the reason that they should do so. Christians can be, should be, and are involved in all of these governments and should be doing all that they can “for good” and against “evil” – just as Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 indicate. Paul, himself, continually claimed his own rights as a Roman citizen, relied on the Roman government for protection, and continually called on both the Jewish rulers and Roman rulers of his day to live up to the responsibilities they had within the legal structures of their own law codes. When those governmental structures were perverted by either the rulers themselves or else specific laws Christians suffered as a result because they refused to compromise their beliefs and practices. However, the proper role of government “for good” and “against evil” was not considered by the NT believers to be anything other than “good” and those who participated in it – including many Roman Christians – were considered to be doing nothing less than being “the public servants of God” in carrying out their duties. This, of course, would have included the punishment of evildoers by force for the common good.

    This is surely the correct interpretation of Rom. 13 and 1 Pet. 2 and it accords with what the entire Bible – both OT and NT – teaches about it. This is precisely where Yoder, Hays, et al go astray and their interpretation of Rom. 13 is, therefore, incompatible with the interpretation of almost every major commentary on Romans (e.g. Moo, Fitzmyer, Bruce, Barrett, et al.) Paul, whose “ways were in Christ”, was also Christ’s apostle to the Gentiles. Paul’s words are, therefore, just as authoritative as those of Jesus himself in the Sermon in the Mount and both he, Peter, et al., are surely the best interpreters we have of how the words of Jesus should be understood in their original context as well as how we should then apply them to the world in which we live today.

  • http://www.theelephantsdebt.com/ Ryan Mahoney

    Oh, if only the Church in America was such an affront and threat to the dominate culture.

  • http://www.jesuscoffeebreak.com/ Norman

    Not sure what the answer should be for the persecuted church around the world but I don’t believe we are doing enough to help these poor people. Recently I say a video of Christians being tortured by Muslim extremist. The Christian were beaten, stomped on the burned alive. It is heart breaking. No we are not doing enough.

  • Todd Moore

    At the very least, our country should stop military aid and plans to train the extremist insurgents who are behind this persecution. The insurgents have suffered, but as rebels at war. The Christians have suffered only because they are Christians.

  • http://www.jesuscoffeebreak.com/ Norman

    I totally agree with you that they are being slaughtered only because they are Christians. It is wickedness like I have never seen. The world has turned its back on those poor people. It’s like their only hope is to die and go home to be with the Lord.