Why this persecution? – Part 1
Persecution is the suffering or pressure, harassment, molestation, which authorities, individuals or groups inflict on others with a view to their subjection by recantation, silencing or even execution. The reason behind such action is often ethnic, religious, or political differences resulting in intense deep-seated prejudice and hatred.
Persecution is experienced in families, workplaces, in government and in the Church. It comes in many forms: terrorism, hate speeches, torture, deprivation, denial of right, rejection, job loss, imprisonment, demonic attack, kidnapping, oppression, murder, burning of worship centres, etc.
People of God have experienced persecution throughout history. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people and prophets were cruelly persecuted by the ancient super-powers such as Egyptian, Babylonian and Roman Empires among others. Similarly, in the New Testament, Christianity for about 2000 years of existence has been a victim of mindless persecution by religious leaders, governmental powers, insurgency groups, and rival religions, especially Islam.
Why this persecution? In the Acts of the Apostles 9:1-6, the Bible records that Saul of Tarsus, a talented and highly educated young man thought he could do everything possible to destroy the newly born church. While on his wicked mission to Damascus carrying authority letter from the High Priests to arrest followers of Christ and to bring them bound to Jerusalem for imprisonment, he encountered the risen Christ whom the Jews thought was no longer alive.
Just by the borders of Damascus, a brilliant light shone around him and he fell down from his horse. Then a voice spoke to him from heaven, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.” When Saul asked who spoke to him, the voice answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
In a dramatic turn of events, Saul surrendered to the Lord of lords and King of kings, Jesus Christ. He was converted to Christianity and commissioned by the Lord to evangelise the Gentile nations. He became the promoter of the ministry he attempted to destroy. Along with other Apostles of Jesus Christ he laid the foundation of the Church through his theology and doctrines. Out of 21 Epistles in the New Testament, he wrote 13. Curiously though, he suffered the consequence of his action by also experiencing fierce persecution and martyrdom. The lesson here is that whoever attacks the people of God will suffer dire consequences sooner or later.
Paul’s (his Roman name) story of persecution of the church is pathetic. Hear his testimony: “Even though I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1Tim. 1:13). Herein lies the root cause of persecution of Christians around the world – ignorance and unbelief.
• Ignorance of man’s divine purpose in the world – “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”. Gen. 1:28.
• Ignorance of Christians’ mission in the world – “Go into the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15,16.
• Ignorance that “each of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:12).
• Ignorance and unbelief that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1Tim. 1:15.
• Ignorance of the fact that the constitution guarantees freedom of worship and association.
The Most Rev. Chimezuo Nwankpa, Archbishop of Uyo, Methodist Church Nigeria.
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