A senior pastor of a local church has written a blog, posted on this website, about a boiler breakdown in the church building with an encouragement to come in on Sunday in extra clothing, at least until new units are installed. The main point of his post centred on when the new units are likely to be fitted, who the contractor might be, and the finance to cover the cost.
His rather cautious post also carries a paragraph reminding all his readers that the boiler breakdown and the resulting chill of the midwinter air is the worst possible scenario his worshippers will need to suffer, and therefore should not stand as a valid reason to stay away from their weekly services. He then makes a comparison between listening to a sermon with a nip in the air to Christians living abroad, where just merely attending church could cost them their lives.
At least in Israel, I was able to worship in a Christian church while at a nearby mosque, the call to prayer sounded from the minaret speakers. Oh yes, that call of prayer, set at definite times of the day. And how could I ever forget 1976, while at the Kidron Valley, where the Arab East Jerusalem residential district of Silwan echoed with the voice of a single male individual, or Imam, reciting his call to prayer tuned to a melody? The loudspeakers set on top of a tower amplified the voice to a level where it reverberated across the valley separating Mount Othel, on which the ancient Canaanite settlement once sat, from the neighbouring Mount of Olives.
How the Imam recited his call before the invention of loudspeakers has always intrigued me. Did he use a ram's horn, like the Jews did in ancient times? Who knows? Nevertheless, to listen to such a call several times a day echoing through a valley has really made me aware that I was in a foreign country, outside the European bloc.
|Silwan at Kidron Valley, East Jerusalem.|
However, the further away from the Mediterranean coastline one travels, then Islam becomes less tolerant of Christians. Until one ends up in Saudi Arabia, where Christians are seen as heretics. Hence holding a church service in an Arab city such as Mecca or Medina, the chance of a death penalty imposed by a Muslim judge stands as a high possibility.
The persecution of Christians around the world is nothing new. Ever since Jesus himself was ministering, by the time he arrived in Jerusalem, the religious fanatics were baying for his blood. And thereafter it came as no surprise that the apostles and their followers suffered hostility, usually from the Pharisees and Sadducees. If my perception of Scripture and history are correct, then it does look as if all sources of persecution has a religious connotation. One good example is the Apostle Paul. He himself, as a Pharisee, chased after Christian believers as far as Damascus was from Jerusalem, and he did it under the authority of Jewish priests, whose letters of consent were carried on him.
Then after his conversion, his mission was constantly impeded by the religiously-minded Jews who were trailing him. One example which I find rather amusing (by modern thinking) was the case in the city of Lystra (Acts 14:8-20). At one particular location (perhaps at a market square or forum) he saw a man crippled at his feet and had never walked in his life. Paul looked directly at him and seeing that he had faith, ordered the man to stand up. And here is the amusing bit. He did stand up for the first time in his life and probably praised God too. But the rest of the crowd were astonished at such a miracle taking place at their midst and sincerely believed that the two preachers were human manifestations of gods - with Barnabas being Zeus and Paul being Hermes. And therefore animal sacrifices were prepared for them.
But it was a group of Jews who convinced the crowd rather than Paul's pleading. And the Jews successfully turned the crowd against the apostles and with the miracle forgotten, therefore creating a barrier blocking the crowd from receiving salvation. Indeed, what Jewish religion has done was to turn a rather amusing incident into a tragedy.
Then inside the arena at the centre of Rome, Christians were sent to their deaths on a regular basis. They were fed to the lions or killed in several other ways. The reason for this was again religious. The Roman edict demands that every citizen must swear an oath that their Emperor is Lord and divine. But Christians insists that the risen Jesus of Nazareth is both Lord and Christ, and one with the divine Godhead. As a consequence of such a confession, they were thrown to the lions.
With the testimony of history, both ancient and recent, I have wondered how our modern-day English Christian would respond and cope if persecution of the physical kind was to erupt here. On a Facebook comment forum which trails the pastor's blog link, I wrote a teasing comment on the issue, proving that I have read the whole blog. My contribution received no responses, whether for or against, agreement or disagreement. Or no "likes" or emoji. And there is an emoji reflecting every mood, from laughter to tears, from shock to anger. Indeed, I wonder whether such believers are so thin-skinned as they are either apathetic, too uptight or even upset by the tease to make any response, even if just by posting an appropriate emoji.
Perhaps an invasion of Muslims into this country and turning it into an Islamic State may actually do good for our churches and to them! At least in three ways. Sure, Islamic persecution of Christians will indeed shake off the cultural dross clinging to all of us as believers, myself included. And such persecution would sort out the committed from the nominal, the regenerated from the mere professor. In turn, the Muslims will receive testimonies that this Jesus we believe in is the risen Christ, the Son of God, and be saved.
|Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, Surrey.|
If the Adversary has always been behind physical persecution of the churches, then his purpose was a complete failure. Through such oppression, the churches were purified from any worldly dross, and false brothers left voluntarily. Therefore he tried a different tact, one which was very efficient. That was to condition the grace of God into something that must be accompanied by a work of some kind. The Churches in the region of Galatia were confused by a set of teaching from some Judaisers, that in order for salvation to take effect, every male Christian must be circumcised. They have backed this with Scripture, particularly from Genesis 17:14, which says that any uncircumcised male will be cut off from God's people. Very convincing stuff. Little wonder that the Apostle Paul had to write a stern letter condemning such teaching, and cursed its advocates.
I suppose that the Adversary knows that God won't allow him to physically persecute British Christians. Or it may be that such oppression is not really necessary - well, at least if there is a far more subtle way of throwing a stumbling block at the churches. And that's through the mind rather than through physical harm. He has already tried physical discomfort, even to the point of death. It didn't work. The churches flourished. Their members lived purified lives and eagerly looked forward to the Return of Christ and to their bodily redemption and their promised glory. Their members all developed a close relationship with their beloved Saviour. Indeed, the more the flesh suffered an element of discomfort or was even destroyed, the more their spirits grew.
Oh for Islam to invade Britain and start up a War of the Faiths! I guess that will sort out the men from the boys, wouldn't it? Or the true saint from the phoney. And one sidekick from all this is the Christian's stance on Divine Creation. I sincerely believe that those who believe in Theistic Evolution will either repudiate his ideas for the Biblical record or he will melt like a snowflake under the sun.
Under such persecution, the Christian will be given a fundamental choice, and the choice is this: Is this Jesus of Nazareth the actual risen Christ who was crucified to atone for us? I think the making or breaking of his faith depends a lot on whether he believes in the Biblical record recorded in the early chapters of Genesis, or whether he has always believed in Evolution, theistic or otherwise. After all, if all the Old Testament saints believed in the Genesis record, as Jesus himself did, along with all the apostles and their followers, then who are we to think we know better?
But theistic evolution is not only the central core of our English brothers in Christ. What I have seen, a university degree is very high on the believer's order of importance. Now, to hold a degree of higher education is not so bad in itself. Rather, it can be an excellent commodity, opening a wealth of vocational opportunities. But I wonder what effect would Islamic persecution of Christians in this land would have on them? If their degree was to get in the way of a wholehearted faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Saviour or deny the reality of God's love to keep his high-income career?
Or here is another one: Social status. Over more than forty years as a Christian, one characteristic that is so well cherished by both Christian men and women is being middle-class. I guess this is inextricably linked to a high level of education and a profession with a high income. Throughout the years, I have seen far more computer experts than refuse collectors. As a matter of fact, I have never seen a believing dustman worshipping in church throughout the last 46 years as a Christian! However, I have known a few builders, two I knew have already gone to glory. However, there is a large student group fellowshipping with us every Sunday. Fortunately, I'm quite popular with them, but I do wonder where all this will go if persecution were to arise.
And there I need to look at my own set of circumstances. Okay, given a choice of limitless world travel if I was to deny Jesus as the Christ, or be banged up in a prison cell if I keep on confessing him. I think I'll know where I would stand on that one. Swapping a glorious crown for an air ticket is by no means a wise decision! Especially after touching down at Heathrow Airport, which I'll end up doing no matter how long I'll be away. But there is one situation where I would indeed be in dire straits. That is if my wife was kidnapped by a group of Muslims. Then given a stark choice: Deny Christ and she can return home with me. But refuse to deny Jesus as the Son of God and she would suffer a painful death.
Now that would be a real stinker, wouldn't it? My dearest beloved. I think this would require the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome this one. For both of us. For only God can empower her to encourage me not to deny my Lord, and I require the power of the Holy Spirit to keep on confessing him. But although such a situation is terrible, it is but a moment compared to the eternal glory to come. And both of us must realise this.
|At Portsmouth Spinnaker Tower, 2011.|
Under Islamic rule, there will be no more worries about church heating or boiler replacement. This is because, for its very survival, church members may have to meet in a garden shed, as the original building would be turned into a mosque. Not very nice during the Winter, but it's either this or scattered across the country. Furthermore, employers would willingly fire all Christians, and each has to find a way to keep bills paid, for it's quite likely that all State benefits will wind up for all non-Muslims. Perhaps many will also be made homeless as a result, and end up finding shared accommodation with other Christians. As for the National Health Service, only Muslims can use the facilities free to the point of use. Christians must pay the full price or face exclusion.
But whatever wretched set of circumstances every Christian has found himself in, one thing for sure, and that is every true believer will shine like glorious stars before a watching world. Their zeal for God and his Kingdom will be so intense that they will all be beyond reproach, blameless in everything they think, say and do. And rather than pursue the middle-class status quo, they would give up their bodies in an instant if this would bring glory to God.
But I guess none of all this will ever happen. English life is way too comfortable as it is, and our social-class culture is highly treasured. Could this be the reason why just a couple of days ago the hard-line Brexiteers and the far-Right hassled a female Tory MP outside Parliament to have all building of mosques stopped and Muslim immigration checked before our country turns into a caliphate?