In Christian history, the first few centuries are sometimes referred to as the Age of Martyrs. From Stephen, the first known martyr to the conversion of Emperor Constantine, Christians were persecuted first briefly by the Jews and then much worse by the Romans. However, more Christians have died for their faith over the past century than throughout all history. A common estimate for the number of Christians who have been murdered for their faith throughout history is 70 million. It has been calculated that 65% of that number, or 45 million died during the twentieth century. Living in the relatively free west can mask the reality of the world situation. While these numbers are estimates, they do point out that rather than improving over time, persecution has actually gotten worse. All Saints Day is a time to remember the martyrs.
Can a nation’s constitution guarantee freedom? According to Renovo Media, North Korea’s constitution supposedly guarantees freedom of religion. However, a piece of paper guarantees nothing when leaders abuse their power. According to Voice of the Martyrs, in 2004 a North Korean army general was executed for attempting to preach Christ to his troops. In 2009, a woman there named Ri Hyon Ok was executed in public for distributing the Bible. This normal Christian deed is seen as anti-government activity in a country where the head of state claims to be a god. There may be 30,000 Christians in North Korea. However, the official state ideology is Juche a North Korean variance of Marxism, which deifies its leader. According to Open Door, North Korea is the world’s worst persecutor of Christians. This All Saints Day let’s remember North Korean Christians.
With some facts from Open Doors, this All Saints Day we remember modern persecuted saints. North Korea arrests, tortures, kills, and reportedly uses Christians in biological and chemical warfare tests. In Iran Armenian, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians are abused, harassed and forbidden to allow former Muslims to enter their churches. In Saudi Arabia non-Muslim worship is forbidden. In Afghanistan Christians face fierce persecution. In Yemen leaving Islam is forbidden. Chinese Christians in non-state churches can face imprisonment and punishment. In India anti-Christian violence is high in a number of Hindu states. In Algeria, the government regulates religion and has ordered half of evangelical churches to close. In Kuwait getting permission to build churches is difficult and evangelizing of Muslims forbidden. In Indonesia, the government fails to protect Christians from unofficial persecution in many states. 100 million Christians face persecution today.
The Armenian Church traces its origins to two of the early Apostles, Bartholomew and Thaddeus. Because of this, that church is today called the Armenian Apostolic Church, an Oriental Orthodox Church. The Armenian diaspora today stretches worldwide. In modern times Armenians have experienced one of history’s worst persecutions. It occurred immediately after 1915 in the Ottoman Empire, modern day Turkey. It is estimated that one and a half million Armenians were killed. Over half of the Christian Armenians were killed by forces of the Muslim government. Many Muslims including some national leaders, who sought to protect their Christian neighbors suffered and many of them were also murdered. This Armenian genocide is remembered on April 24. All Saints Day is also a time to remember Christian saints, living and dead. It is likewise a time of special remembrance for Christian martyrs.
In the imaginary two-dimensional world of the false dichotomy, everything is either right or wrong. However, that world simply does not exist. Many things certainly are right or wrong. But, a lot of things are neutral and can be put to a good or bad use. The same is true of Halloween, the evening of all hallows or saints. We have a choice. So, the question, “Is Halloween Christian?” is erroneous. Halloween can be good and focused on Christian saints or it can be evil and focused on things that oppose Christianity, or it can be harmless fun, depending on how it is used. Some people celebrate evil, others mock evil and others celebrate saints living and dead. Probably most people are just having a little fun and not even thinking of God. We can make it a Christian celebration.
Labels: Psalm 116
Halloween is a modern celebration with mixed roots. A challenge to us is to recapture certain original Christian purposes. Some very valuable lessons have been almost entirely forgotten by commercialized versions. The word Halloween has nothing to do with witches and goblins, but saints. All true Christians are saints. Halloween means the evening before all hallows or all saints day. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, early Christians remembered the death of their martyrs, those murdered by ancient Rome for their faith. Some Protestant churches remember saints of the church who have died as well as martyrs in countries where Christians are persecuted even today. Even some of the customs of Halloween were used by Christians to poke fun at evil, facing the demons that persecuted the Church and laughing at them so to speak. Facing our demons can be therapeutic.
Labels: Revelation 17
Does Acts 2:38 demand that only someone old enough to believe can be baptized? Are churches that baptize infants wrong? An honest look at the very next verse would reveal that children are included in the promise that accompanies baptism. Another case study is much clearer about children being included in baptism. The entire families of ancient Israel were baptized into Moses in the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). On three separate occasions in the New Testament whole households were baptized (1 Corinthians 1:16; Acts 11:13-14; Acts 16:15, 31, 33). Logic dictates a high probability that at least one of those households contained a child. Baptism also pictures circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12) a ritual performed on infants and adults. Churches that include infant baptism with confirmation of faith later in life have reasonable biblical precedent.
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Narrowly, we think of politics as only relating to human government. However, it also has a much broader meaning. Politics also refers to the complexity of relationships between people in any society, even in churches. Whether we only look narrowly at government or more widely at all human relationships, successful politics must involve a very important principle which is so often forgotten - forgiveness. Jesus taught one of the greatest needs of human politics in Luke 17:1-10 - simple forgiveness. Why? Why do we need to forgive each other? Human systems of government have always promised more than they can deliver. No human society, even the Church, has ever been able to create utopia, perfection on earth. Such a flawless system is impossible as long as the people within it are imperfect, and so we must forgive or perish.
Why did Jesus encourage us to forgive one another (Luke 17:1-10)? Why should we be forgiving? Offenses are normal. Sunday school teachers must forgive rowdy students and students must forgive overbearing teachers. Ever church seems to contain at least one bully who needs forgiveness for ungrace. Every choir or music group must forgive a lack of appreciation. Every new person must forgive the overzealous and pushy evangelists among us who think they must shove Christianity down others' throats. Every mother must forgive a son with tattoos and a rebellious streak and every father must forgive a daughter who went astray. Every child must forgive an imperfect parent and every grandparent must forgive the lack of honor shown. Every pastor must forgive the critics and every congregation must forgive the offense of preaching. Community involves offense. Forgiveness is the antidote.
Christian conversation regarding national leaders is a travesty of unforgiveness. Yet, on the cross, Jesus said, Father forgive them, they know not what they do. How did we in the church let ourselves slide into such a state of graceless and merciless hatred when it comes to those in political office? How do we allow ourselves to pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and at the same time spew forth hate-filled vitriol and constant accusations about our national leaders? In Luke 17:1-10 and many other places Jesus emphasized forgiveness. Are political leaders an exception to that Christian ideal? Do we live in a dreamland where we somehow believe that national leaders can actually be flawless? Do we really believe that salvation is possible through presidents and prime ministers instead of Jesus Christ?
When we think of sin, we assume that it is a religious word associated with God’s law or a religious definition of morality. That can be true, but a word most often used in the New Testament actually carries a broader meaning than our modern understanding of the word sin. For instance, in Luke 17:1-10 Jesus said that if a brother sins against you seven times a day and has a change of heart forgive him. The word for sin in this passage literally means to miss the mark, but was used in ancient Greek society to mean any kind of flaw. In the historical and textual context Jesus was referring to anything that causes an offense between people, not just the law of God. In any endeavor involving people there will be failings. The key is to forgive.
In Luke 17:1-10 and many other places Jesus emphasized forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive? In a brutal world with wars, destructive political rhetoric and road rage is there room for forgiveness? Even in businesses that attempt to be positive, mistakes are described as opportunities to improve, not as forgivable. Yet, we describe a forgiving tennis racket as one that allows error or weakness. In human relations, forgiving is giving something up. It is giving up the resentment or expectation of punishment or repayment for real or imagined wrongs. It means giving up anger and hatred. When we forgive, we also do immeasurable good for our own mental and emotional health. Unforgiveness creates dysfunctional politics, families and churches. Forgiveness creates healthy nations, families and churches. Maybe that’s why Jesus said to forgive each other seven times a day.