Persecution as a mark of the church
Religion & Liberty Online

Persecution as a mark of the church

Last Friday the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2008 report, noting eleven nations as “countries of particular concern,” being “those that are are most restrictive of religious freedom”: Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. (HT: The God & Culture Blog)

Howard Friedman relates, “The Commission is postponing its recommendations as to Iraq pending a Commission visit to the country later this month. This compromise was approved after a sharp party-line split among Commissioners over the draft chapter in the report on Iraq.” This amid widespread reports that the situation for Christians in Iraq has deteriorated markedly since the invasion.

I’m becoming more and more convinced as time passes that the recognition of the complex realities of persecution, suffering, and martyrdom around the globe is of fundamental importance for the vitality of the Christian church in North America. We need to come to terms with solidarity, what it means to be one with our fellow Christians in the world, and in what ways all Christians “suffer” in the daily work of sanctification. To keep abreast of these sorts of concerns, be sure to check out Voice of the Martyrs.

With this in mind, I want to pass along a section from the Zurich Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, from a treatise titled, A Brief Exposition of the One and Eternal Testament or Covenant of God (1534). Reformation scholars, under the influence of Heiko Oberman, have long recognized the nature of the Protestant Reformation as a “refugee reformation” (consider the travels and travails of Peter Martyr Vermigli, Jerome Zanchi, and Wolfgang Musculus, for instance). Bullinger is a notable exception, as once he was established in Zurich it was rare for him to travel to even neighboring Swiss cities.

But from that perspective his thoughts on persecution ring out even more clearly for us today. The text of the section follows below.
“The Cross, Peace and Victory of the Saints”
by Heinrich Bullinger

Everyone knows how many trials Abraham endured in the course of that journey, so I need not call to mind the rest of the details. The patriarch Jacob never enjoyed any good fortune that was not soured by various severe hardships. There is no reason for me to relate any details about Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and all the other distinguished figures. No single one of them would suffice as an example in enumerating their many hardships, calamities, and labors undertaken for the sake of the Lord. Even the sacred writers themselves have scarcely been able to relate everything in their many books. What about the fact that the faithful people of Judah endured no less persecutions on account of their piety and faith, sometimes from their own wicked kings, sometimes from foreign tyrants, from the church of Christ itself suffered from the impious and blasphemous Caesars? For as this church has Nero, Domitian, Maxentius, Julian, Decian, Severus, Valerian, and Diocletian, so the ancient church had Pharaoh, Ahab, Joash, Manasseh, Jehoiachim, Zedekian, Nebuchadnezzar, and Antiochus. Truly the priests and prophets of the ancient church deserved to be made examples for Christian martyrs. For the Lord even said so in the Gospel of Matthew: “Blessed are they who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men shall attack you on account of me. Rejoice and exult, because your reward in heaven is great. For in this way did they persecute the prophets before you” (Matt. 5 [10-12]). On the other hand, there is no doubt that there have always been myriads of saints who have lived piously in Christ, who were never sent into exile or killed for the sake of the faith. Therefore Paul’s statement, “All who wish to live piously in Christ will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3 [12]), does not refer to a common occurrence, but is a consolation for the afflicted. There are also different kinds of persecution. Not only does he who is thrown into prison or hung from a tree endure persecution but also he who is tested by different adversities and temptations. The latter customarily happens to pious people otherwise enjoying peace and security of mind. For even the apostle Paul, most often safe from the snares and furies of persecutors and, what is more, revived by the ministrations of the brethren, experienced severe anxieties of the soul. For the soul of a Christian is also affected by another person’s distress. Wherefore the apostle said, “Who is weakened and I am not weakened? Who is offended and I am not distressed?” (2 Cor. 11 [29]; see also Rom. 12 [15] and Heb. 13 [3]). Moreover, the most holy prophet Isaiah in those chapters in which he describes the church being gathered together from the whole world, into which church he said that kings also would come, did not teach that the church should in every way and always be exposed to slaughters, so that on this earth it would be without any kind of peace, happiness, and victory (Isa. 49 [1-7]). And Doctor Aurelius Augustine in his work The City of God, book 5, in the final chapters, offered pleasant and useful accounts for the reader about the victories and wonderful happiness of certain Christian kings…

–From Fountainhead of Federalism, translated by Charles S. McCoy and J. Wayne Baker (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), pp. 129-30.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.