The persecution of Christians that we read about in Scripture is not a thing of the past – it still exists, and according to many experts, is growing at unparalleled levels.
We are living in a time when persecution against Christians is at the highest it’s ever been since the 1600s, perhaps going back even further. And it’s certainly more prevalent today than at any time in modern history.
In some countries, persecution of Christians takes place under authoritarian regimes with full support of the government.
For example, in North Korea, the government seeks to control all religious thought and expression as part of a comprehensive plan to oversee all aspects of political and everyday life.
Governments like this regard certain religious groups as enemies because they hold religious beliefs that challenge loyalty to the rulers.
In Niger, where more than 98 percent of the population is Muslim, the hostility comes from an untrusting society more than its the government. In these countries, to claim an identity other than the one taken by the dominant culture is to be in opposition and considered a threat.
These are only two examples of governments and countries that abuse or restrict freedom of religion. Christians in areas like North Korea, Niger, and many others suffer profoundly and are denied the fundamental freedoms all humans should be entitled to.
When countries restrict religious freedom, they are rejecting a vital human right.
In May of this year, the BBC reported that “the persecution of Christians in parts of the world is near “genocide” levels.”
This came after a recent study by the Anglican Church found that 80 percent of religious persecution is against Christians. On average, about 345 Christians are killed each month on account of their faith, and around 105 churches or Christian buildings are burned or attacked.
The Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, where Islamic extremists targeted three churches and three hotels in Colombo in a series of bombings, highlighted this ever-growing epidemic.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, Christians were “harassed” in 144 countries, which was up from 128 countries the year before, making Christianity the most persecuted religious group in the world.
The group Open Doors USA, which advocates on behalf of persecuted Christians, recently reported that approximately 245 million Christians are at risk of extreme levels of persecution in 2019 – up from 215 million in 2018.
The current persecution of Christians is often at the hands of militant Muslims. However, these blatant attacks, sometimes violent and even deadly, are also coming from atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, and in some extreme cases, from individuals that also call themselves Christians.
But, should this come as a surprise to believers? No. In John 15:18, Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” Persecution is unavoidable.
As James states in James 1:2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
He urges us to welcome trials joyfully and that if we treat these attacks as spiritual exercises, we will grow strong in our faith.
Those who face trials with perseverance receive a crown of life from God as a reward for their commitment to Christ.