Martyrdom vs. Flabby Christianity

by Kenneth E. Hines on September 28, 2013

Rasha called her fiance Atef on his cell phone. A rebel answered and told her that they captured Atef and had given him the option of converting to Islam. He refused. So they slit his throat.

Orthodox Christian Funeral in Syria

Atef was engaged to be married to Rasha. They are Christians and they lived in the ancient Christian village of Maaloula in Syria where the residents still speak Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Earlier this month the village was attacked by rebels of the Free Syrian Army made up of Jihadist factions from all over the Middle East including members of Al-Qaeda.

Kirsten Powers wrote yesterday in the Daily Beast of the slaughter of Christians now taking place around the world:

“As Egypt’s Copts have battled the worst attacks on the Christian minority since the 14th century, the bad news for Christians in the region keeps coming. On Sunday, Taliban suicide bombers killed at least 85 worshippers at All Saints’ church, which has stood since 1883 in the city of Peshawar, Pakistan. Christians were also the target of Islamic fanatics in the attack on a shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya, this week that killed more than 70 people. The Associated Press reported that the Somali Islamic militant group al-Shabab “confirmed witness accounts that gunmen separated Muslims from other people and let the Muslims go free.” The captives were asked questions about Islam. If they couldn’t answer, they were shot.

In Syria, Christians are under attack by Islamist rebels and fear extinction if Bashar al-Assad falls. This month, rebels overran the historic Christian town of Maalula, where many of its inhabitants speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The AFP reported that a resident of Maalula called her fiancé’s cell and was told by member of the Free Syrian Army that they gave him a chance to convert to Islam and he refused. So they slit his throat.

Nina Shea, an international human-rights lawyer and expert on religious persecution, testified in 2011 before Congress regarding the fate of Iraqi Christians, two-thirds of whom have vanished from the country. They have either been murdered or fled in fear for their lives. Said Shea: ‘[I]n August 2004 … five churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul. On a single day in July 2009, seven churches were bombed in Baghdad … The archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped and killed in early 2008. A bus convoy of Christian students were violently assaulted. Christians … have been raped, tortured, kidnapped, beheaded, and evicted from their homes …’”

When I was a young Christian in high school I read the book, “Fox’s Book of Martyrs” which details the persecutions of Jesus’ followers beginning in the first centuries of the Christian Church. I remember thinking about how hard it must have been to be a Christian in those days.  It seemed so far away, so unreal. I feel the same way when I think of the Holocaust. It is beyond my comprehension to think of such cruelty against fellow humans just because of one’s religion or ethnicity.

But it is happening today. This time, instead of being separated by decades or millennia, we’re separated by thousands of miles. And that makes it seem just as unreal. The difference is that we have instant communication with real-time images and videos. We are watching the horror right before our eyes.

And yet, we are still unaffected.

Here in America we are insulated, comfortable, and indifferent. In her article Powers questions how such terror can be happening and yet so many Christian believers and churches can be so silent.

“American Christians are quite able to organize around issues that concern them. Yet religious persecution appears not to have grabbed their attention, despite worldwide media coverage of the atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.”

I have two reactions to this. I’m angry at myself and my fellow Christians for being indifferent, and I’m ashamed of how flabby my own faith is.

Indifferent Christians

I was pleased to see the groundswell of protest to the suggestion of US intervention into Syria last month. There are indeed a myriad of atrocities that are taking place there – on both sides. But we are fooling ourselves if we think we can resolve the conflict without causing more devastating consequences for those in Syria, the region, and our own national interests. So I am glad so many are standing against American strikes against Syria.

But why does the protest stop there? Why isn’t there equal outrage over the torture and killing of Christians throughout the Middle East?

The answer to that is surely complex but one simple and obvious answer is the foolishness of “political correctness.” From government to media to churches people are so afraid to speak out for fear they will offend Moslems. I say people are not stupid. They know the difference between peace-loving and law-abiding Moslems and the Islamic radicals who are waging war over centuries-old rivalries and fundamentalist jihadist ideologies. Middle Eastern Christians are caught in the middle of these Islamic tribal wars. We can’t resolve the ancient rivalries but we can speak out and influence world opinion on the persecution against Christians and other minorities.

Flabby Christians

The horror my fellow Christians are facing causes me to question the depth of my own commitment to Christ. It’s not a matter of comparing my faith to theirs and asking if I am willing to die for my faith. I’m not sure anyone can answer that question when we aren’t really being faced with it. But it does make me think about how flabby my faith is over so much less.

For example, compare being a Christian like Atef who is faced with the choice of renouncing Christ and becoming a Moslem or having his throat slit and the kind of choices we face in America: making it to church on Sundays or sleeping in; watching TV or reading our Bibles; going to the gym or praying; buying ourselves another outfit or giving money to feed the poor; on and on the list goes.

I know the answer to those questions – most of the time and for most of us. Let’s face it. We’re flabby. The sacrifices our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are making today put us to shame. They are being tested. But so are we.

This is a time for us to take a serious look at our faith. Do we call ourselves Christians out of convenience? Just because it’s part of our family? Maybe we call ourselves Christian just because we’ve never questioned it and so we take the easiest form of it possible. Are we just “cultural” Christians where our faith doesn’t cost us anything and just makes us feel good about ourselves because we think it’s the right way to go? Maybe we think of ourselves as “spiritual but not religious” Christians. We think we can go it on our own and no one, no church or tradition, is going to tell us how to live. We want a faith but we don’t want it to cost us anything. We’d rather make up our own idea of who Christ – because that makes Him easy – rather than Who He really is which is really, really hard.

Consider some of His words (which our suffering brothers and sisters know quite well):

“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:32-39)

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13,14)

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)

“I know your works, that you are neither cold or hot, I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Rev. 3:15,16)

Spiritual Discipline

Compared to our suffering brothers and sisters we are lazy, flabby Christians. We need to return the Grace-filled, self-denying faith of the Church. We need to recover the spiritual gymnasium of the saints where we can exercise our flabby spiritual muscles through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, worship, sacraments, Scripture reading, and almsgiving.

They’re called spiritual disciplines because they’re not easy. They require effort and hard work. Most of us don’t want a faith like this. That’s why we’re flabby. Or, maybe, we really don’t have true faith at all and it’s just a game for us.

Well, we can be sure. It’s not a game for the Christians in the Middle East right now.

  • Brad Sydow

    Thank you for speaking Truth. Gays in the US for example take to the streets to protest the smallest of issues, and where are we when our brothers and sisters are being killed? Discussing problems with the church mortgage, not wanting to be politically incorrect? Shame on us all.

  • Alvin Kimel

    Your good article reblogged: http://goo.gl/J9RuSG.

  • Pingback: Martyrdom vs. Flabby Christianity()

  • Ed Haliday

    Excellent article, and food for thought, wel done

  • margiesindelar

    FYI….Fox’s book of martyrs is rabidly anti-catholic and full of historical
    innacuracies, if you want to study some true martyrs, study the Martyrs
    of the Catholic church….

    • Αντώνης Ταρλίζος

      The Martyrs of the Catholic church?… Ofcourse, and study the martyrs of the protestant church, and while at it, the martyrs of the Jehova’s witnesses.

      I don’t think it’s an amazing fact, that the picture above yet again, shows an Orthodox burial..

    • http://www.KennethEHines.com Kenneth E. Hines

      Thank you for your comment. I am aware that Fox’s Book of Martyrs is anti-Catholic. I read it when I was in high school and I was a baptist fundamentalist. It just happens that it was the first book that alerted me to the persecutions of the early Church. I appreciate the book for that. During the protestant reformation there was persecution on both sides, Catholic and protestant. As an Orthodox Christian I wouldn’t recommend it today. It’s just part of my personal story.

  • http://www.KennethEHines.com Kenneth E. Hines

    Thank you for the reminder of the atrocities taking place in the Congo. The link you posted is heart-wrenching and incredibly distressing. I would warn anyone clicking on it that it is extremely graphic. You can use Google translator to translate from the French. Here are two more articles for more information to raise awareness. It is an place of great suffering I need to learn more myself.

    The Hard Truths We Must Swallow: The Rwandan Government Wreaking Havoc in Congo from Huffington Post: http://kenhin.es/19jedZE
    Building Peace on the Heart of Darkness from Christianity Today
    http://kenhin.es/1fEbh3b

  • Sabrina

    It’s a different front in the same war. The Evil One orchestrates the entire thing. It’s why Christians anywhere in the world need to always be watchful and be ready for any trial or temptation that may assert itself.

  • Sophonia

    I think some of the comments here may indicate why Christians cannot mobilize for the sake of the martyrs in the Middle East. We have a tendency to disrespect each other denominationally. Protestant vs Catholic vs Orthodox vs Reformed vs Evangelical vs Liberal vs Episcopalian etc. Mostly about who has the Truth.

    Until we understand that God can see through Doctrine to the individual heart, we will be ineffective. God loves variety and I belueve Shepards His Universal Church. he has place every believer in a denomination and congregation that suits them and their make-up. And He has given us a way to determine true Christianity. 1 John 4:1-3 tells us to test the spirits in terms of what they do with Jesus Christ, who should be our rallying point. If they deny Jesus came in the flesh they are not from God and we need not worry about them, but all others who confess the Incarnation of Jesus we must learn not only to tolerate each other, but to love one another. By this the world will know that we are disciples of Christ.

    Secondly, I am sure that many western Christians can not relate to the eastern branch of Christianity because we do not understand the history of the Church as a whole. Copts may be as foreign to us as sunni moslems. It would behoove us to become much more familiar with our history and the various and varied congregations who name the name of Christ around the World. I assure you Christ is very well aware of them and is with them in this struggle.

    But what should we do? Praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ is a good place to start and praying for an awakening in our own hearts for unity in the faith is a must as well for I fear it won’t be long before we in the west will need the prayers of those in the east to sustain us in our own struggle with persecution.

    Blessings to all, especially our persecuted brothers and sisters.

  • Rob O’Gorman

    Ken, thank your for this. Or maybe we’re frightened of “freedom” – real freedom. The freedom which comes from knowing the Truth which Jesus is offering us all. As I think I’ve heard, this is one of THE most “under-reported” matters in the western media – who are largely ‘liberal’ anyway. Could you drop me a line SVP? I’d like to discuss this matter with you further – and see if I can’t be of some further tangible assistance. Thanks Ken! +

  • Harrison Krenitsky

    I question the validity of America referring to itself as a
    Judeo – Christian Nation, for it, in fact, rejects most of the moral
    foundations established by the Christian Church over 2000 years ago. The majority of America’s Christian understandings go back only as far as Martin Luther which was 1520 years later than the earliest Christian Church. The Protestant movement split, not from the
    Eastern Church (Orthodoxy) but, instead, the Western Church (Roman Catholicism)
    which had, in 1054, already severed its communion with the Byzantine Orthodox
    Christian Churches that lay east of the Adriatic Sea. The Christians whose
    religious expressions and rituals can be traced back to the foundation of Christianity
    are viewed by most Americans as Non-Christians. The Coptic Orthodox, Syrian
    Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and the host of other Orthodox Christians that
    populate the Middle East and surrounding areas are therefore considered
    irrelevant to a majority of so called Christians that dwell in America and the world’s
    western societies. These Orthodox Christian Churches use and wear strange
    robes, have icons in their churches, use incense, Holy water, oils, wine and bread and hold to an apostolic succession back to the Twelve Original Apostles’. Their history doesn’t ignore
    but instead incorporates the first 1520 years of Christianity in their belief’s
    structure, their rituals and their teachings. What has occurred in America and Western Europe since 1520 is a further modification of the scriptures and understandings of that time and an acceptance of a social gospel based predominately on an emotional love experience and feeling. The earliest Spiritual Gospels based first on an understanding of Truth, not emotions or passions, are viewed in our so called modern western societies as prejudicial
    and generally irrelevant to today’s modern western social thinking. The
    attitude of, “If it feels good” just do it, has replace the more thoughtful and
    humbling ideas of respect, patience, restraint and fasting. Instant gratification
    rules and why shouldn’t it if we proclaim and seek only a social gospel absent
    of any moral compass that is guided by a Truth established and founded in the
    earliest and original Christian Church.

    • http://listics.com/ fpaynter

      One hopes that the USA is not thought of as a “Judaeo Christian nation.” Our constitution provides a secular foundation for government, and support for an egalitarian social structure that we hope welcomes all faiths, agnostics, and atheists alike.

  • Franklin Delano Huston

    In recent months, I have been wondering, just what should be our response to the fact of the disgusting and distressing persecution and killings of Christians. But I have remembered that the word of the Lord Jesus is that we are to ”pray for our enemies and for those who despitefully use us.” (It is surely easier for us who are thousands of miles away from the bloodshed and it has not involved our blood families, so yes, I have been seeking to learn and practice this aspect of my faith.) And perhaps this is one of the best ways we can assist the Family of God who have suffered so much in Africa and Middle East.
    Then I had a ‘God Happening’ in my life which has confirmed to me that this is what I should be doing: I was exposed to a box of old books which were being discarded. For some ‘God-known’ reason I picked out a book, to read: DAUGHTER OF THE EUPHRATES, an autobiography by Elizabeth Caraman, published by Harper & Brothers 1939. She was a young Armenian girl who lived and experienced the Armenian Genocide Event of Turkey 1915-1918. (Between 1 and 1 1/2 million killed). She tells of life in central Turkey as an Armenian and of the brutal deaths of her Mother and Father. Later, she, as an orphan is volunteering in a Healing Ward where she is tending a Turkish soldier who has been wounded in the War (WWI). As they talk she tells him some of her story. When she mentioned that her Father was borne from the prison in Habousie; being hauled on the back of a donkey, accompanying a column of exiled boys and men who were being taken to their deaths; her questioner fell silent. ”As I continued to work I felt his eyes fixed on me,” and at last he said quietly, “I killed your father.”
    “I continued to swab his wound, but my heart frozen within me.”
    “He was the last to be killed that night,” the wounded man went on. “I rolled him off the donkey onto the ground and with one jab of my bayonet killed him. Ever since I have pictured it in my mind.” He paused and then said, “This killing business has sickened me.”
    Hatred and sorrow flooded my heart. At last, remembering Mother and what she would have done, I murmured, “Christ says we must forgive our enemies, and I forgive you.”
    From that day he regarded me with a kind of amazement written on his face, and one day as I dressed his wound he broke out, “YOUR CHRIST MUST BE EVEN GREATER THAN MOHAMMED, SINCE HIS TEACHINGS REALLY LIVE IN YOUR HEART AND LIFE AND ARE NOT MERELY REMEMBERED PHRASES.”
    Since one soul is worth more than the entire world, I have determined to pray for our persecutors, that God will convict of murder and violence and remind them, Lord, that You ‘delight those who hope in Your Mercy. “Oh Lord, You can do more to stop the suffering, both of the persecuted and the persecutors than we ever could. So we Ask You to bless both with Your Gracious Presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. franklyspeaking

  • Keith Saylor

    I
    was walking along the internet sidewalk when a man came up to me and
    told me about a man who was killed because he would not convert to
    Islam. I had not heard of this particular instance but had heard of
    others. It came upon me to hold the situation in the Light; to shine the
    light of the self-conscious ego anchored in essential being. However,
    this man did did not stop talking and proceeded to impose his
    indignation onto the horizon of my soul so that his indignation
    threatened to capture spiritual being and bind it to carnal or
    intellectual being. He wanted me to know that “we” are unaffected,
    insulated, comfortable, and indifferent because “we” haven’t “organized
    around the atrocities committed against Christians around the world. He
    then went of to say “we” are spiritually undisciplined and flabby. It
    then happened that a spirit of agitation showed on the horizon of my
    soul, then irritation. And the thought came rushing at me, darkening the
    whole of being, so I was that thought only – “Who are you to judge
    “we”???!!! Watchfulness kicked in, followed by intention, and the dark
    thought was pushed back a bit into the horizon again … I was no longer
    that thought. Before the horizon of eternity, stood feelings of
    indignation, irritation, agitation, and the resistant thought. Then it
    came upon me: “These are his … they are not ‘we’.” He seeks bind you
    to his abstract thoughts and feelings.” “He seeks to transfer his
    agitation, irritation, and indignation onto you.” The spirits of
    indignation, irritation, and agitation he sought to possess me with,
    receded and the full of eternity opened before me again and I worshiped
    and I gave thanks for Atef and his powerful witness and I rejoiced in
    his eternal peace and the grace of the Presence. What a powerful
    testimony Atef gifted us with. Amen, brother … I hold you in the light
    … with gratitude, love, and peace in the knowledge the Light is in
    all things and events. I then acknowledged the man’s feelings and held
    him in the light and walked on in the power of the Presence.

  • Franklin Delano Huston

    Is there a relationship between ‘flabby Christians’, and the lukewarmness of Laodicea? frankly speaking

    • http://www.KennethEHines.com Kenneth E. Hines

      I always try not to push Scripture analogies too far. God is the Judge. But I know in my own life my spiritual flabbiness is a direct result of my laziness and indifference in my relationship with the Lord. Thanks for your comments.

  • Richard Wagner

    I’m glad you oppose strikes on Syria, because by the information in this article, I can see that you don’t fully understand what’s happening there. Sure, you know Christians are being slaughtered, but did you know that we almost helped the very people who are doing the slaughtering? The “Free Syrian Army” and Al Qaeda were not the targets of the attack we almost launched, but the Syrian government. The Syrian government, though dominated by Muslims, actually tries to protect Christians. When people like me are hesitant to criticize “the Muslims” it’s not because we’re trying to be politically correct. It’s because we know that not all Muslims look alike. We should figure out who are allies are among them, and who are enemies are. They are not all the same.

    • http://www.KennethEHines.com Kenneth E. Hines

      I am fully aware of all you say, Richard. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is true I do not support the US aiding the FSA and Al Qaeda with any kind of support. The mishmash of rebels in Syria is to mixed up to be able to sort out the good from the bad. I don’t think I said that the US was planning to strike the rebels. Obama, Kerry, et. al., want to remove Assad. All that said, the point of my post was not about strikes against Syria. It’s simply observing the commitment of Christians in Syria compared to how easy we Christians have it here in the US. That’s all.

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