Is there a future for Christianity? Can we expect the church to thrive given the rate of ongoing persecution of Christians globally? Can faith survive and overtake secularism worldwide?
Let us consider the following:
- Islamic extremism is growing and self-styled caliphates are increasing their operations across international borders.
- North Korea, with a population of 24.5 million, remains the most hostile country to the Christian faith. It is a crime to be a Christian, and there are presently about 50,000-70,000 imprisoned in labour camps all over the country.
- Christians are currently on the verge of extinction in Iraq following repeated attacks from terrorist groups.
- Hundreds of Christians are in prison for their faith in Eritrea.
- Countries with extreme persecution of Christians include: North Korea, Eritrea, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, and Libya.*
The data is alarming. However, we must not forget that the Christian is one who lives by faith and not by sight. Sight is data; faith is revelation.
And what has revelation revealed?
The head of the church, Jesus Christ, prior to his ascension, gave the church her mission statement:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….” (Matthew 28:19)
When we read this well-known passage, we often instinctively assume that Christ was merely setting before his disciples a target which, though they may not attain, would still serve as a goal to aim at. Something like: “Guys, do your utmost to convert the nations. I know this is a huge goal, but I’d really like you to give it your best shot.” This is however to misread Christ’s intention.
First, let us observe that he prefaced the charge with the statement, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Their conquest of the nations was a done deal because Jesus had already conquered through the cross. They were not to try and make disciples; they were to make disciples. The guarantee of the success of their global mission was the victory of Jesus himself.
Secondly, he backed up their mission with assurance of his enduring presence: “Lo, I am with you always”. The risen saviour is the Lord of all creation (Psalm 2). And he would be their strength. They were not going on their own authority; they would be enforcing the dominion of Christ the risen Lord.
The mission of the Church is, therefore, no less than a global discipleship of the nations. In other words, we look forward to a future when the people, nations, and institutions of our world would confess Jesus as their Lord and submit to his rule and authortiy (Phil 2:9-10). This hope is based on neither current data nor historical projection; it is deduced from the revelation of the One who controls human history.
Consider the following passages:
“Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Psalm 2:8
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob,that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Isaiah 2:2-3
“A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up,and every mountain and hill be made low;the uneven ground shall become level,and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,and all flesh shall see it together,for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5
“He says:“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel;I will make you as a light for the nations,that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the Lord,the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,the servant of rulers:“Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:6-7
“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,” Daniel 2:44
Several others include: Joel 2:28; Zech. 9:9,10; Acts 13;47; 15:17.
These predictions align with the Biblical storyline or what is often called ‘the history of redemption’.
After the fall, we see God promising a future redemption when Satan (the serpent) will be crushed. The opposition between the ungodly and the godly emerges in the incident between Cain and Abel. Abel was killed, but God gave a replacement for Abel in the birth of Seth (Gen.4:25). From this line of Seth, Abraham was born and God established a covenant with him, promising that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (This covenant we understand to be fulfilled ultimately in Christ). Note that God’s initial programme, as indicated by this covenant, is the redemption of humanity (all peoples). In the meantime, this covenant gets fulfilled through the direct descendants of Abraham – Isaac unto Jacob, then to the 12 sons of Jacob who made up the tribes of Israel. And for a period, these alone were God’s people; God’s redemptive favour was limited to just one nation.
The prophets keep announcing, however, that God’s salvation would reach to the ends of the earth. Not only Jews, but all the earth, would see the salvation of the Lord. Isaiah and Joel were just some of those who made explicit predictions to that effect. So we see God reminding his people of the original extent of the Abrahamic covenant. When Jesus came, he was ushered in by John the Baptist as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). And our beloved passage about God loving the world (John 3:16) is a reminder that God’s plan is to save not just the nation of the Jews, but the nations of the earth. The great commission, which we have referred to earlier, also reveals God’s plan for the redemption of the whole world. And it is no coincidence that this commission was handed out by the very Redeemer who gave himself for sinners. He told his disciples to go into all the world because his plan was to redeem all the world.
Therefore, the Church should not expect anything less than the conversion of the whole world. Salvation is God’s prerogative; God is the one who saves and he determines the extent of his redeeming love. If we view conversion as a human decision which is beyond God’s control, then this hope would be unrealistic. But if we believe with Scripture that even faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8), then we have nothing to fear. It does not cost God anything to instantly endow all humans with faith if he so wills. He once saved three thousand souls in one city in one day; he can save 6 billion globally in a short period. That’s why he is called sovereign.
So let us not fear, but rather rejoice. The conversion of our world is sure. It depends not on human wisdom and strategy but on the power of God. And his chosen tool is the preaching of the gospel. The hardest nations and the most hostile societies will eventually bow to the rule of Christ. This is not the wish of man; it is the prediction of the Lord of history.
*Source: 2016 World Watch List, Open Doors USA (www.opendoorsusa.org)