Those who take Christ and His Kingdom seriously are willing to do and suffer anything to see Him exalted and that Kingdom advanced. We sit around and think things that may sound strange to typical church-goers. For example, we think it might be better if persecution were to come our way. Then the true church would be revealed and it would be strong and Christ would be glorified. Our personal comforts are irrelevant. We then contemplate whether or not we should pray for persecution. In the end, most of us do not go that far because we are told to pray for those in authority that it might go well with us (1 Tim. 2:2). God can advance His gospel in a free country if He chooses. His people certainly have greater opportunity to spread the gospel in such an environment. They must simply be obedient. But, we must admit, certain thoughts are tempting in light of the downgrade in the church and culture at this present hour.
One can overhear that sentiment, praise God, in the words of Joel Belz in his article entitled, "Not Afraid to Die." (http://www.worldmag.com/articles/11708). He noted that "the story of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan fellow who was sentenced to death because he had converted to Christianity some 16 years ago, was changing so fast last week that it was hard to tell just which way it was going to go next. Maybe even harder, though, was knowing which way you wanted it to go. I'll admit that seems like a harsh thing to say."
He continues. "But let me put it in perspective by asking this: Which would have been better 50 years ago--for the God of all mercy to rescue five missionaries to the Indians of Ecuador, or to let them be murdered by the people to whom they wanted so much to take the gospel? Which would have been better for the missionaries' families? For the Indians of Ecuador? For the evangelical church in North America? For the Kingdom of God at large? And what about the tens of thousands of people around the world who became Christians through the ministry of the thousands of missionaries who volunteered for service after the five men were martyred? And their children and the generations who will follow them?"
"It was hard not to think of all those issues when you listened to the courageous words of Abdul Rahman. 'I am a Christian,' he said boldly while holding a Bible up for all to see. 'I am not afraid to die.' You couldn't help thinking about how Stephen's face was said to have been shining as he was being stoned to death in the book of Acts. And you really didn't want to see Abdul Rahman's radiance dimmed by some cheesy compromise."
Belz's words strike a chord in the heart of the committed Christian. How we long for the Kingdom of God to advance! And, we know from Scripture and from history that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church (Tertullian)." Our desire for the Kingdom must be such if we are to be truly committed to Christ's call and gospel. When we pray that God's Kingdom would come, we had better know what we are praying (Lk. 11:2). But, we had better pray that way nevertheless. Kingdom advance is more important than any endeavor or cause or desire or whatever. "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15)!'" Our heart's cry is to see this dynamic in plain view.
And yet, just as surely as we desire the Kingdom to come, we must have and do have compassion on others. In fact, compassion, in one sense, is the attitude of the Kingdom. Compassion from God drives us forward with the gospel (not to make light of a desire for His glory, but, He is glorified in our compassion).
And so Belz says of Rahman, "Of course, you also didn't want to see him die." Indeed not. Our prayers were for Him and God was with Him and we give praise to His mighty Name for His deliverance of our brother in chains. With compassion we cried before the throne and the Father of all compassion heard our prayers!
And yet, what of the chains? What if Rahman were martyred? Belz points out in political and practical terms that "it would be, of course, the very last thing the Bush administration needed just now. It would be no help at all to the supposedly moderate government of Afghanistan. It would diminish to the vanishing point whatever credibility any moderate Muslim anywhere might still have left. Might such an event be the point of ignition for a worldwide conflagration of the sort we have all been dreading so much?"
Afghan religious leaders called for Rahman's death after he was released. "'It's clear that a man who converts has to be killed,' said Abdul Raoulf, a senior Muslim cleric seen, until recently, as a moderate who had several times actually been jailed by the Taliban. 'Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be insulted.... They should cut off his head, and pull him into pieces so there's nothing left.'"
Of course, had he been martyred by government execution or torn limb from limb by an angry Muslim mob, it would indeed demonstrate that Islam is not the moderate religion that so many vehemently claim it to be. Neither the Bible (which calls Ishmael and His descendents "a wild man," Gen. 16:12), nor the Koran, nor history will bear out a moderate Islam. This note must be sounded. There is the desire for the Kingdom again.
Belz further commented, "It was as if the cleric wanted to demonstrate the absolute futility of all the U.S. effort that has been poured into Afghanistan over the last four years." "'This is a young democracy,' countered Condoleeza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State. 'They do have a constitution, which if they treat carefully, promising things will happen. A constitution is something Afghanistan never had under the Taliban. The constitution they have adopted is clear in its support for a universal declaration of human rights.'"
And yet, the sad truth is that the Afghan Constitution may have a declaration of human rights attached to it, but the Afghan understanding of human rights is far different from the Christian's understanding or even the American's understanding of human rights. The Afghan Constitution is grounded in and committed to upholding Sharia (Islamic) law. There is no place for universal human rights as we understand them in that law. We point this out in our desire for the Kingdom.
But Belz has an opinion on this point as well. And, we respect Belz. Let us hear him out. With reference to Rice's comments and the Afghan Constitution, he asks, "A flat-out contradiction? Probably not. I write this from Dayton, Ohio, where Orville and Wilbur Wright more or less perfected the airplane credited with launching human travel through the air. I say 'more or less' because the Wright brothers' first flight was a mere 120 feet in 12 seconds--before it came to an embarrassing end. Afghanistan's first democratically elected government may or may not fly. I cannot join the skeptics who say that the case of Abdul Rahman is proof that the U.S. investment in his country has been in vain. Disappointing, confusing, and even terrifying? Yes. But maybe it is necessary one more time for a man to die for his people. It may be the only way really to dramatize how truly awful is the religion to which they hold so tenaciously."
And there's the compassion: not the desire for a man to die, but the desire in such for a people to see how truly awful their religion, and predicament apart from Christ, truly is. And, there is the hope of Kingdom triumph in what would be political failure. May God give us such compassion that we might be part of His Kingdom advance.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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