In the Face of Terror, Let’s Help Restore the Body of Christ
Editor’s note: This piece is part of our series on Christian Unity.
On October 6, 2017, the Libyan police found the bodies of the 21 Coptic Christian Martyrs. They were murdered by Islamist Jihadists on February 15, 2015. The last words they uttered were words of prayer and praise.
What’s happening to our Christian brethren in the Middle East and North Africa is true martyrdom, Christian martyrdom. The English word, martyr, is from a Greek word which means witness. The Christian Church has always proclaimed the shedding of one’s blood in fidelity to Jesus Christ is the final witness to the Christian Faith.
Few of us in the West know this kind of martyrdom. Still, we are called to bear witness, together, to a culture that has forgotten God and wanders aimlessly in a new land of Nod. (Gen. 4:16)
Unfortunately, our divisions weaken our capacity to do so.
The Blood of Martyrs
The jihadists who murder as an expression of their religion see Christians as enemies. Their media company produced a video titled, “A Message Signed with Blood to The Nation of the Cross.” In it, they boasted of the beheading of our Coptic Christian brethren. A spokesman proclaimed:
All praise is due to Allah the strong and mighty. And may blessings and peace be upon the ones sent by the sword as a mercy to all the worlds. Oh people, recently you have seen us on the hills of Al-Sham and Dabiq’s plain, chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross for a long time, and today, we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message. All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore, we will fight you all together. The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”
Then, as they beheaded the 21 Christian martyrs, they showed their blood flowing into the sea. As the footage unfolded, the spokesman proudly and defiantly proclaimed: “And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him.”
The words of Tertullian in the Second Century of the undivided Christian Church echo loudly today: “The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
“They are All Christians”
We may be starting to see the fruits of those seeds. Recently, I was involved in a conference that brought Christian leaders to Southeastern Virginia. Among them were evangelicals James Robison (publisher of The Stream) and Jack Hayford. Another guest was Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household during the service of the last three popes.
When Regent University heard that Father Cantalamessa was coming, they asked if he would address the student body.
Looking out at a chapel filled with (mostly evangelical) young men and women, he said, “When [jihadists] come to kill our Christian brothers and sisters, they do not first ask, are you Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox, Christians? They seem to know what we must learn; they are all CHRISTIANS.”
Isn’t it odd that our enemies can see this more clearly than many of us can?
On October 31, 2017 we mark what is called “Reformation Day.” The Church is always in need of reform. But let’s not let our divisions be a cause for celebration. The prayer of Jesus cries out, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:21)
The Gospel proclaims that in and through Jesus Christ, authentic unity with God — and through Him, in the Holy Spirit — with one another, is God’s plan.
We Will be One
Sin separates. Grace liberates. Faith integrates. Healing the divisions that separate us must be a central goal in this new missionary age.
It was not the Lord’s plan that His Body, the Church, be divided. It is His Plan that she be restored to full communion. How that happens depends on Him. However, we’re all called to participate in that plan. In his powerful exhortation on the nature of the Church, the Apostle Paul reminds us all, “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Cor. 12:21)
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we come to see that many of our distinctives need not be impediments to unity, but gifts we offer one another.
Yes, we stand in different ecclesial communities. Yes, we have important differences in doctrine and practice. But, there is a center that holds us together. That center is not something — but Some One — Jesus Christ.