Unite — or Fall?
Christianity is the world’s largest religion, with 2.3 billion adherents. Five of the top seven countries in hard power rankings (military, economics and politics) are majority Christian. The U.S., of course, tops the list. The best-selling book of all time? The Bible. The most globally distributed faith? The one professing Jesus Christ as crucified and resurrected Lord.
Christianity dominates North and South America, Europe, Russia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia. And it’s growing in many unexpected places. Notably Communist China and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
So the church, writ large, has nothing to worry about. Right?
Christianity’s Losses Abroad
Christians are also the most-tormented religious adherents on earth. In fact, it’s so bad in some places that the persecution approaches genocide level. The Islamic world is the worst place for Christians. Seven of the countries where they are most mistreated are Muslim ones — although officially atheist, Marxist North Korea tops the list.
Nigeria is Africa’s most-populous nation, with 200 million people. Half are Christian, and mostly in the south. Half are Muslim, in the north. And the federal government in Lagos, decades ago, allowed northern Nigerian states to enforce Islamic law. That is the major reason Nigeria makes the top ten of Christian-persecuting places. Through just the first half of this year, over 3,000 Christians have been killed for their faith there.
Beijing’s ill treatment of the Muslims in Xinjiang often gets reported. But not its oppression of Christians. Despite the undeniable growth of Christianity in Marxist-Maoist China, the regime has now begun trying to brainwash Chinese followers of Jesus. And the PRC has even used its own Wuhan virus to justify bulldozing churches.
Christianity’s Losses in North America
But we can see fellow Christians being hounded much closer to home. Over 50 churches have been vandalized or burned down over the summer. Where? Not overseas, but in the Great White North. Look at the list of churches attacked in the land that gave us Gordon Lightfoot and Rush. Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Coptic, Presbyterian, Mennonite. Truly an ecumenical hate-fest.
Here in the U.S., LGBTQ groups are helping students at 25 Christian colleges and universities sue their administrations for daring to hold, and espouse, biblical beliefs. (Mind you, there are some 4,000 four-year institutions of higher education in this country. But Christian colleges, like bakers, cannot be tolerated.) The U.S. Air Force canned a Chaplain who expressed Biblical views on homosexuality. And just yesterday, Antifa physically attacked Christians at a public event in Portland. The police response? Refuse to show up.
The Body of Christ is Divided
Why can’t Christians come together to speak out against such maltreatment? Or, even better yet, work together against it? We outnumber practitioners of all other religions. Yet at the same time we are divided and largely leaderless, if not exactly scattered. The body of Christ is separated into three major branches: Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.
Over half of the world’s Christians, or some 1.2 billion, are Catholic. Protestants (which include non-denominational folks) number about 900 million. But they are broken up into thousands of denominations, making this newest branch the most contentious. And the Orthodox churches comprise the largest other division, with well over 200 million adherents. They are also split into a number of national churches. But far, far fewer than the Protestant theological cliques.
But Our Enemies Are United
How to achieve Christian theological unity is above my pay grade, as well as my piety — and power — level. But that is not my purpose here. I am a simply a conservative Lutheran who sent his sons to Catholic high school and reads the Orthodox Study Bible. So I wonder why we can’t all just — ok, if not get along, at least stop sniping at one another long enough to acknowledge that we have more in common than we don’t? Those attacking Christians — mainly Marxists and Muslims — have no problem cooperating against us. This despite the vast differences between the two ends of the “Red-Green Axis.” Why can’t Christians of all stripes come together in support of each other’s victims?
Action, Not (Primarily) Theology
Again, I’m not promoting ecumenism. In the past this resulted in the creation of the National, and the World, Council of Churches, with all of their problems. There are various strands of that movement still going on: The Catholic-Orthodox and Orthodox-Anglican dialog. And of course the “ecumaniacal” approach of some Protestant bodies. But this unite-the-churches methodology is primarily theological.
I am, rather, espousing Christian mutual support against our enemies. In this regard, the only theology required is a baseline definition. Who’s a Christian? Anyone who will declare with his or her mouth that Jesus is Lord, We will have to leave it to God to ascertain whether that person believes, in his or her heart, that He raised His Son from the dead (Romans 10:9).
What does this mean? Well, first and most importantly, that Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians would pray for one another. And publicly, not just in private. Second, Christians of every branch should consider stirring the political pot on behalf of those historically deemed heterodox. At the very least, Congressmen and Senators should expect phone calls, and letters, about persecuted Christians. And not just those of our own churches. Plus, let’s stand up for one another on social media, instead of running one another down for baptizing with insufficient (or too much) water, for instance. Or how many Church Councils we enumerate.
Finally, while we pray locally, maybe we can strive to act globally. Muslims, despite their great divisions — particularly between Sunni and Shi`i — created, back in 1969, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. This organization speaks for Muslims on a global, geopolitical level. (It has even been trying to get a separate seat at the United Nations.) Why can’t Christians, of all stripes, lobby their governments for an analogous body representing the world’s largest religion?
Unite in Support — or Fall?
At a famous council — albeit a non-Christian one — a leader named Elrond told those assembled that “you will unite, or you will fall.” Yes, folks have legitimate beefs about 1054, 1517 or 1738. (Respectively, the Great Schism between the Catholics and Orthodox. The Protestant Reformation. The founding of Methodism.) So what? Today’s Stalinists and jihadists don’t care whether you use wine or grape juice for Communion. Or if it’s delivered to you by a fellow in a business suit or a collar. Or how often, if ever, you confess the Nicene Creed.
What matters is that you don’t take a knee for Marx or Muhammad. And that you only bow to Jesus, the Messiah. On that last, and crucial, point, all Christians can agree. So let’s live like it.
Timothy Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, World and African history from Ohio State University and a M.A. in Theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and, later, civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor and sometime media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS).