The Intermingling of Witness and Suffering

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:16-18)

In Jesus’ words of commission to the Twelve here, we already see the connection between witness and suffering. The mindset of Jesus’ disciples must be shrewd and innocent at the same time. There is an expectation of difficulty, even vicious persecution, that Jesus commends to His disciples, requiring wisdom, innocence, and, as He says in the next few sentences, reliance upon the Holy Spirit. These are bracing words for these first followers of the Messiah. Who would really want to hear them?

But we need to re-hear them today because we have disconnected witness and suffering. In our comfort culture we have sought to avoid trouble as much as possible. We often water down Jesus’ words until the sharpness of the flavor cannot be tasted. Because of this, our witness also has been watered down. We avoid the realities of persecution, even though church history has taught us that persecution is often the soil in which the church most often grows.

Tertullian, one of the greatest teachers of the church, wrote: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” While we should not seek needless suffering, may God help us be ready to suffer for the sake of His name and witness.

The Church in Algeria

In the past few years, I have been particularly interested in what is happening in the church in North Africa. There are a variety of reasons for my interest, but I’ll offer two of them here:

1) North Africa was one of the most vibrant centers of Christianity in the first 500 years after Christ, being home to such great theologians as Augustine, Tertullian, and also, if you include Egypt in North Africa, Athanasius and Anthony of the Desert

2)North Africa is the site of some notable revivals and movements of God in our era that are not too often discussed because of governmental suppression

Algeria has been the location of much current difficulties between the government and the Christian church. More specifically, in the past two years, there has been increased challenges for Christians to worship publicly or corporately. This is in large part to a vaguely worded 2006 law stating “which confines non-Muslim worship to specific buildings approved by the state and establishes steep criminal penalties for proselytizing and distributing or storing religious literature.” Because of the vague wording, some local governments in Algeria have been interpreting this very strictly, limiting Christian gatherings to stringent degrees.

Please take a moment to read the following article on believers in Algeria and pray for them.