Christians and the Middle East

© Very Rev. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D. (Feb 2015)

I can recall every major event in my life to the month and year, and often to the day. May 10-12, 1968 is one of those dates. It was when our company and our mortars (mortars were my duty) were flown into dense jungle next to the Laotian border. We were the backup for the Green Berets, though usually they were our backup. When we exited the C-130s, 82 mm mortar rounds from the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) were coming down on us furiously. For three nights and days, we were under heavy attack. Several times I could have been killed, and several times I should have been killed, except the merciful providence of God. The enemy mortar rounds landed all around me; one at my feet with me looking right over it. It should have blown my head off, but only the 81 mm mortar barrel I was holding was dented. Rounds landed just outside my trench, right on the lip; another two inches and it would have landed on a pile of our mortar rounds. I would have been vaporized. I was to leave on the third chinook; the first two loaded with our men, took off, and were shot down. That was not a good precedent! At the last minute, after being hit with small shrapnel, I jumped on. There were no anti-aircraft guns that went off, and in about two minutes, we were clear. Of course, we lost the Vietnamese war, not to mentions that battle. Did you ever wonder why the Lord put you somewhere? There seems to be no rhyme or reason for it. You’re just a cog in an acre of wheels.

We Christians in the West have not heard much about Christians in the East, and one reason may be that we like our isolation. We tend to think that we are the epitome of Christian orthodoxy, and that others do not have much—if anything—to teach us. But that is a arrogant.

What do you think of the 21 Coptic Christians that ISIS beheaded in the last week or so? Do you think they are an offshoot of Christianity, someone we can ignore, that they need us to teach them the basics of the faith? Coptic Christians originated in the great city of Alexandria, south of Jerusalem, during the time of the Apostles. “Coptic” means “Egyptian”; they are Egyptian Christians. Early tradition says that John Mark–the writer of the Gospel of Mark– founded the church there; thus they are apostolic. They hold to the basics of the faith, such as the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, His death on the cross, bodily resurrection, Ascension, forgiveness of sins through Christ, the one Church, and so forth. (By the way, if you hear that no two Christian bodies believe the same, challenge that. We all believe in the Nicene Creed, the basics just given.) My point is that these Christians are historic, in the line of the Apostles, both by ordination and by belief.

Moreover, when I was in seminary (in Dallas, TX, 1972-76), I met a fellow student named Isaac John from India. I asked him how he came to know Christ, was it through missionaries? He said, “No.” Was it by broadcast from a ship? No. Did someone give him some literature to read? Finally, he said, “I was raised in a Christian home, and grew up in sound church.” I was floored? I asked where his church came from, thinking they might need our Western help. He said, “The Apostle Thomas established our church.” With a tone of disbelief, I retorted: “You gotta be kidding me.” He kept affirming it. Finally, I went to the head of the church history department at this large evangelical seminary and asked him about it. To my utter astonishment, he affirmed the same. My church went back to Ryrie, Dr. Pentecost, and John Walvoord, all 20th century, but his church was from the Apostle Thomas! Most don’t know that there is a part of India that is Christian, not Hindu.

In 1992, my wife Ruth and I were invited to setup up a book table in Virginia for Laszlo Tokes (pronounced TÕ-kesh), who was a bishop in the Presbyterian church (Yes, that is not a typo, a bishop in a Presbyterian church!). He had written a book, The Fall of Tyrants, chronicling the fall of the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. Tokes was a pastor under that regime (later became bishop), and had long been persecuted. Everything was coming to a head with Ceausescu’s minions coming to arrest him at his church, most likely never to be seen again. He was waiting for the soldiers when they came to get him, and to his surprise, virtually everyone in his church, and many outside his church, also showed up. They did not have weapons, but stormed the gates of heaven, asking the Lord to intervene. He did, and Ceausescu was overthrown, tried for many murders, and executed.

Somehow, people I knew in VA had invited him over. I had already read his book so I was anxious to meet him. Ruth and I enjoyed his fellowship for about a week, and found him to be humble but strong in faith. He and several others spoke about what they experienced and how the same tyranny could (and probably would) come to America. Here is my point. At the question and answer time, someone asked Bp. Tokes what we (Western Christians) could do for him. With humble spirit and gentleness, he said something like this: “We Christians in Romania are strong in faith; the Christians in the West are weak. Maybe we could do something to help you.”

The person who asked the question did not mean to sound arrogant, and most likely meant how may we financially help, but Bp. Tokes was saying that money is a problem only if it dominates our perspective. I was greatly humbled, and tears ran down my face. What a man of God he was, and what weaklings we are. It is not that money is evil or righteous—we all need it as a tool—but where does our trust really lie? Are we possessed by possessions, or are we possessed by the Creator who made everything and will give us what we need (Matt. 6:33)?

Another matter. I don’t like to suffer, and I bet I can “prophesy” about you: you don’t like to suffer either. We do not know that suffering puts us into hyper-growth mode spiritually. Our faith is built strongly during those times. Do not think that Romans 8:28 is only for “normal” times, and it is not just for individuals, but that “all things work together for good to those (plural) who love God, to those (plural) who are the called according to His purpose.”

Just as the sufferings of Christ have meaning for us, so our sufferings are sanctified to us by His grace. We grow in hyper-mode during those times as the great Lord of the Church makes us grow in grace and knowledge, whether we want to or not! Notice the opposites in these verses:

 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory18 while we do not look at the things that are seen, but at the things are not seen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:15-18)

Now, what about those Christians who are being martyred by ISIS, what happens to them, their families, and to the countries that persecute them? The irony is that we Christians win at every level. Those who are martyred go home to be with Christ. (By the way, those 21 Christians whom ISIS recently martyred said as they were dying: “Jesus, help me.” That sounds like faith to me.) Their families suffer their loss for a little while, but as C. S. Lewis once said, “Christians never say goodbye to Christians but see you later.” We must get over the Hollywood syndrome that death is the end. You can see it in their movies when a hero is killed–all hope is gone. They lament that they will never see their loved one again, which is patently false for Christians. Other actors in the movie will say such nonsense things as, “I know he sees me. I can talk to  him all the time.” Heaven and hell are left out. Why do we not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead? When I go to or preach a funeral, I walk up to the casket and say, “Death, you don’t win. Jesus won at His bodily resurrection, and He won for us. (Call deceased by name) I’ll see you later.” If the person was not a Christian, then I can’t say that. I just don’t say anything, but we Christians must get over the defeatist attitude that death has conquered us. He sanctifies to us our deepest distress because His sufferings were meaningful, both for Him and us. Death is home-going for the Christian, nothing less. Believe the gospel! One of the deepest verses in the Bible and most encouraging to me, is this:

who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. (Heb. 5:7-8)

May the Holy Spirit burn His words just quoted into our souls. Here are some verses on death and the Christian.

14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage16 For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. 17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (Heb. 2:14-18)

May the Holy Spirit burn His words just quoted into our souls.

Thus, in persecution, we individual Christians win, whether we live or die, we are His and nothing can separate us from His presence and love. Christians never die alone.

32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:32-39)

As for the Coptic Church that was so numerous in Iraq and Syria, they have diminished by about 80% as they are martyred and leave their country for safer places. Is that not a defeat for the Church in that area? Not really. The church is like a gas fire: stomp it, and it spreads; leave it alone, and it burns out. The Coptic Church will be strengthened, in the long run, and their faith will grow greatly.

But does that not mean that ISIS has won? Not really. They are removing the light from their countries, so they will fall ever more into darkness and self-destruction. They are removing the salt, so they will become putrid that much quicker. One cannot prosper by disobedience to God’s law (murdering others) but will self-destruct. They will turn on one another. Moreover, we don’t know what the Ascended Sovereign Lord will do, but He could grant ISIS either a great revival or some kind of devastating judgment. He is only limited by His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. (For the slow of wit, that means He is not limited!)

Do we really think that the King of all the ages and His Holy Spirit are losers in history? How incompetent do we think Christ is? Do we think that He cannot lead His people to personal and corporate victory and destroy our enemies? Is disobedience to the Triune God successful while obedience leads to destruction? Have we forgotten that He said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church (Matt. 16:18)? Remember that gates were a defensive structure around a city to keep the enemy out, which means the Church is on the offensive to conquer Satan and his minions (Rom. 16:20, look it up). The devil is defensive. Under the King’s authority, as we truly worship and serve Him, we are invincible! In life, we win. In death, we win. Individually, we win. Corporately, we win. Our enemies think death is the end for us, but we know better. We switch locales, from earth to heaven, but we still win, and we still pray for victory:

 9 When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9-10)

Heads we win; tails they lose.  AMEN. Ὡ

 

 

One thought on “Christians and the Middle East

  1. Thanks for adding me to the your blog list while I await the completion of your book. Your leading comments in this edition prompts me to respond. It appears we share the Viet Nam experience. My tour was from July, 1968 to July, 1969. I served with the 4th/31–196 Light Infantry-Americal Division, headquartered at Chu Lai. My experience is similar in my life was spared on numerous occasions.

    I am not oblivious to the rest of your comments. I appreciate it all.

    Blessings

    Michael J Gibbs New Life Advisory Group 3816 Adirondack Drive Colorado Springs, Co 80918 813-951-1339 Cell 719-598-7659 Office 719-266-0428 Fax mike@newlife-llc.com

    >

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