In two thousand years Christianity has boomed from twelve disciples and one Teacher in Jerusalem to millions of followers worldwide. In 2018, about 33% of the world’s population, or 2.5 billion people, adhere to some branch of Christianity. The largest denomination, Catholicism, represents 49% of Christians; Protestantism, 22%.*

In Acts 1:8 Jesus commissioned His followers to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. Just seven chapters later, Luke records that “great persecution broke out against the church” (Acts 8:1 NIV). Despite persecution, church membership grew. In the words of the church father Tertullian, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

The endurance with which the Christians faced the wild beasts, burning, and other tortures attests to God’s presence and truth. Polycarp, when sentenced to death for refusing to apostatize despite his old age, prayed, “I bless you [God] that you have counted me worthy of this day and hour.”

Worldwide persecution of Christians
Map by Open Doors

As long as men adhere to different faiths, persecution of one against another will persist. In the 21st century, Christians in North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, and in many other countries continue to suffer for loving their Savior in atmospheres of Communist, post-Communist, Islamic, and dictatorial oppression and religious nationalism (World Watch List).

As at its inception, in the 20th and 21st centuries the Gospel reaches people against persecution.

In the West, in countries like the United States where its citizens enjoy religious freedom, forgetting the persecuted church is sadly easy. “The West sleeps,” Richard Wurmbrand wrote in Tortured for Christ, “and must be awakened to see the plight of the captive nations.” Christians of the West should not sleep while Christians elsewhere die. The Church has a duty to her persecuted brothers and sisters. As the writer of Hebrews insisted, “Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies” (Heb. 13:3 NLT).

Christian persecution ISIS
News headline from 2015

*Statistics based on this report from the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.