One of the most beautiful opportunities during Lent is the opportunity to focus on the larger Christian community around the world. It is an opportunity to repent – such as when reading of abuses committed by those who call themselves followers of Christ – and to pray for those who’ve been abused, both by those from within the church and those from without.
Lent is also an opportunity to pray for the global church, particularly those facing imprisonment, hostility and violence because of their faith. One of the first gifts God gave to people is the gift of choice. In a perfect world, good choices would be followed by positive consequences, and poor choices by negative ones. And while this is often the case, many people suffer due to the poor choices, misunderstandings or ill intentions of others.
This week, I was reminded of this while reading an article in The Christian Post about a Chinese official who has vowed to rid the country of any Western “imprint” of Christianity, an effort that stands to cause great suffering for the country’s estimated 70 million Christians. Ironically, I too would like to remove many of the Western influences of Christianity, not because I believe following Christ is wrong but because so much of how Christianity is preached and practiced has obliterated its Middle Eastern, Jewish beginnings.
Christianity isn’t a Western religion, but a Semitic one, having originated with the monotheism practiced by the Jewish patriarch Abraham, which is one reason I love my Jewish study Bible. Without studying its cultural roots, it is impossible to fully grasp its teachings and practices – including the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we celebrate at Easter.
In fact, the early followers of Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, didn’t call themselves Christians – derived from the Greek word, “Christ,” which is the Jewish equivalent of “Messiah” or “anointed one.” The term was given to them by the people of Antioch, in modern-day Turkey, after Jesus’s followers fled there due to persecution, an account found in Acts 11:19. The word “Christian” appears two more times in scripture, one of those encouraging followers of Jesus who were suffering for their faith.
The apostle Peter tells believers not to be surprised when they suffer but not to bring suffering upon themselves by doing what is wrong. “If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian,” I Peter 4:15-16 (NLT).
The efforts of the Chinese government to Sinicize Christianity – or to make it more Chinese – by controlling churches and even rewriting the Bible to include Buddhist scriptures and Confucian teachings, as it has announced it intends to do, are a reminder to pray for those who face persecution of the kind Peter was writing about. Following Jesus was never meant to be Eastern or Western. It is meant to be freely chosen and open to all.
And so, during this second week of Lent, let us pray for the global church and especially for those who are suffering.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Backward Easter Egg Hunt, the second book in her Lantern Hill Farm children’s picture-book series, is available online and at your local bookstore now. Connect at www.meadowrue.com