I Peter 4:12-16
There are places in the world where the persecution of Christians because they are Christians is either a fresh memory or a present reality. What goes on in many of those places is beyond our current knowledge simply because the dangers require Christians to be secretive about their faith, which is nevertheless shared from person to person in quiet, direct witness. Each time that happens it is an act of courage of a sort that the New Testament seems to expect.
There it is, in I Peter:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief-maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.” [I Peter 4:12-16]
It is inevitable that Christian faith and the claims of false gods will collide. We already have to fight against our own internal impulses to sin – which is why there are warnings not to give in to the impulses that can make someone “a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief-maker” – so it is no great stretch to see how external conflicts would arise with entire systems of life based on the principle that “might makes right”. Those are a given. What is variable with time and place is how threatened the powers that be find themselves, what means they use to combat the subversive teachings of Christ, and how his followers respond or hold up.
Some regimes consider any sort of religion a threat. When I was a kid, you would still hear people occasionally refer to “godless Communism”. I would suggest that it wasn’t “godless”, but that its gods were false. They had replaced the kingdom of God with the state and pictured Lenin or Mao or Kim Il Sung or Fidel Castro as the savior. The Chinese government has been going after Tibetan Buddhism for five decades or so now, and has recently built “re-education centers” to try to wring Islam out of the Uighurs in their western provinces. And they have continued over that whole time, too, to try to control Christianity in places where they have discovered that they cannot eliminate it.
Let me quote here from a recent article published by the Council on Foreign Relations:
“Article 36 of the Chinese constitution protects freedom of religion. Yet that protection is limited to so-called ‘normal religious activities,’ explicitly stating that ‘no one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the education system of the state.’ These provisions provide authorities with flexibility when determining which religious practices are consistent with party policy and which fall outside the party-state’s guidelines. The constitutional provision goes on to specify that religious bodies cannot be subject to foreign control. [Translation: ‘Hey, Vatican! Stay out of this!’]
As a result of the growth, the government has recently been pushing back.
“For example, party officials in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang’s city of Wenzhou, known for its large Christian population, have ordered the removal of hundreds of crosses and demolition of dozens of churches that allegedly violated construction regulations, though several had received prior approval from local officials. … In central Henan Province, local government and police officials have taken similar actions, carrying out raids on some churches without warrants and razing others. Other provinces with large Christian populations, including Anhui and Jiangsu, have also undergone crackdowns.”
Hear again the words of I Peter and ask how Christians in China would hear them.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is latent on you.”
That the Spirit of God rests on them is clear in the way that this suffering part of the church is nevertheless the lifeline for believers in North Korea, who undergo far worse trials even than they do. An article from the Associated Press claims that
“Most remaining Christians in North Korea likely learned about the religion when they went to China after a devastating famine killed hundreds of thousands in the mid-1990s. Converts were later captured in China and jailed once they were sent back to the North.”
What happens there in those jails? We can only imagine, and most of it is not good at all. But we also get glimpses of what kind of sacrifice and courage the Christians of China are teaching the Christians of North Korea. In the middle of this famine,
“Another, who was jailed after being repatriated from China, described praying silently in his cell after a hungry fellow prisoner shared some precious kernels of corn.”
Surely, this deed fulfills the directions of I Peter [4:19]:
“Therefore, let those who are suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.”
It also puts some of the times I find myself complaining or groaning into an entirely different perspective.
 Eleanor Albert, “Backgrounder: Christianity in China” (Council on Foreign Relations: October 11, 2018), found at https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/christianity-china
 Hyun-Jin Kim, “North Korean Christians Keep Faith Underground amid Crackdowns” (Associated Press: February 1, 2019), found at https://www.apnews.com/a7079dea595349928d26c687fa42a19c