How should Christians respond to ISIS?
Persecution of God’s people is nothing new. It’s been happening since the very beginning, starting with Abel. In a sense, Cain persecuted Abel for His God-honoring faith. Furthermore, Jesus told us, “If they hated me the will hate you.” (see John 15:18)
First, let me say, I am no expert on ISIS or Islam. I don’t speak Arabic, Farsi or Turkish (other than the few short phrases I learned when I went to Turkey). But I am a thoughtful Christian. After watching the video of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being beheaded by masked ISIS militants, I knew I needed to learn more about what’s happening. You can watch the edited video commemorating the 21 martyrs here (http://21martyrs.com). If you do watch the unedited video, use caution, it is extremely graphic.
In an effort to understand what’s happening, I have done a good amount of thinking, reading and praying to formulate a personal response. Hopefully this will help you as well. I’ve included a few of the best resources that helped me at the end of the article.
So how should Christians respond to ISIS? First, lets just acknowledge that many of us who aren’t experiencing persecution for our Christian faith are looking at it from a different vantage point. The majority of those in the U.S. have experienced little if any persecution in comparison to many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. This makes it hard for us to relate and easy to disconnect because it is far away. But we shouldn’t allow our proximity to be an excuse to keep our heads buried in the sand. Neither should we be numb or indifferent while our brothers and sisters around the world are suffering and dying for their faith. Here are a few ways we can and should respond:
1) Pray for those being persecuted.
Recently, after another 90+ Syrian Christians were abducted by ISIS, I immediately began praying. How do I pray for persecuted Christians?
- Deliverance – I pray that God would deliver them and spare their lives. Though God does not always choose to do that, I always start that way.
- Strength – I pray that God would strengthen their faith so they wouldn’t deny Jesus. When talking to Christians around the world (especially from the Eastern part of the world) many of them expect persecution for their faith. I have been told that rather than praying that the persecution wouldn’t happen, pray that God would give them strength to remain faithful to Jesus in the midst of it.
- Justice – I pray that God would bring to justice those who are doing the persecuting.
This may shock you, but I also pray for those involved in ISIS. Remember, one of our greatest Biblical heroes was also a Christian killer. His name was Saul (who went on to become Paul). He wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, remember? On his way to Damascus one day, Jesus Himself knocks Saul to the ground and says, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?” (see Acts 9:4). Why? Because Jesus takes the persecution of His people personally.
2) Respond in love not revenge.
We can respond in love by being careful what we say and taking our anger to God in prayer. The Lord says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord” (see Romans 12:17-21). That’s why love, not revenge should be our first response. We love and we leave the vengeance to Him.
The Bible tells us to overcome evil with good (see Romans 12:21). Rather than letting anger or hatred get the best of you, why not bless a Muslim neighbor unexpectedly or give to an organization that is reaching Muslims for Christ? People International is a great one. In fact, as a church we support a couple that ministers in Turkey through People International. If you would like to donate to them, you can donate to Journey Church on their behalf or contact me and I can make the connection for you.
3) Realize God’s ways are different from our ways.
Like it or not, sometimes the seeds of martyrdom are what initiate change.
The 2nd century church father, Tertullian, wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” implying that their sacrifice leads others to repentance and life in Christ.
Jim Elliot is a great example. For those of you who aren’t familiar, he and four other men were called to reach a dangerous tribe in the Amazon called the Aucas (prounounced ow-cuz). The Aucas had killed any outsiders who were found in their territory. After several years of preparation and some promising contact with the Aucas through fly-overs, Jim and his four friends set foot in Auca territory. After some initial friendly contact, they were speared to death by several Auca warriors a few days after landing.
Less than two years after this horrific event, Elizabeth Elliot and her daughter were able to establish contact and move into the Auca village where many of them came to Jesus. They are now a friendly tribe. You can read the full story in her book, Through the Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot.
Though it was a tragic event, God had deemed it necessary to reach the Aucas. Now is the time to mobilize missionaries, not retreat in fear. Whether they are nationals trained to minister to their own people, traditional missionaries who raise support to go, or modern missionaries establish businesses or work in-country, we need more missionaries not less.
4) Give to missions.
Now is the time to give to those missionary efforts that are seeking to reach the unreached. God’s heart beats for every nation, and before He returns for His Church every people group must hear the Good News of the Gospel.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14 ESV)
According to this verse, we can speed up the Lord’s coming! Missiologists say this verse is a reality in the next 10-15 years. We may be the generation that sees the second coming of our King, Jesus Christ, but we must remain focused.
The Question of Force
Undoubtedly, there are many opinions about whether or not physical force should be used by to stop ISIS. Though much of the time I’m a pacifist, I sometimes think force is necessary (by countries and governments); especially when a group is using violence against innocent people to accomplish their agenda. You could even paint a Biblical picture for the use of force in certain circumstances. Take Romans 13 for example. It speaks of authorities being “sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong” (see Romans 13:4 NLT). Obviously using force should be a last resort, but at what point does force become necessary? In some cases, it seems as if the world powers wait far too long to use force i.e. Nazi Germany, Rwanda and now maybe modern day Syria where ISIS began. Then in other cases, countries (including the USA) have been too quick with the use of force and it proves unfruitful. My point isn’t to convince you one way or the other but to open up the conversation.
What are your thoughts about how you should respond personally to ISIS? How should the nations of the world respond? (Answers will be moderated. Please be respectful whatever your opinion may be.)
- Why Muslims Are Becoming The Best Evangelists in Christianity Today.
- What ISIS Really Wants in the Atlantic
- A Christian Response To ISIS in the Huffington Post