Christian persecution

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“Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.” (Luke 6:44 NIV)

Released from his Communist prison in 1965, and urged to leave his beloved country, Richard Wurmbrand did so reluctantly. He and his wife Sabina eventually emigrated to the U.S. In May of 1966, the Romanian pastor was invited to testify before a joint Congressional committee.

Before the TV cameras, Richard Wurmbrand spoke of his experience as a prisoner under Communism’s rule. He concluded his testimony by removing his shirt to reveal the deep scars covering his back. More eloquent than words were Wurmbrand’s wounds.

I conclude that it is unlikely that Dr. John Walvoord, then President of Dallas Seminary (DTS), viewed his Christian brother’s testimony. If he and his fellow theologians had watched and listened, they would have surely realized their error and altered their “escape the tribulation” position. How could anyone maintain Christians will avoid great distress when scars from fourteen years of torture and pain revealed otherwise?

What if Richard Wurmbrand was invited to sit among Dr. Walvoord’s DTS students as he lectured on his Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine? Would the Doctor’s presentation convince Rev. Wurmbrand that the horrors of Communist prison were not tribulation or persecution? What about Watchman Nee’s response to Dr. Walvoord’s lecture–that is had the great Christian mind survived Chairman Mao’s Communist persecution and then been invited?

Throughout the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, Dr. Walvoord continued writing and lecturing. He spoke to theologically-friendly congregations on the Church’s imminent escape from tribulation. Meanwhile, as “the voice of the underground church”, Richard Wurmbrand was authoring and speaking to a range of believers as well.

The two men’s audience represents disparate parts of Christianity. Walvoord’s segment of Protestantism repeats the mantra that they will avoid tribulation in the rapture, that the Antichrist will be revealed after they leave this earth. Wurmbrand’s listeners are under no such illusion.

The Wurmbrand’s made a promise to fellow-believers at home: They would come to the West in order to tell of the sacrifices for the Gospel being made behind the Iron Curtain. Their newsletter, now known as “The Voice of the Martyrs”, was a result of that promise. Richard Wurmbrand’s ministry has had great impact on awakening the Church to support those willing to serve the Lord in difficult and dangerous places. The martyrs say, “Give us the Bibles and Christian materials; we will take the risks.” As a result of Rev. Wurmbrand’s legacy, many are receiving Jesus in areas hostile to Christian evangelism.

Dr. Walvoord’s message has had much influence on Christian radio, books, magazines and movies, as well as Christian TV. For Walvoord’s and his disciple’s efforts, American denominations and churches of all sizes have adopted a Dispensational “any moment rapture” statement of faith.

If only those who make up this segment of popular Christianity would honor this Sunday, November 1’s “National Persecuted Christian Day.” Maybe the voice of one brave, scarred martyr would change their opinion. Perhaps then the Church in America would unite then prepare to join our persecuted brothers and sisters.

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“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” -Jesus (Matthew 24:45-47 NIV)

John Walvoord and Richard Wurmbrand, two men whose ninety-plus-year lifespans closely paralleled each other. Wisconsin-born (U.S.) Walvoord (1910-2002), and Romanian-born Wurmbrand (1909-2001), two men who individually made and continue to make a tremendous impact on their Christian spheres.

For thirty-four years (1952-1986), Dr. John Walvoord was the distinguished president of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). He authored numerous books on prophecy and was perhaps the foremost Dispensational theologian of his day.

Among Dr. Walvoord’s best-known works was “The Rapture Question” (1979). In it he laid out his arguments for a sudden, “any-moment” taking up of the Church (rapture) immediately prior to “the Tribulation”—the term he used for the last seven years of this age. So, according to this renowned Bible scholar, the “taking up” was an escape from intense suffering for all Christians. With authority, Walvoord wrote that the Church will be transported far from the great distress that marks the time of the end. In effect, Dr. Walvoord’s life exemplified his teaching. He escaped the persecution that was simultaneously happening outside his Western world.

While Walvoord was acquiring his Doctorate of Theology (Th.D., 1936), a half world away the Jewish Richard Wurmbrand and wife Sabina were becoming followers of Christ. Their native land was being overrun by Nazism. Anti-Semitism was running rampant. Aryanism, or a master race philosophy, dominated the political scene. Before World War II ended nine years later, John had moved up the ladder of academia in Dallas. Richard, on the other hand, had endured harsh imprisonment for resisting Hitler’s threat to the Church.

Rev. Wurmbrand’s beliefs would cost him his freedom again in 1948. After the Communist take-over of Romania, he would return to a jail cell. His crime was stating “Communism and Christianity were incompatible”. For his strong stand for Christ, this pastor would spend fourteen years in the most inhumane conditions imaginable, a Communist prison.

While Dr. Walvoord was donning his doctor’s gown in 1952 as Dallas Seminary’s president, both Wurmbrand and Sabina were suffering under dreadful conditions in notorious Romanian prisons. Their whereabouts and well-being were hidden from each other as well as their friends.

While Dr. Walvoord was stepping into his new leadership responsibilities at DTS, Pastor Wurmbrand had already endured three years of solitary confinement and countless tortures. Cold, wet and dark cell conditions had given this once-renowned Romanian Protestant leader an advanced case of tuberculosis. In 1952, Pastor Wurmbrand was coughing blood among a ward full of terminally-ill, starving and severely mistreated inmates. “Tortured for Christ” and “In God’s Underground” detail this period in Wurmbrand’s life and ministry when he boldly shared the Gospel with jailer and dying alike.

In Part 2, we will compare the last thirty-five years of Walvoord and Wurmbrand’s ministries as they shared the same North American continent.

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“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town… I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.” (Matthew 23:33-34, 36 NIV)

I have been bitten by mosquitoes, horse flies and red ants. Wasps and bees have stung me multiple times. There is no way I need a viper’s fangs in one of my limbs to know that it would hurt–a lot! I will learn from the experience of others, thank you very much.

In Matthew 23, Jesus did not name the teachers of the law and the Pharisees after a poisonous snake without good reason. He could have referred to them as an irritating insect, like chiggers or gnats, but, as John the Baptist did before him (Matthew 3:7), the Lord chose vipers to describe the Jewish religious authorities.

Our previous post, “Prophet/Prophecy Haters”, contained words of grief. Our brother Elijah wrote of a “friend’s” stinging accusation that inflicted pain where we are all vulnerable, in the heart. A personal indictment was leveled against Elijah for passionately sharing prophecy. The context may not fit, but the words in Zechariah 13:6 seem to apply: “If someone asks, ‘What are these wounds on your body?’ he will answer, ‘The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.’ ” Ouch, that hurt!

We must employ the “near/far prophetic” of Matthew 23 to identify this generation’s vipers. For Jesus and his Jewish disciples, they were the religious leaders of their nation. It did not take long for their hatred for Jesus to manifest itself in blood, the blood of the cross. The thirst for more spilled over onto those whom Jesus sent as apostles. Men like James, the Elder, and Stephen were executed. Great persecution broke out against all the disciples, scattering them abroad (Acts 8:1, 11:19). Peter and John were miraculously spared. Believers in Jerusalem and Judea were surrounded by vipers.

If Jews persecuted, imprisoned and murdered fellow Jews for following Jesus (near), what will believing Christians face as we inch closer to Christ’s return (far)? Our Lord singled out prophets, wise men and teachers, in Matthew 23:33, as those who suffer the venom of vipers. God’s people understand the hatred of humanistic secularists or Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist religious radicals, but are we prepared for what Jesus promised? Can we picture “Christian” leaders hunting down believers because of their prophetic message, their wise counsel or their teaching of Bible truth?

“How could what Jesus said happen to us?” you ask. It is instructive to look at the discussion among the chief priests and Pharisees in John 11:47-50. After Lazarus was raised, the elites of the religious class became afraid. Jesus threatened their worldly status. When Peter and John sent the cripple into the temple courts walking and jumping and praising God (Acts 3:8), they were again frightened. The officials seized the disciples and put them in jail (Acts 4:3). Later on these same disciples felt the sting of the flagella as they were flogged (Acts 5:40).

In a conversation with my wife, I asked her thoughts about why Elijah’s best friend attacked him over prophecy. She nailed it. “He is afraid.” Those who love their position in this world, real or imagined, want to silence those whom Jesus sends.

Many of Christians fall into the category of haters: They show great displeasure in any talk of terrible times or the last days. Some are within our own families. Brother will betray brother to death, and a son his father or a father his son. Beware of the vipers. If they get close, it will really hurt.