This past weekend many in the world were shocked yet again by the release of a video tape by the Islamic terrorist group ISIS, recording the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians
in Libya. When I heard the news and saw a few of the images of fellow Christian believers about to be executed, I was stunned. To be honest, the event has left a deep impact on me and I have found my self thinking about it fairly continually for the past several days.
As you would expect, there have been all kinds of responses to this horrific event. Government leaders across the world denounced it and Egypt launched immediate military action.
The internet has been filled with various responses to what happened. Some of them provide a strong witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, while others are more reactionary and far less helpful. It is the response of the Christian Church to this event and others like it that has stirred me to write this article, particularly the urgent need of the hour for Christians across the world to respond through gathering together to pray like never before.
One response that I have seen that is quite unhelpful is to quote portions of the Qur’an to demonstrate how such acts of execution are called for within the Muslim Scriptures. The problem is that it is simply wrong to quote an isolated verse from the Qur’an (or any other religious book), provide no context in which the verse is written and then use it to prove a point. It’s called ‘proof-texting’, and it is something that people do all the time to various passages of the Christian Scriptures. Please don’t misunderstand me and think that I am defending Islam; nothing could be further from the truth, however I am simply trying to point out that as a response to the events in Libya or any other similar event, quoting verses out of context from the Qur’an is not helpful.
In contrast, there have also been other responses that are much more constructive. Among them is a post from Joel Richardson who puts the death of the Coptic Christians in the context of Jesus’ response to His death on the cross:
Though Jesus could call on twelve legions of angels in a moment, and consume the earth in fire with angels (as He will do), in this age, He has chosen to refrain. This refraining is out of mercy to His enemies, as He said before His execution, “Father forgive them.” Though reviled, he didn’t revile in return. Though he suffered, he didn’t threaten, but continually entrusted His soul to Him who judges justly. So in His martyrdom, he showed the mercy of God. We also, those of us who have inherited the tremendous responsibility of the last days, are also called to imitate Jesus.
Perhaps one of the most moving responses has come from the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Bishop Angaelos (read the full response here):
“It is with deep feelings of sorrow and pain that we received confirmation of the brutal murder of Coptic Christians in Libya…While it may seem illogical or incomprehensible, we also pray for those who have carried out these horrific crimes, that the value of God’s creation and human life may become more evident to them, and in this realization, that the wider effects of pain brought by this and other acts of brutality may be realized and avoided…It is only through this understanding that we can continue to live according to the words of 1 Peter 3:15, ‘…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…’.”
I very much appreciate Joel Richardson when he concludes by saying, “I am not a pacifist. But let us resist the fleshly carnal spirit of the age that yearns primarily for revenge. Let us make our highest priority the opportunity to testify, to be witnesses for Jesus.”
Like Joel, I am not a pacifist, and my desire here is not to argue what military response is or is not appropriate. My interest is on the proper response of the Christian community, so that our witness for Christ will shine ever more brightly.
Let us make no mistake: deeply troubling events are unfolding, not only from ISIS and other similar groups but also other ideological groups throughout the world. I believe that the words of the apostle Paul are particularly important for us to give sober thought
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” -Ephesians 6:10-12
There is a real battle that is raging and it’s primarily a spiritual battle that is having dire consequences in the natural realm, as real people lose their lives and suffer greatly. In writing about this battle the apostle Paul concludes with an exhortation to PRAYER! “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18).
One of the primary responses of the Christian Church MUST be to PRAY! Believers must gather together because prayer is what shifts the realities in the spiritual realm, and thus shifts the realities in the natural realm. As Christians we can no longer afford to treat prayer as a kind of spiritual hobby! The church gathering together for extended expressions of corporate, unified prayer is the only answer to the rage of Satan that we are witnessing in groups like ISIS and others around the world. It is not enough for us to simply wring our hands and sit idly by and not take up the greatest spiritual weapon that God has given to us, and engage the spiritual battle that is all around us!
Yesterday morning I woke up thinking about the tragic events in Libya this past weekend, and a song by Matt Redman, called ‘Never Once’ was in my mind. I wept as I heard the song in my head and pictured my spiritual brothers being slaughtered on the beach in Libya. The lyrics are profound in the light of these events. You can listen to the song here.
Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us
Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us
Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful