Can you imagine a time in which Christians were killed if they did not turn over their copies of the Scriptures and renounce their faith?
Can you imagine a time in which the Church made it nearly impossible for average people to read their Bibles?
Can you imagine a time in which millions of Christians were forced to worship in secret because of a constant threat of imprisonment or death?
It’s happening right now.
In the early years of the Church, Christians were persecuted regularly. Many people viewed the Christians with suspicion, and harbored all kinds of prejudices toward them. Every now and then, a man with absolute power decided to do something about it.
In the first century, the psychopathic emperor Nero decided to blame the Christians for a fire that destroyed several neighborhoods in Rome. He rounded up as many Christians as he could find, and had them executed in horrific and public ways. His brutality was so extreme, the general public actually started to feel sympathy for the Christians they thought they hated.
A couple of centuries later, another Roman Emperor named Diocletian attempted to extinguish Christianity: burning down churches, rounding up priests, torturing believers, and confiscating the Scriptures. Many Christians gave their lives to protect God's Word and the Church, and their family had to watch them die publicly.
By the Middle Ages, Christianity had become the dominant religion in Europe, and the Church had acquired tremendous political and financial power. Persecution no longer came from political authorities outside of the Church. The threats were internal.
At that time, the only Church-approved translation of the Bible was in Latin, which only the clergy and highly-educated could read. As a result, most average Christians did not have direct access to God’s Word.
Along came a German monk named Martin Luther. He could read Latin, and concluded that the Church had significantly distorted the Gospel of Christ. He believed that personal faith in God is what mattered, and being able to read the Bible was an important part of that.
In 1534, at great risk to his life, Martin Luther published the Bible in common German so that average people could read it. This was a revolutionary act. William Tyndale did the same thing in England, and was executed for it in 1536.
These new translations were published shortly after the invention of the printing press, which allowed them to be distributed very quickly. The revolution that Luther sparked came to be known as The Reformation, and we all benefit from it to this day.
Today, millions of Christians face persecution in places like North Korea, Egypt, China, and Iran. There are countless Christians in these countries that risk their lives on a daily basis to read the Bible and teach others about Christ.
This is happening in the 21st century. This is happening while we scroll through Facebook. This is happening while we sit in traffic. This is happening while we sleep. This is happening while we sit in church.
This is happening now. This is real.
Knowing all of this, how dare we take our Bibles for granted? How can we allow God’s Word to sit neglected on the shelf when so many people have shed blood and tears for our ability to read it? Not to mention the fact that the creator of the universe pursued a relationship with us and give us His Word so that we could know Him better!
I often wonder what God thinks about how casual we are about not reading His Word. I have been guilty of that, and I’m not sure that I have a good answer for Him when He asks me why.
If you’re interested in learning more about persecution taking place in the Church today, check out the organization Voice of the Martyrs.