What I've Learned from the Persecuted Church

Posted by Naomi Vacaro on

The Precious Privilege of Owning a Bible
Katie Gutierrez

Several years ago, I started paying attention to the testimonies of believers from around the world. As I read story after story, I’ve noticed that the way they engage with the Bible is often very different from how I engage: There are no highlighters, no coffee mugs, and no devotionals or notebooks. But many of them seem to know and love the Word of God better than I do. And as I’ve read these testimonies, I’ve learned three things about the Bible from the persecuted church. 

It’s a privilege to own a Bible. 
I don’t remember where I first heard the story of the torn-up Bible. But stories like this are common among churches in countries where Christianity is illegal. The story goes like this: A Bible is passed around the church and each person rips one section out before handing it to the man or woman beside them. Why are Christians tearing apart a Bible? Because it is the only one they had.
These believers live in a country where being a Christian and owning a Bible is illegal.
Many believers today do not have access to the Word of God. And some don’t even have a translation in their own language. What we typically consider the most foundational aspect of our North American quiet time–a physical Bible–isn’t available to many Christians across the world. 
This should stir up gratitude in our hearts whenever we open our Bibles! Next time you sit down for your quiet time, begin by thanking God for His Word. Read it with hunger and attentiveness. And remember to pray for your brothers and sisters who don’t have access to the Scriptures. 

Memorizing Scripture is Important. 
Believers who don’t have easy access to the Bible, memorize it.
During the 1950s in Russia, three pastors of small house churches hosted a youth conference for the young people in their churches. None of these young believers had ever owned a Bible. But the three pastors wanted to find out how much of the Scripture these youth knew.

Every day this week we want you to gather in small groups. And we want to see how much of the four New Testament gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–you know and have memorized. In your groups, see how much of the Gospels you can recreate.’ [...] “At the end of the conference, when they compared and combined the efforts of all the different small groups, the young people had recreated all of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with only a half dozen mistakes.” (Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God, pp. 164-165

How much of the Bible would you know if your physical one was taken away?
Even though many Christians don’t own a physical Bible, they know the Word of God better than many of us who have the privilege of owning a Bible. And this memorization enables them to meditate on the Scripture day and night.
The Bible never says “you shall read the Word of God every day.” But it does tell us to “meditate on it day and night.” (Joshua 1:8)
For us, memorizing scripture might feel optional because we can easily access a physical (or digital) Bible. However, for the church in many other countries, memorizing scripture is essential to their spiritual growth and life. And I believe hiding God’s word in our hearts is also crucial for us. 

The Purpose of the Bible is Relationship with Jesus.
Richard Wurmbrand was a pastor in Russia during the Soviet Union who was imprisoned and tortured for his faith. Once, he was asked which Bible verses had helped him endure his years in prison. He responded that no Bible verse could help.

We knew Psalm 23 - ‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’ When you pass through suffering you realize that it was never meant by God that Psalm 23 should strengthen you. It is the Lord who can strengthen you, not the Psalm which speaks of Him so doing. It is not enough to have the Psalm. You must have the One about whom the Psalm speaks. [...] Holy words are only the means to arrive at the reality expressed by them.”
(Richard Wurmbrand, Preparing for the Underground Church)

The Bible is still very important. It is how we know who God is; it is how we know there is a good Shepherd who will carry us through suffering; it is how we know there is sufficient grace for all our needs. But, as Wurmbrand said, we can’t just read and memorize the words. We must read and memorize the Bible so that we can know Jesus.

The persecuted members of the Church inspire me to seek Jesus through His Word with fresh vigor and to repent of neglecting the Bible and treating the scripture lightly. Praise the Lord that we can repent knowing God offers forgiveness freely and generously! By God’s grace, we can dive in with expectation and excitement, knowing that our God delights to give us a greater understanding of His word and draw us into a deeper relationship with Himself, no matter how much we may have neglected it in the past.

  Katie Gutierrez loves an urban cafe as much as the smell of campfire and pine. She works in communications while studying business and non-fiction writing and is most happy when leading worship and discipling others.
Bible Reading Bible Study Heroes of the Faith Inspiring Christians motivation Persecuted Church Personal Devotion Scripture Memorization

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