“Trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored”

August 14, 2014

The following is an excerpt of an interview with Canon Andrew White, the chaplain of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad:

INTERVIEWER: Finally, Father, can you conceive of a moment where you might advise your own congregation to quit Iraq, a day when perhaps there’ll be no Christians left in the country at all.

CANON ANDREW: I have always said to our people, “I’m not going to leave you. Don’t you leave me.” Now I can’t say that any longer. If I tell them not to leave, I’m saying, “You have got to be prepared to die for your faith.” And that is what is happening. We have had people’s heads chopped off. We are having people convert. We are even having children slaughtered and cut in half.

And these fine words from “Archbishop Cranmer,” who complains that Western governments too often prefer words to action when it comes to protecting Christians (although U.S. intervention to save the Yazidis is still welcome):

But the persecution of Christians throughout history has ultimately failed because it has tended to separate the wheat from the chaff and caused growth. Eusebius’ account of the martyrdom of Polycarp tells us: “When one governor in Asia Minor in the second century began persecuting the Christians, the entire Christian population of the region paraded before his house as a manifesto of their faith.” The suffering of some Christians spurred others to more faithful living. Martyrs were perceived as having heroic qualities, and many peasants, onlookers, soldiers and members of the nobility became Christians through their witness. Tertullian observed: “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.” Tacitus agreed, after the persecutions of Nero, that “in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition broke out afresh, not only in Judaea… but even in Rome”.

The blood of Christians is seed.

Muslims loyal to the Islamic State will do what they believe they have been called by their prophet to do. Presidents and prime ministers will try to bomb them to hell. But the Living God will strengthen His people to be courageous and fearless. And persecution is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, it is one of the marks of true gospel ministry and discipleship. Sharing in the sufferings of Christ translates into sharing a future glory. As St Peter says, it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God: “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled” (1Pt 3:14).

Canon Andrew White suffers with his people because Christ suffered for him, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps and in his steps. He is a bold and gracious witness to the whole world.

I prayed for the safety of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq last Sunday and that the American intervention there will play a role in bringing peace with justice. I hope you’ll join me in this prayer. I’m reminded of the words from this great hymn:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

3 Responses to ““Trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    This post raises the interesting question of whether it is ever correct to flee from persecution. Paul was moved away from death threats more than once. Jesus himself walked through the crowd when they were trying to cast him over the cliff. And there are other such biblical examples. Now, I would be the first to agree that if we do suffer for our faith, that is a “blessing in disguise.” “Blessed are you when men shall persecute you for my sake, for great is your reward in heaven,” Jesus says in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. But I think we should also “use discretion” as far as opening ourselves up to be persecuted. If it is a question of standing up for our faith, as Peter and John did, and Daniel, and his three friends, we must do so. If, however, it is a question of deciding whether to stay in a region where you know they will kill you for doing so or moving to a safer place, then I think something can be said for moving. “Be wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves.”

  2. jwlung Says:

    This is interesting; I’ve thought about this a little. Muslims are not in the same place of the “God fearers” during the time of the early Church. If they were, then submitting to their cruelty might eventually cause their hearts to turn.

    But Muslims pray seventeen times a day for their god to keep them away from the paths of those whom god has cursed (Jews) and those who have been deceived (christians). We can pray that God will not give them the desire of their hearts and that followers of Islam may recognize Jesus, but those whose hearts have so embraced the evil they have been taught and who have become murderers, who cut off the heads of children, probably are going to have their prayers answered.

    The Vicar of Baghdad is a remarkable man: He told his parents as a child that he wanted to be a physician and a Priest, and that’s what happened. I love his videos on Youtube.

    Thanks for the post.

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