I recently had the opportunity to have dinner with a very well-known Christian leader, scholar and missionary to the Muslim world. Among the various subjects upon which the conversation focused that evening, was the thesis of Dr. Philip Jenkins, British historian and author of several books, including “The Next Christendom,” published in 2002. In this book, Jenkins theorizes that in the next few decades, the world may expect to see Christianity continue its decline in both Europe and the United States as it makes a drastic demographic shift to the south and the east. Jenkins claims that the United States will quickly lose its status as the Christian stronghold of the globe, and instead, Christianity will see its greatest strength in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Jenkins also ends his book with some dire warnings. With the rise of both Islam and Christianity together in many heavily populated Southern Hemisphere nations, we may expect to see a wave of religious clashes. Jenkins is not a wild-eyed alarmist. As a noted historian, his warnings are thoughtful, well supported by observable evidence and eloquently argued.
Among the nations Jenkins predicted we should watch, most notable is the African nation of Nigeria. The missionary with whom I was speaking agreed. As a well-known leader among the Christian missionary community worldwide, this individual is very well-connected and informed regarding the many trends in the global Christian and Islamic movements. He had some very relevant thoughts regarding the future of Africa. “What most of the missiologists are saying now is, ‘As goes Nigeria, so goes Africa.’ And it doesn’t look very good for Nigeria right now.” He stated.
He then elaborated that while the numbers of Christian believers in southern Nigeria is vast, the churches tend to be very influenced by what is often called the “health and wealth gospel” that is often associated with the American televangelists of the 1980s. In the north however, the churches are strong, but they are very small in comparison. He then continued with the following description:
The church in the south is not prepared for persecution and difficulty. When it comes, many fall away and become Muslims. I recently was invited to speak at a small pastor’s gathering in northern Nigeria. Almost every one of the pastors that I met had noticeable machete scars from Muslim attacks. The church there is suffering greatly, but they are prepared and they are standing strong. Sadly, however, they are very small in number and cannot compare the growing Muslim population.
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This account is not an exaggeration regarding the Muslim persecution waged against the Christian church in northern Nigeria. Last Thursday, Aug. 6, the Daily Sun newspaper of Lagos, Nigeria, reported that three Christian pastors were beheaded by a radical Islamic group for refusing to convert to Islam.
The Daily Sun interviewed an eyewitness to the event.
The pastors … were asked to change their faith to Islam. … I think there was an argument by one of the pastors, which gave the others some level of confidence to also resist accepting Islam. … They came out later to the courtyard within the compound and cut their heads one after the other and thereafter, shouted Allah Akbar in wild celebration accompanied with several gun shots.
Corroborating the eyewitness account, the Rev. Baba Gata Ibrahim from the Good News Church, told the Daily Sun that an assistant pastor in his church, Pastor George Orjih, was among those beheaded because of his refusal to accept Islam.
An eyewitness who was also captured by the Islamic militants gave us details of how the pastor was killed. He told us they were persuading him to accept Islam and he said over his dead body. He was even said to have preached Christ to [his captors].
Pastor Orjih had just completed a masters program in theology. He left behind a wife and children.
Pastor George Orjih: Beheaded for his faith.
More than 10,000 people have been killed through Christian-Muslim conflict in Nigeria since 1999. The worst conflict usually occurs in what is often called “the Middle Belt,” where the predominantly Muslim north butts against the Christian south. Just this past week, over 800 were killed in fighting between the radical group Boko Haram and Nigerian Security Forces. Boko Haram, which means “Education is Prohibited,” believes that Nigerian Muslims need to abandon Western educational indoctrination and return to Islamic Shariah law. Shariah law is already practiced in 12 Nigerian states.
At the funeral services for Pastor Orjih, the Rev. Bulus Azi urged Christians to emulate the pastors who were killed because of their refusal to deny Christ and accept Islam. He quoted from the Book of Revelation, chapter 7:
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
– Revelation 7:14-17
This passage is often associated with another passage from the book of Revelation that speaks about the nature of martyrdom in the last days:
And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands.
– Revelation 20:4
There is a deeper issue that needs to be commented on here. Consider this carefully: According to this passage, the martyrdom that Christians will face in the last days will be carried out primarily through the vehicle of beheading.
Now, while many students of prophecy have looked to Europe for an empire and a religion to emerge that will eventually legislate the beheading of Christians, many are now abandoning this notion as silly. In Europe today, popular sentiment expresses an open revulsion at the wild and barbaric practices of some American states because they still continue to execute their murderers. Europe simply does not fit the many descriptions in the Bible of the iron-toothed beast-like empire that is said to overwhelm the earth in the days prior to the return of Jesus. And so, as Europe continues its slide toward a toothless effete state. So also does the slide away from the Euro-centric Antichrist paradigm continue. The Euro-centric end time perspective is simply looking far less plausible than it once did. Instead, many are now turning their eyes toward radical Islam. When we consider this horrific aspect of beheading in the last days, the Islamic end-time paradigm begins to make far more sense. As the sickening practice of Islamic ritual beheading has been repeated multiple times in recent years by radicals, often in a very public fashion, many have taken note and have been reminded of Revelation 20. For this and many other sound Scriptural reasons, many theologians, pastors and students alike are now turning their attention to the growing worldwide movement of fundamentalist Islam.
Certainly, some will say that this is all very alarmist and inflammatory. In an age when exposing elements of Jew-hatred or Christian-hatred within Islam inevitably brings angry charges of “Islamophobia,” there are many who simply refuse to be pleased. For these, political correctness is a law vocal Christians will never be able not to break. Nevertheless, despite what should be obvious, let me clearly state that most Muslims have no desire to behead Christians. The vast majority of Muslims do not wish to kill unbelievers. But no matter how many peace-loving Muslims there are, there are still many who will look at the Quranic command, “when you meet the unbelievers … strike off their heads” (8:12) and will simply interpret it at its face value. This is Allah-breathed sacred scripture, after all. Yes, there are multiplied millions of peace-loving Muslims who find revulsion at passages like this in their Quran, but as these horrific recent events in Nigeria have shown, many, many fundamentalist Muslims remain.
In the future, will the peaceful Muslims or the fundamentalist Muslims prevail? Time will tell. But I believe the Bible gives us some pretty clear clues.
Joel Richardson is the author of the latest WND Books offering, “The Islamic Antichrist: The Shocking Truth about the Real Nature of the Beast.” Note: The book is also available in electronic form at reduced price through Scribd.