Randy Hurst: Do you see persecution of the church escalating?
George O. Wood: The Scriptures tell us that an evil day is approaching and the world is going to get worse. Christianity is under attack. But, with persecution, nominal believers fall away as the true believers are left; once the persecution lifts, the true believers have such credibility that the church then immediately begins to multiply. That has happened in Asia. I also remember when Nicolae Ceausescu, the dictator in Romania, predicted Christianity would disappear in his country. Years later, in the very palace where he made that statement, a huge gathering of Pentecostals—including an address by an Assemblies of God missionary—proclaimed that Jesus is alive.
Persecution unites the Church. There are other faith communities that have distinctive doctrinal differences from us. But when they are saying Jesus is Lord and not denying Him and they are being beheaded for their testimony, we recognize Christians are being martyred. Persecution forces believers to recognize that the borders of the church are not limited by denominational lines.
The Assemblies of God formed a Commission on Religious Liberty, and we are constantly monitoring reports of persecution. Throughout the Middle East and in many countries believers are really under the gun or under the knife or under severe scrutiny. We need to pray for and do our best to support the cause for religious liberty, as well as come with compassionate aid to our fellow believers.
RH: New Testament believers were good citizens even in oppressive governments, yet refused to do anything that violated their conscience. How does that balance work?
GOW: The New Testament takes the position that even a totalitarian government is better than an anarchy. So that in Romans 13:1-7, for example, when you consider what a despot Nero was, Paul’s call for believers to respect government authority is a remarkable statement. Sometimes we are tempted to think things have never been worse than today. But the Roman Empire, and others, have persecuted the Church throughout the Church Age. The Church has survived, and that’s what gives us confidence. Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
RH: What consistent responsibility should believers have toward believers who are suffering?
GOW: Every day I pray for two friends who are being persecuted for their faith. I think also that we need to raise awareness on religious freedom, both within our own country and for international religious freedom. When a religion has to impose force to keep its followers in line, it shows that that religion has no intellectual credibility. Jesus never used force to convert people or force them to tow the line. When governments make laws that prohibit people from freedom of conscience, freedom of choice, they are showing the internal weakness of their faith.
RH: The Book of Revelation gives us hope in the midst of persecution.
GOW: Vernon Brown tells the story of approaching an old janitor he saw reading the Bible. “What are you reading?” Brown asked, expecting the old man to simply say, “I’m reading the Bible.” But the man said, “I’m reading the Book of Revelation.” And Brown thought to himself, Revelation, this guy is reading Revelation. So, he kind of flippantly asked him, “Do you understand what your reading?” And the old man said, “Yes.” So Brown asked, “If you understand it, what does it mean?” “It means Jesus is a gonna win,” the man replied. That’s the attitude of the Book of Revelation—in the midst of terrible suffering, Jesus is going to win. That’s the last word.
Dr. Wood is General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA and chairman of World Assemblies of God Fellowship.
Randy Hurst is AGWM Communications Director of the Assemblies of God USA.