". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Nigerian Christians Endure ‘Refining, Testing Time‘ of Intense Persecution

February 20, 2024

A record 8,222 Nigerian Christians were killed in 2023, according to a report published Wednesday by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, extending a genocide that has claimed the lives of roughly 100,000 Christians since 2009. What man intends for evil, God works out for the good of those who love him (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28).

“Radical Islam is making huge inroads into Nigeria right now,” Pastor Carter Conlon, who recently visited Africa’s most populous nation, described on “Washington Watch.” One pastor he met with estimated that, “within 10 to 15 years, Nigeria will be a Muslim nation if the Christian church does not have a spiritual awakening.” Add to that dynamic of the mass kidnappings that take place, even in large cities, and visiting Nigeria is “not a trip for the faint of heart,” he said.

“The government of Nigeria has looked on with indifference,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on “Washington Watch.” “There is no evidence to say that the government is actually doing this [killing of Christians], but there is evidence that the government is not doing anything to stop it.”

The Governor of all creation does not look with indifference on the oppression of his children (Exodus 2:24-25), but he does send fiery trials upon them to test them (1 Peter 4:12).

The ongoing, widespread murder of Christians in Nigeria is sparking “alarm now,” insisted Conlon, as “they realize, to some extent, that the gospel that they have embraced over the years, which focused largely on self-improvement and wealth and success and such like, is insufficient to push back against this onslaught.” He added, “That gospel led to a powerlessness among the people, and a fear.”

In recent decades, Americans exported the prosperity gospel to the global south, where its deceptive promises of material wealth in this life have spread rapidly among the receptive, but often unregenerate, poor. Nigerians “embraced some of the gospel that came out of America … that really focused on personal success and prosperity,” Conlon explained. “Looking at America itself, a lot of the people said, ‘Well, if these are Christians, then it must be God’s will that we’re always successful and happy and healthy and wealthy.’”

Then came the persecution, as Nigerian Christians saw their churches attacked, their daughters kidnapped, and their brethren slaughtered. In the north, where persecution is fiercest, Conlon described “militants coming into churches and giving the believers there the option of converting to Islam or being killed right on the spot.”

If these Nigerians were fed false promises about Christianity bringing temporary prosperity, it’s no wonder that people are “leaving the church and dropping their identification with Christ out of fear of becoming the next victim,” as Perkins noted. These people were never taught to count the cost of following Jesus, nor to place their hope in the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14). So, when the payment came due, they found it too much to pay and defaulted on their claim to the name of Christ.

Jesus did not guarantee his followers ease, comfort, and prosperity. On the contrary, he promised, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33), and “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Jesus predicted a time when his followers would be “hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” At that time, “many will fall away,” and “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray,” and “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:9-12). But he added this promise: “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

Where do Christians find the boldness and resolve to face intense persecution, even certain death, for bearing the name of Jesus? They find it in the hope of eternal life (Hebrews 11:32-38). They find it in the Spirit of comfort and wisdom that indwells them (Matthew 10:19-23) and calls God their Father (Romans 8:15). They find it by drowning their fear of man in an even greater fear of “him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

That’s why Conlon advocated two responses to the alarming situation in Nigeria. First, Christians should pray. Only God can bring about the revival that is needed to withstand the assaults of the evil one. Second, Christians should reprioritize “preaching the real gospel of Jesus Christ.”

While Conlon was in Nigeria, he spoke at a pastors’ convention that openly admitted that the Nigerian church was “as corrupt as the society around them,” and that “the foundation of Christianity … [had] eroded from underneath them.” The powerlessness and fear of Christians had “actually opened [Nigerians’] hearts to what is the real message” of the gospel, he said.

“It does sound similar to what we’re facing here in the United States,” Perkins remarked, “from a standpoint of the church becoming more in line with the culture than standing strong on the word of God.” “We’re living in an age now of just rank godlessness,” Conlon agreed. “Debauchery is becoming celebrated. People of biblical truth are being vilified. … We’re also living at a time where we need a spiritual awakening in this nation.” The church in America must also recognize the “need to return to biblical truth, to live out that truth, teach it in our homes, to teach it to our children, to preach it in our churches,” Perkins said.

It’s appropriate, then, that “the message of the cross” was the theme of Conlon’s lecture. “When all else fails, read the instructions,” he said. “God tells us exactly what we need to do, how we need to pray, what our lives should look like, what our message really is.”

Simply put, Christians believe that every human being has rebelled against our Creator, falling short of his standard of perfect righteousness. Because of our sin, we deserve death, and our holy Judge would be just to carry out the sentence. But, in his mercy, he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, as a substitute sacrifice. Jesus lived a perfect life, bore the full brunt of God’s wrath in his death on a cross, and then rose from the dead, defeating death and offering the free gift of eternal life with him to all who will repent of their sins and believe in him. Christ followers are indwelt by God’s Spirit, given new life, and freed from the power of sin to live a life of holiness to God.

Eternal life with Christ is good news. Freedom from sin is good news. Salvation from God’s wrath is good news. Best of all, it’s 100% true, guaranteed by God’s own unchanging character. By comparison, the best empty promises of the prosperity gospel are chaff that the wind drives away.

The one true gospel also provides hope to Christians in the midst of tough situations. As Nigerian believers face the prospect of being killed for the name of Jesus, their faithful endurance demonstrates “the depth of their faith amidst this brutal persecution,” said Perkins. By holding to their confession of faith, Nigerian Christians are demonstrating their belief in the promise of James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

Using the language of 1 Peter, Perkins interpreted the persecution facing Nigerian Christians as “a refining, testing time.” Peter wrote that one purpose of trials was “so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” When persecution comes, fair-weather Christians will fall away. But genuine believers will hold fast, and they will be rewarded with the words, “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.