Every year since Christianity began, our brothers have experienced persecution; we've encouraged each other through great tragedies, important leaders of the faith have been called home, and outsiders have challenged the veracity of our claims.
So what makes Crosswalk's list of the most important Religion News stories of 2007 any different? Well, nothing really, except that these are both the reminders that there's nothing new under the sun, as well as the sometimes-uncomfortable reality of what Christ has called us to. None of us will spend eternity on this earth (praise God we will do so with Him), but what do we do with the time He has placed us here?
Do we turn a blind eye to the suffering of our brothers in other countries? Or do we risk being taken hostage because we're so desperate to share the Gospel? Do we fear the advance of belief (or non-belief) systems that oppose us, or do we stand firm, creating institutions that defend the biblical account?
And what of our own 'account'? Will your Lord embrace you with the same fervor as the recently departed giants of Christianity? Why or why not?
These are the ten stories that got our editors thinking the most about the world-wide state of Christianity over the past year...
10) MOTHER TERESA'S LETTERS PUBLISHED, INDICATING POSSIBLE CRISIS OF FAITH
Why it's Important: Whether you're Catholic or not, the world's most recognizable, selfless "suffering servant" for the poor having her doubts about God is surprising, if not disturbing.
Begs the Question: Why go through all that if there's nobody up there in Heaven? Would it still be worth it? For Catholics, is her sainthood affected? Or is Mother Teresa still ministering comfort even in death as others with doubts feel they can relate?
9) ATHEISM IS IN
Why it's Important: Attacks on Christianity specifically and religion in general can make us feel uncomfortable at best, rejected at worst. But are there other opportunities here, such as taking the chance to learn how to defend our faith against fair questions?
Begs the Question: Can an intellectual accept biblical teachings on faith? How can Christians settle for themselves - and explain to others - that they aren't believing a lie, and that this truth is for all?
8) HEROD'S TOMB DISCOVERED
Why it's Important: Anti-faith "findings" such as "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" and "The Gospel of Judas" receive much more media coverage, so it's always fun when archaeology supports the biblical account. As one of our readers commented: "Although I don't need archaeological evidence to 'prove' what I believe about Jesus Christ and the Word of God to me, finds such as Herod's tomb give credibility to my testimony of the Christ I follow."
Begs the Question: What else is out there that will be found to support what we already know is true? And will we use it to help skeptics to believe?
7) CREATION MUSEUM OPENS, EXCEEDS ATTENDANCE EXPECTATIONS
Why it's Important: Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis ministry has created a state-of-the-art museum in northern Kentucky (near the Cincinnati airport) from which to study and teach how science jives with the biblical narrative. Even the museum's detractors - and there are many - admit the facility is impressive and the message consistent without being heavy-handed.
Begs the Question: When are you going? But seriously, can belief in God's Word being literal co-exist with what science tells us?
6) POLITICANS SHOW THEIR RELIGIOUS SIDES
Why it's Important: It became a leading issue as things geared up for the 2008 presidential elections. Democrats wanted it known that Republicans don't have a monopoly to run on a faith-and-values platform, so began sharing their stories of religious upbringing and belief. But is anyone buying? Republicans, meanwhile, haven't yet produced a candidate that all evangelical voters will rally around.
Begs the Question: Does it, and should it, matter? Which "Christian values" matter most: socially-responsible ones, or conservative ones? Are Christian values always preferable to having a seasoned politician? Will Christians support a Mormon candidate?
5) PERSECUTION IN INDIA AT ALL-TIME LEVELS; ANTI-CONVERSION LAWS ESTABLISHED
Why it's Important: India is the world's second-most populous country (behind China), with 3.75 times more people than the United States packed into a geographical area a third the size. The country is mostly Hindu religiously, but with so many people, even a small percentage of Christians make up quite a substantial group. Lately, those Christians are not only being persecuted for their beliefs like never before, but are being restricted from sharing the gospel, with many Indian states adopting "anti-conversion" laws.
Begs the Question: Are things going to get better or worse for Indian Christians in 2008? Have human laws ever been ultimately successful at preventing the spread of the good news?
4) CHRISTIAN POPULATION DISAPPEARING IN IRAQ, GAZA
Why it's Important: We're talking about some of the world's original Christian peoples in the Assyrians and Chaldeans of Iraq, and the Christians of the Gaza Strip. Their losses and emigrations have increased dramatically in just six months. Once they're gone, who then will represent Christ in those regions of the world?
Begs the Question: Have some things actually gotten worse in Iraq than they were under Saddam? What would a Middle East devoid of Christians look like?
3) COLORADO SHOOTINGS AT TWO CHRISTIAN LOCATIONS (New Life Church-Colorado Springs, YWAM-Arvada)
Why it's Important: Suicide has always been ugly, but it's gotten even uglier this milennium. Many who are intent on killing themselves now purpose to take others with them to achieve infamy. Not only that, but the aught people have against Christians is a gathering dark cloud we don't like to talk about. Matthew Murray was raised in a Christian home, but later found it necessary to kill Christians at the Youth with a Mission center he used to work at, as well as at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, which was still digging out from making last year's Top 10 list after founding pastor Ted Haggard admitted to a homosexual affair. Murray took four innocent lives and ultimately killed himself, but only after an armed security guard at New Life had taken him down.
Begs the Question: Do churches need to consider armed guards? Will we see American Christians increasingly targeted by angry, unstable individuals? What, if anything, can we do about that?
2) NOTABLE DEATHS (Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Ruth Bell Graham)
Why it's Important: These were giants of the Christian faith in America. One would be hard-pressed to find a life of a believer, or even a non-believer, not touched by the ministry of one of them. Falwell and Kennedy were major players in America's morality movement in the 1980s. They were not without their detractors, especially Falwell, for some of the stances they took or the things they said. Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA; and Dr. Kennedy's Coral Springs Presbyterian Church and "Coral Ridge Hour" TV ministry still endure. Mrs. Graham was beloved by millions as the matriarch of America's first family of evangelicalism.
Begs the Question: Will your legacy be as lasting as these departed believers? What is the cost of taking an unpopular stand for Christ? How much longer do we have with Billy Graham and other Christian leaders? Which evangelists, pastors, and laypeople will step in and fill the void?
1) 23 SOUTH KOREAN MISSIONARIES HELD HOSTAGE IN AFGHANISTAN; TWO KILLED
Why it's Important: Any time believers are taken hostage while simply trying to spread the news of hope in Jesus it just smacks of the truth that our world is broken... reminding us clearly of the very reason why we need to take the gospel to all lands. And yet, we still don't expect, in this day and age, that Christians will give their lives in this fight. At the same time, that doesn't mean we shouldn't pray for and strive for peace and freedom in evangelism.
Begs the Question: What will it mean for the spread of the Gospel if one of the world's primary senders of missionaries curtails their efforts? Is Afghanistan unreachable? For how long? How are those who survived the ordeal recovering?