On the Holocaust of Christians

Chuck Colson has some interesting and eye-opening figures on the holocaust of Christians in the twentieth century. The article itself is dated 2002. The estimate is that 45,000,000 Christians have been martyred in the twentieth century. According to the same estimate, the total number of Christians martyred since the time of Christ is around 70,000,000.

I want to point out a couple of things. Firstly, such numbers, as Colson points out, do not diminish the horror of the Holocaust in the least. However, Jews should not think that they are the only ones who have been persecuted in the twentieth century. Christians have lost more than 7 times as many lives as the Jews lost in the Holocaust. Not a fact that you will hear much about in the news (nor do I particularly want it to be reported. It is not as if Christians need to brag about being persecuted).

The other thing I wish to point out is that Colson’s conclusion is not how we should pray for the church. Indeed, the Chinese church has told us differently. Why should we pray that persecution should be eliminated against the church, when persecution is something we are told that we should expect? Not only that, but persecution is good for the church, eliminating nominalist “Christians.” I am not saying that persecution is a good thing, in and of itself. I am very thankful that I am not being persecuted for my faith. However, God overturns evil for good constantly, as He has been doing all throughout history. I am raising the point only to encourage us to pray for the persecuted church. And this is how we should pray: that the church remain faithful in its witness, not compromising the truth of the Gospel for comfort’s sake.



  1. Steven Carr said,

    July 9, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    A couple of weeks ago I took a class at Puritan taught by Robert Reymond. He put forth this question to each one of us in class: “Brothers, are you ready to die for the faith?” That is not an easy question to answer, but I do know that I find Christ’s words comforting when He said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”
    Two months ago, I was attended a lecture by a Chinese professor about what Calvinism means for the Chinese. Many of the attendees were Chinese from various parts of China, and as I talked with some of them, I found that they had a very warm and lively faith, and they were very excited about sharing their faith.

  2. JPC said,

    July 9, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    So our brothers in the faith have been killed (at least) 7 times more than Jews in WW2, but the latter deserves the capital “H” holocaust? Why is this? Could it be that some have used the media to brag of their sufferings?

  3. greenbaggins said,

    July 9, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    I merely apply the common designation to it. When people refer to *the* Holocaust, they mean the killing of 6 million Jews in WW2. One the one hand, it is certainly possible for the Jews to brag about their sufferings *as if* no one else has ever suffered. On the other hand, I do not want Christians to brag about their sufferings, but rather to pray.

  4. Bill Lyle said,

    July 9, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    When I was at Parkview Church, we put this counter on our Website. It is a interesting tool


  5. Lee said,

    July 9, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    I think these numbers should remind us as well that the danger to Christians and Western Civilization is not just Islam. Sure Islam is probably responsible for a goodly number of these martyrs; however, Communism is surely responsible for more. It is an atheistic religion/government, and in places like China, the old USSR, and other communist nations Christians are far from safe. We focus today on Islam while we body up to the budding Communist nations. The Evil Empire is not dead, and it is evil because of its complete and total warfare on Christ.

    I personally fear for the Christians in China after the Olypmics. China has a long and storied history of slaughtering Christians. Once the world’s eyes are no longer focused on Bejing, I expect another round of purges.

  6. ReformedSinner said,

    July 10, 2008 at 10:32 am

    #5 Lee,

    China has a storied history of slaughtering Christans? I’m all for hyperboles but this is a bit extreme, even for a blog.

    The first documented spread of Christianity to China is the Tang Dynasty, and the incoming of Nestorians. Later on Nestorian Christianity was banned and the churches closed. There are some casualties but definitely not “slaughter” as the locals have no problem converting back to indigenous religions.

    Second major wave of Christianity in history of China is in the late Ming Dynasty and early Ching Dynasty. When Catholics aggressively spread mission seeds in Far East Asia. Mateu Ricci was successful that he even had the audience of the Emperor. However, later on with the issue of “Ancestral Worship” the Emperor ordered all Catholics (Christianity) banned in China. Again some casualties but the Catholics never got popular support as Ricci and the other Catholics’ strategy was “top-down”: get the affluent and educated to convert and it will trickle down, but it never did.

    Then comes the late Ching Dynasty and modern China. When Christian missions hop on the train of imperialism and came into China with the western troops. This was probably the most successful seed spreading as it reaches to the locals at unprecedented scale. In the early 1900s there was an “anti-Christians” movement made by the Chinese intellectuals that bought into Western Darwinism. However, it was no bloodshed but mostly their answer to a fast spreading Christianity. Calling for anyone with an education to not believe in superstition.

    Finally, it’s the Communism China time. The time of “persecuted Church.” I suspect this is the era you are focusing (but then again you said ‘a storied history of slaughtering Christians which prompted my historical survey.) Obviously as proud Communists they want to do away with all religions, especially the foreign ones. Hundreds of thousands are killed in the era from 1949-1970s.

    From 1970s on the Chinese government realized Christians are like rats, you killed some and some more are created. So to adjust their strategy they created “official Christianity” (aka Three-Self Patriotic Church) to let the people worship (but with restrictions, like you can’t convert people under the age 18, you can’t do evangelism outside your church building, no family gatherings or small groups, and obviously don’t trash the government.) This has some moderate success as it gets most people to worship in peace, and give the western world an illusion that China has “freedom of religion.”

    But of course many orthodox Christians do not buy into this scam and continue to worship in secret in homes, thus known as the “House Church.” They are the ones that the government from time to time will persecute and force compliance.

    However, the China of today is changing. I do not want to give an impression that persecution is gone, but it is still very much alive. However, I also do not want people here to also imagine that there are police out there trying to hunt down Christians everywhere. Anyone with any experience in China knows that the police and politicians pretty much knows what’s going on, and all they ask in return is the House Church to keep a low profile and not make trouble.

    Ironically the change is bought by economical advances. The police and politicians have better things to do then to persecute Christians. Like Carl Trueman famously said in his class: “People don’t realize it costs a lot of money and resources to persecute somebody, and usually it has to be worth it before it’s done.” It rings true in China. The police and politicians are busy making money that they don’t have the time, nor willing to spread the resources, to persecute Christians.

  7. Lee said,

    July 12, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Reformed Sinner,
    I was clearly using a hyperbole, but I do not think it all that extreme. One could add the fact that Thomas the apostle is traditionally held to have been a missionary in China, but you can take that or leave it as traditions about the apostles are not always reliable. I was under the impression that those Christians under the Tang dynasty did suffer some persecution and death. They had bishops, monestaries and churches at this time. Missionaries arrive again in 900 and there is no trace of Christianity left. Whatever work those missionaries did is completely gone when the wave of Christians come in the Ming Dynasty, where you admit some more death occurs. Protestant Missionaries are in Canton in 1807. I have no record of what happened to their work, but it is not around with the Imperialism-Christian invasion that you speak of. There was bloodshed and more than just and anti-intellectual attack on the Christians in 1900. The Boxer Rebellion specifically targeted and killed at least 189 missionaries. You mentioned the hundreds of thousands killed before 1970 and after 1949. We can never have a truly accurate account and that includes many after 1970 that disappear or are arrested for trumped up reasons that really boil down to the fact that they were Christians.

    Even if we use your survey instead of mine that gives us four waves of Christianity followed by persecution. Can you name another country that has this sort of ‘rinse and repeat’ method of dealing with Christians. My storied history is just what you have enumerated. China is a country that has many times had Christianity blossoming in its boarders only to be turned on by the government so that the next time a wave of missionaries arrive no hint of Christianity is found.

  8. July 16, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I don’t think it’s inappropriate to pray for the end of persecution as one would pray for healing for a sick friend. We can pray for the peace of the church while recognising that the Lord’s purposes are inscrutable and that his will always prevails.

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