Sorry, Tertullian
Image: Christianity Today

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Steve Green made it the chorus of “The Faithful,” the CCM singer-songwriter’s 1998 ode to persecuted Christians. But is it true?

In Carthage, North Africa, early church theologian Tertullian argued that persecution actually strengthens the church; as martyrs bravely die for the faith, onlookers convert. Some 1,800 years later, restrictions on religion are stronger than ever. According to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of the world’s population live in a country where social hostilities involving religion are high, and 64 percent live where government restrictions on religion are high. Does this explain why Christianity is likewise growing worldwide?

Not necessarily, says missiologist Justin Long, who recently compared Pew’s latest tally of religious freedom restrictions to Operation World’s latest tally of Christian growth (see chart). His conclusion: Church growth is "not strongly" correlated with either governmental or societal persecution. However, Christianity "tends loosely" to change more rapidly (grow or shrink) when governmental restriction is high, and stays relatively stable when such pressure is low.

History offers a "truly mixed record," said William Inboden, a Texas scholar affiliated with Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project. "Even though Christ gives the Great Commission before his Ascension, it almost takes the initial outbreak of persecution [in Acts] to spread the gospel," he said. But within 1,000 years, the once "largely Christian lands" of the Middle East and North Africa became overwhelmingly Muslim, he notes. Now their remnant ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
From Issue:
Read These Next
Also in this IssueThe Most Important Thing About the Holy Spirit
The Most Important Thing About the Holy Spirit Subscriber Access Only
J. D. Greear remembers what gets missed in secondary debates.
RecommendedUS Prepares to Deport Hundreds of Iraqi Christians
US Prepares to Deport Hundreds of Iraqi Christians
American veteran faces forced return to dangerous homeland that two-thirds of his fellow believers have fled.
TrendingKay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Kay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Through God's work in our lives, we've beaten the odds that divorce would be the outcome of our ill-advised union.
Editor's PickFinding My ‘True Self’ As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman
Finding My ‘True Self’ As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman
In my young-adult struggle with sexual identity, both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me floundering.
Christianity Today
Sorry, Tertullian
hide thisDecember December

In the Magazine

December 2014

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.