University to offer persecution program

Courses at Oklahoma Wesleyan University will examine persecution in Christianity.
Tulsa World, July 12, 2003
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BARTLESVILLE — Oklahoma Wesleyan University will offer the only accredited degree program in North America on the subject of persecution in Christianity.

Courses for the university’s new degree in Christian Missions/ Persecuted Church Ministry will begin this fall.

Cooperating with the university on the program is the Voice of the Martyrs, a Bartlesville group ministering to persecuted Christians worldwide.

Graham Walker, vice president for academic affairs at Wesleyan, said the purpose of the program will be twofold: spiritual and practical.

“We want our students to be able to grasp the theological significance of persecution for Christ’s sake,” he said, quoting Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

According to the Bible, Walker said, every culture, at its deepest level, is in rebellion against God, and everyone who is serious about following Christ will be at odds with the prevailing culture.

Persecution is inevitable for true followers of Christ, he said, quoting the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12: “. . . all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

“Some cultures are more ruthless than others,” he said.

The United States has 400 years of culture tempered by the Christian faith, which respects religious liberty, he said, but even here, true followers of Christ are subject to subtle persecution.

“Historically, Christendom has had the highest regard for liberty,” said Walker, who has fostered the idea of a separation between the temporal and the spiritual.

Jesus claimed no political authority, and told his followers to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesars; and to God the things that are God’s,” he said.

In U.S. law, that is the concept of separation of church and state, he said.

“There is no Christian counterpart to the sharia, Muslim civil law,” which he called the primary agenda of Islamic movements in nations where Islam is on the rise.

Where religious liberty is not valued, people are more subject to persecution, he said.

Walker said he believes western Christians have much to learn from Christians who live in parts of the world where they are openly persecuted.

“We should be in awe of them, and ashamed of our complacency and materialism,” he said.

Part of the degree program will include regular lectures by people from areas where the church is persecuted, and a practicum in which students will work with Voice of the Martyrs, either in Bartlesville or oversees.

He attended a meeting Thursday at Voice of the Martyrs, and met several people from areas where the church is persecuted.

Graham said the goal of the program is not political.

“We don’t aim to change the world politically,” he said. “We consider that the greatest privilege of a Christian is to be found worthy to participate in Christ’s suffering.”

Graham said enrollment in the program has exceeded the minimum level to begin this fall, and interest has been strong in both the degree program and a non-degree certificate program.

Courses will include the theology of persecution, historical perspectives, God and government, intercultural ministry in restricted areas, and apologetics.

Oklahoma Wesleyan University was started in 1905 as Colorado Springs Bible College. The school moved to Bartlesville in 1959 and assumed its present name in 2001.

Walker said it is associated with the Wesleyan church, which split from the Methodist church in 1842 over the issue of abolition of slavery and biblical conservatism.

“We’re conservative and Bible oriented,” he said.

The school has had a long association with Voice of the Martyrs, whose director, Tom White, is a Wesleyan.

VOM was founded by the late Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, who spent 14 years in prison for preaching about Christ after the Communist takeover of Romania in 1945.

For information about the program, visit www.okwu.edu/persecutedchurch or call (800) 468-6292.

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