3 Lessons From History on How the Church Can Turn Back the Threat of ISIS

Islamic State supporters
A resident of Tabqa city waves an Islamist flag in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in nearby Raqqa city Sunday. (Reuters/Stringer)

"We have never seen anything like it, and we must be ready for anything," were the words of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in discussing the threat of the jihadist ISIS movement with an obvious note of concern in his voice. Military and intelligence officials obviously are taking very serious the threat of ISIS to bring its horrific brand of terror to America and fly its flag over the White House. Could it happen?

We must remember that this battle will not be won ultimately with jet fighters and tanks because, at its core, this is an ideological war for truth. This is why a strong and vibrant Christianity that can wage spiritual warfare is absolutely necessary. This is why we must pray for another Great Awakening in our land. This is why we also must learn from history, from those who have preceded us.

There is an example from the early history of the church that has amazing parallels to our nation and its current situation with radical Islam. Like America, this area saw great moves of God and became the bastion of Christianity from the second through the sixth centuries. The light of the Gospel shined brightly and there emerged some of the greatest leaders and thinkers the church has known.

Yet, because of certain trends that weakened and watered down the faith of the Christians of this area, it fell to Islam in the seventh century and is still under Islamic control today.

In this article, I share three important lessons from this period; three things we must avoid in order to not repeat the mistakes of the North African Church and suffer a similar fate.

The Power and Prominence of the North African Church

Beginning in the first century, perhaps with the Ethiopian official whom Philip led to Christ (Acts 8:26-40), Christianity spread rapidly across North Africa. Paganism and false religions fell like dominoes as the message of Christ swept across the continent. Tertullian (160-220), the famous North African church father and apologist, wrote to a pagan official: "We are but of yesterday, and yet we have filled all the places that belong to you—cities, islands, forts, towns, exchanges; the very military camps themselves, tribes, town councils, the palace, the senate, the market-place; we have left you nothing but your temples."

Along with Tertullian, unusually gifted Christian leaders, such as Cyprian and Augustine, emerged in North Africa. They formulated theologies that are still the basis for much of the thinking in both Catholicism and Protestantism.

The North African church gained such prominence that it was appealed to for advice by churches of other nations and regions. On one occasion, the North African Church even rebuked a Roman bishop, Zosimus, for his acceptance of Pelagian teachers and teaching. The influence of the North African Church is shown in that the Roman bishop, after receiving their letter, carefully began to back away from his support of Pelagius. He eventually reversed his position and adopted the position of the North African Church.

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