I recently read a disturbing article in a Christian publication that stated that those undergoing persecution in areas where they and their families were no longer safe should not attempt to flee, but that they should have faith and should stay where they are in order to be a light to those around them, including their persecutors.
Although I’m sure the writer was well meaning, I think it is important that persecuted Christians understand there is nothing biblically wrong with fleeing to protect oneself and one’s family rather than staying in the proverbial “frying pan.” In fact, whenever it has been possible, it is “fleeing,” not “frying,” that has characterized Christianity throughout its history.
We have only to look at the biblical record to see the example of countless men and women of God who fled persecution. Moses fled Egypt before later returning (Exodus 2:15). Elijah fled from Jezebel before it was his time to return (1 Kings 19:3). Jeremiah urged the people of Jerusalem to flee before the city was attacked by its enemies (Jeremiah 6:1). The family of Christ was commanded to flee with the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:13), and Jesus, of course, told his followers not that they should not flee, but that they should pray that their flight be not at a dangerous and inopportune time (Matthew 24:20). It is historically clear that when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, with a great loss of Jewish life, few if any Christians died in the siege of the city, as they had followed the teaching of their master – and fled.
We see this pattern of fleeing persecution in the New Testament itself. The Book of Acts shows that when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was killed: “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). The result of this fleeing was not some kind of spiritual decline of the Church, rather: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (vs. 4), and Christianity both spread and increased as a result.
Even the leaders of the early Church who stayed originally in Jerusalem thought it wise to flee when circumstances indicated they should. We see that the apostle Peter fled when his life was threatened (Acts 12:17), and the apostle Paul fled on numerous occasions to avoid persecution and threats to his life (Acts 14:6, etc.).
So the Bible does not teach that we should feel it is a matter of faith not to flee when every indication is that it would be wise to do so. Certainly, there are cases where God has called individuals to stay and face persecution, but without a clear call to do so, God expects us to use wisdom in all things (Ecclesiastes 7:12) and to avoid threats that are avoidable (Proverbs 22:3 and Proverbs 27:12).
The answer to most life-threatening persecution is not to stay, but to have the kind of faith that trusts God enough to flee and receive his guidance and help to reach a place of safety. The Church has always fled when appropriate, and always will (Revelation 12:6). To suggest otherwise is to not understand the example of the Bible itself.