Totalitarianism is a political system in which the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life. Examples of totalitarian regimes are Germany under the Nazis, the Soviet Union under Stalin, China under Mao Zedong, and North Korea since 1948. Totalitarianism is characterized by a dictator or one-party rule, censorship of media, intimidation of the populace, propaganda in media and education, secret police forces, prohibition of all criticism of the government, and the repression of freedom of religion.
Historically, Christianity has flourished under totalitarian regimes. The book of Acts recounts the persecution of the Christians under Roman rule—including Nero’s reign—and the resulting spread of the gospel. After the stoning of Stephen, believers were forced to flee from those who wanted to put them to death. “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). It appears from Acts 9:31 that this persecution backfired and actually worked toward the further spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christians today are no less persecuted in some parts of the world where totalitarianism rules. Citing a Pew Research survey, Bishop John McAreavey, chair of the Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference, stated that Christian persecution is being gravely underestimated, as “Christianity is now the world’s most oppressed religious group, with persecution against them reported in 110 countries” (The Christian Post, May 19, 2015). According to the International Society for Human Rights, a non-religious organization, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians, most occurring in North Korea, where a militant, atheistic dictatorship holds power, and the Middle East, where Islamic totalitarianism is on the rise.
As in the early church, God’s sovereign control ensures that the gospel will be preached “in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). No dictator or totalitarian government can prevent the spread of God’s message throughout the world. They can oppress people, but they cannot suppress Truth. God’s plan for salvation will not be thwarted. Jesus will build His church (Matthew 16:18). Totalitarianism is just another futile effort by the forces of evil to impede the Lord’s work.