Tertullian famously said in his treatise Apologeticus that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
A lot of people understand Tertullian to mean that persecution always results in church growth. However I remembered from seminary, a prof of mine, Dr. Carson saying that this was not strictly true. He gave an historical example to show that this was not true. What that example was I cannot remember however I have found an article online that gives a couple of examples disproving this. Here is an excerpt from the article, Is the Blood of the Martyrs Really the Seed of the Church? by Glenn Penner.
“Will persecution make us better Christians? Perhaps. It seems to me, however, that the witness of scripture and the testimony of today’s persecuted Church is better reflected in the phrase, “Better Christians tend to produce persecution.” In the same vein, does persecution always cause church growth? Not always. In 1993, I did considerable research on the history of the Church in Russia and, to my surprise, I learned that the membership of the Evangelical Christian Baptists (registered and unregistered) in the Soviet Union had dropped from approximately 1,000,000 in 1926 to just under 249,000 in 1993. In Albania, the Church was virtually wiped out during the rule of Enver Hoxha. Only a dozen or so Christians were found to have survived Albania’s attempt to create a completely atheistic state when religious liberty was restored a decade ago. The Communists almost succeeded. I can show other cases today and in church history where the witness of the gospel has been snuffed out or is flickering due to sustained persecution. It would be naïve to say, then, that persecution always leads to church growth or an openness to the gospel.”
A Couple of Things:
(1) As you read the above, questions will arise. I urge you to read the article in its entirety along with its context.
(2) One other thing – while Tertullian’s statement is not strictly true, this does not mean that persecution will always result in the church being destroyed. That would be another extreme. The book of Acts itself records persecution as resulting in the growth of the Church.