This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Hitler’s Cross, Author - Pastor Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. In the following excerpt from Pastor Lutzer, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
In his book, Bonhoeffer: Exile and Martyr, Eberhard Bethge points out that martyrs stand apart from those who die as victims of the wrath of others. Martyrdom has distinctive characteristics:
1. The risk of martyrdom is freely chosen. The Jews who died in concentration camps were not martyrs in the classical sense of the word. They were victims by virtue of their name and birth; it did not matter what they did or didn’t do. Their enemies chose suffering for them. In contrast, martyrs choose the path of suffering in the face of other options. They could have denied their convictions or remained silent. But they spoke out or acted, choosing to obey God rather than man. They understood the risks, but did it anyway.
2. A true martyr does not seek to die but is willing to accept death should it come. He might even greatly fear death, but he fears compromise much more. These people were not looking for death, hoping to be martyred for some noble deed. Most martyrs have a strong desire to live, and forfeit life only reluctantly.
3. Martyrs have a fanatical commitment to a cause that they regard to be more important than life itself. Some have been martyred for their religious commitment; others for seeking to overthrow a political regime. The students standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square in China were martyred for the cause of freedom. Millions throughout the centuries have been martyred for Christ.
4. Most martyrs believe that to remain silent is to comply with the enemy. They would agree with Abraham Lincoln that “silence makes cowards out of the best of men.” This cowardice, martyrs affirm, is exactly what they labored to overcome. Even when given the option of silence, they are so overwhelmed by the greatness of the cause that they speak out or act as emissaries of justice.
A moment of introspection: Silence Compromise
These words might haunt a contemporary martyr—painting a picture of human frailty that represents what he or she has labored to overcome. To a martyr, as to a true disciple of Christ, obedience to Christ is to be chosen rather than obedience to man. In Pastor Lutzer’s book, he writes, “Many of our Christian heroes were lawbreakers. Whether it was John Bunyan, who sat in a Bedford jail for his preaching, or Richard Wurmbrand, who was beaten for teaching the Bible in Communist Romania, Christians have always insisted that there is a law that is higher than that of the state.” And he continues, “...if we say that we will always obey the state, the state becomes our god. We can render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s only when we have rendered everything we have to God.” A martyr would aver that, to be silent in the face of attacks against God’s church might well lead to not only compromise but also to subjugation by men or their governments.
In our time and place, we have seen Christians killed by gunmen. In one situation, Christians were victims of the gunman’s wrath; in another, Christians who might fit the description of martyrs were faced with the need to choose between acknowledging Christ and being killed, or remaining silent and perhaps being wounded or unharmed. Christians around the world often face the same choice—to acknowledge Christ before men (see Luke 12:8-9) and be killed, or to deny Christ and live. Martyrs face the choice to share the love of Christ to a needy and hurting world—and face imprisonment, beating and torture—or to remain silent and go about one’s everyday life (silent, compromising). The world tries to impose compromise and complicity (as an example, check out Josh McDowell’s book, The New Tolerance, Tyndale House Publishers, 1998, ISBN 9-780842-370882), and enervate Christians—relegating us to an inactive and ineffective life.
Increasingly, according to the world, we are not to serve Christ verbally in our cities and towns, our villages and hamlets. We may show the face of Christ to others, but not give voice to His plan for salvation or His saving grace. We may show others the face of Christ, but not mention His name. We may honor the living Christ and His cross, but not display the cross publicly. We may honor Christ’s birth, but not display the crèche in the view of the public. We may celebrate His advent in the world, but not refer to the celebration as Christmas—instead having “Winter Solstice” or “Midwinter” celebrations and parties. We may celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, but not publicly and openly so. We may not even pray silently, in some schools. Public Christian observances are subjected to attack, as Christian weddings are brutally attacked (by Hamas, in Gaza), baptism is fraught with danger. Christians are not allowed, in some lands, to bury their dead in public cemeteries, or to take water from community wells (and thus supposedly contaminating the well water because they are Christians). In a world in which sin abounds, the concept and the word “sin” itself are anathema in these days of chaos and of disbelief.
If we consider examples of martyrs, the names of the apostles often are mentioned, as is the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12:1; but current-day martyrs also exist. Consider The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Updated to include recent accounts from the 160,000 martyred in 2001 alone; rewritten and updated by Harold J. Chadwick, Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2001, ISBN 0-88270-875-9). On October 1, 2015, the Christian young men and women students at Umpqua Community College were presented with a conscious choice—admit you’re a Christian and be killed, or deny Christ and be wounded or ignored. This is similar to the experienced choice for many Christians, in today’s world. Military chaplains have lost their chaplaincy because of standing for Christ on the armed forces bases and in the field. Christian bakers, florists, Christian mayors (http://www.wnd.com/2015/11/atheists-attack-mayor-for-praying-to-end-violence/), and Christian judges (as an illustration, check out Judge Roy Moore’s book, So Help Me God, World Net Daily [publisher], 2009, ISBN 978-1-935071-22-8) stand as examples of intolerance to even the existence of Christianity in society. James Dobson wrote, concerning Judge Roy Moore, “I greatly admire Judge Roy Moore and the courageous stand he has taken to defend the principles in which so many of us believe. He has confronted formidable opposition, but not once has he wavered in his efforts to combat judicial tyranny, and to uphold the Judeo-Christian foundation that undergirds our nation’s system of government. Every one of us could take a cue from the sheer strength of Judge Moore’s convictions and his unyielding commitment to righteousness.” Judge Roy Moore: believing that to remain silent is to comply with the enemy? Judge Roy Moore: committed to a cause that he regards to be as important, or more important than life itself?
For other current examples of contemporary martyrs, consider those executed by ISIS, consider pastors killed for their evangelism, consider women in Pakistan and elsewhere who are attacked because of their faith. In many cases of persecution, today, our family are offered the choice to acknowledge Christ and suffer the “consequences” or to deny Christ and survive. As the world moves toward global tyranny, Christians around the world will likely find themselves increasingly marginalized and targeted for attack. We in the United States are cognizant of the coarsening of society, and the abandoning of faith in Jesus Christ, in God, and in the Holy Spirit (as well as the corrupting of the truth of the sovereign God and His Holy Bible). We note the lawlessness that increasingly rears its ugly head and roars—in incidents of violence and rage around the world. But we also acknowledge that God is ultimately in control, and that His Son is soon returning to claim His own.
We declare this fact openly, without reserve, with no sense of angst or fear. We lift Christ and His cross high, our banner of Truth broadcasting His message of redemption, salvation and of divine grace into lives both near and far. We do not lightly approach the coming night, and are not ashamed of the gospel, but share it freely and without reservation. We pray, asking God’s Holy Spirit to direct us, to soften hearts to receive His love. We stand for the eternal Truth in God’s Word. Though unbelievers, as an example, stridently call for removal of the Holy Bible from places historically open to the evangelism of the Gideons, we stand with the Gideons and Billy Graham and Ray Comfort, et alia, and bring God’s Word with us, memorized and applied when helpful. We ask for God’s strength to “fight” the battles in His service. We answer the question, “Are we willing to die for the Lord?” more and more affirmatively. We may not be called to be martyrs, but we serve God willingly and count the cost as disciples and followers of the King of kings and Lord of lords. If we are led into a situation such as Umpqua or are accosted by radical Islamists, Hindus, Buddhists, or atheists, et alia, and have opportunity to acknowledge Christ and His sovereignty in our lives, we will do so—freely choosing the path of suffering, should it come.
We affirm, “We are Yours, God, and everything we have.” Our hearts willing, we echo the apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi (Philippians 3:8-11): “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Are we radically committed to the cause of Christ? We will not be complicit; Maranatha, Lord Jesus!