Reflections on Martyrdom in relation to Post-modern Contemporary Church:
by Joey Zorina
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# "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." (Psalm 116:15) ".......If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15: 20)
"On June 28, Hemanta Das, a Christian convert from Hinduism to Christianity, was brutally beaten by suspected members of a religious fanatic group. Das, a former member of the Hindutva fanatic group known as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, died four days later in a local hospital. The Council of Baptist Churches in Northeast India has declared Brother Das the first Assamese martyr. Das was a member of the Guwahati Baptist Church. The Voice of the Martyrs' contact in India reports, "On several occasions, Brother Das was cautioned by radical groups of the dire consequences that would follow if he tried to convert people to Christianity."" [Christian Martyred in India's Assam State:VOM Sources]
Consider the things that Paul mentioned in Romans 8:35 - Famine, peril, nakedness, sword, tribulation, distress and persecution. This four feet six inches minister of the gospel went through all kinds of suffering for the sake of the gospel. He was kept down by fasting and praying for those that were free while he was imprisoned; brutally stoned at Lystra, starved with no food to eat in many other places, his skin dipped for thirty-six hours in the salty Mediteranean Sea; endured sleepless nights; coldness and whippings.
Add to this list of danger: loneliness, 195 stripes laid on his back, 3 times shipwrecked, 3 times beaten with rods, stoning, humiliation, chains, and countless times walked the valleys of "death." The list could go on! Yet the most inspiring of all these is when he said: "For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor.4:17) He calls all his sufferings "slight momentary affliction." That's pouring contempt of suffering for the sake of the gospel!
How could he do this? The answer is: Paul loved and treasured Christ above all things!
We live in an age where there is an ever increasing number of Martyrdom. The 21 century Church has seen more Martyrs than she did in the 1st century. These Martyrs (meaning-"Witness"-in Greek) remind us to deny the self and carry our crosses. Denying the self involves dying. Dying to pride; dying to materialism; dying to personal gratification and lust can be a painful process.
In essence we are also called to daily martyrdom-----DEATH TO THE SELF
(The ego-centric human nature which was crucified with Christ on the Cross: see Gal.2:20). Like the electric chair in the United States, sinful criminals die on the Cross in ancient Rome. The cross was an instrument for inflicting excruciating pain and humiliation. It is meant for execution. In crucifying the self, we deny things that bring temporary pleasures or joys in order to gain a much more superior joy that remains. In the process we gain Christ himself. This is what we were made to be; to gain Christ and the power of his resurrection.
Post-modern contemporary Church has trivialized this old-fashioned biblical perspective on the crucifixion of the self. Pop-psychology in the American culture (influenced by Sigmund Frued's Psychology) elevates the self to a place of idolatry, which is somewhat, regretfully, heretic in nature and has permeated the Church's doctrine in varying degrees.
This old Jesus' saying on taking up the Cross requires tremendous attention and must be recovered in the Post-modern contemporary Church. Our preference of self over the glory of the Lord is what John Calvin once saw as TOTAL DEPRAVATION.
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave, in his book -(The Cost of Discipleship-1937 ), a severe rebuke to comfortable "Disney Land" Christianity while the world was being destroyed by War-machines. He said:
"Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."
On April 9, 1945, one month before Germany surrendered, Bonhoeffer was hanged with six other resisters. A decade later, a camp doctor who witnessed his hanging described the scene: ".... I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer..... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed........At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."
How crucial it is for us to contemplate and discern the times that we live in and raise prophetic voices to remind the Church of her primary calling, that in doing so people might be called back to sense what is that "good, the acceptable, and the perfect will of God." (Roms.12:1,2)
I believe Martin Luther was right when he said,"The household sweat is great; the political sweat is greater; the church sweat is the greatest." From Jesus Christ, Stephen in the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul and a host of other disciples to this present age have had bloody "sweat" trickling down from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet. All these happened for the purpose of advancing the message of the risen Christ. Yet in these tribulations and circumstances, they endured and rejoiced knowing the joy that lay ahead of them.
Loss and suffering, joyfully accepted for the kingdom of God, reveals that Christ is more valuable than anything else in the world. The spiritual paradigm here is not "self-worth" but how much is God worth! This is why the stories of missionaries who gladly gave their all have made Christ supremely valuable to us.
The Church is not going to reach the Muslim and the Hindu world without suffering for the sake of the gospel. There is no easy way out to reach the unreached. There is no short cut to an anointed evangelism.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that "The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." This is in line with what Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it produces much grain" (John 12:24).
The early Church saw Stephen being stoned to death (Acts 7: 56-60). However the stones that were killing him could not distract him from the joy as he saw "heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (v.56).
As the stoning continued, Stephen went so far as to pray for his persecutors saying, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin" (v.60). There was a young man named Saul who would later on become the world's greatest missionary (v.57). Stephen's prayer for those that persecuted and consented to his death was to bear much fruit.
At the same time, there was a great persecution that broke out in Jerusalem in which Saul played a major role. As a result, many disciples (except the apostles) were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Devout men carried Stephen and lamented over his death, but little was known that this "grain of wheat" which fell to the ground and died was to produce much grain.
Christians may have stayed in one place if the persecution in Jerusalem had not broken out. But "those who were scattered" as a result of the persecution "went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8: 4). There is a glorious divine design in the suffering of God's people that no human rationalizing can comprehend. What the religious leaders meant for evil; God meant it for good, namely, the spreading of the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.
Furthermore, the bible adds: "Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And after the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord" (Acts 11: 19,20).
The outcome of this whole act of God's glorious divine design in the sufferings of his people is that "a great number believed and turned to the Lord." Wherever people of God suffer; the result is always fruitful abundant evangelism.
The degree of the suffering to which we are called may differ from one person to the other; and from one community to the other. But the ultimate call of a Christian is to "deny himself and take up his cross and follow" Jesus Christ (Mark 8:34).
The loudest voices in the proclamation of the gospel throughout the corridors of history are those that suffered for the sake of the name of Christ. The apostle Peter made it quite plain that Christians are to arm themselves with "the same thought" since "Christ suffered in the flesh" (I Peter 4:1). God continues to use the suffering of His saints to awaken others out of their deep spiritual slumbers and make them bold to preach the gospel.
When Paul was imprisoned in Rome he wrote to the Church at Philippi saying, "...most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (Philippians 1: 14). He went on to say in verse 12; that the things which happened to him "have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel."
Whatever trials and afflictions befall a missionary, it is important to note that there is a divine design of God's saving grace embedded in the suffering.
The Hindutva (right-wing Hindu fundamentalist group or the RSS) was formed in 1925. Their agenda has been to make India a nation of only Hindus. They are also responsible for passing the ANTI-CONVERSION BILL effective in eight Indian States with the ongoing oppression of the "Dalits" [Untouchables] in their attempt to conserve the Indian Caste system which has dominated the Indian society for 3000 years.
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