Monday, February 29, 2016

Bearing Witness, from Plough Publishing.


Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship

 "Make sure to read your children plenty of martyr stories," some Christians say, "It will strengthen their faith." I know they're well intended, but accounts of people being torn from limb to limb did little except scare me as a child, and left me thinking that there was no way I could stay faithful amid such torment. 

I believe that martyr stories are important, because how we die matters. But a true martyr story isn't mostly about death.... it's about life, lived well in imitation of Christ, as we're all called to live. In a martyr story the believer's particular circumstances in life lead to a particular death, a death meted out by someone who hates or fears their Christ-centered life. That death is a witness to the believer's confidence that there is a deeper reality beyond what we see, and that Christ is the true ruler of all things, no matter how cruelly we humans run the world right now. 

That's what makes martyr stories worth reading. They remind us that we live in Him, and we die in Him, no matter the form that death takes. 

Plough Publishing is known for their fine books, and this is no exception. They have collected stories of martyrdom and "costly discipleship," accounts of men and women who chose to spend their life following Jesus' Way, period. These stories are arranged by their date in history, beginning with Stephen from the Book of Acts, through the Early Church to the Reformation, all the way up to the modern era. 

Because of the specific faith tradition that Plough Publishing was born from, many of the stories describe the persecution of Anabaptists, who are known for their non-violence and non-resistance. Some ugly cases against them originated here in the US, especially regarding pacifist Anabaptist men conscripted during the World Wars. 

I came out of this book with so much to think about. How could humans be so evil, to devise these methods of torture for each other? A partial answer is that the victim was no longer seen as a human being, worthy of respect and care even if we violently disagree with their religion or politics. And history will teach us that as soon as any group of people are determined to be sub-human, then we are all in danger. 

How did (do) whole governments decide to eliminate people based on something like their Christian religion? It seems like in most of these cases, it wasn't based on religion alone. It was because their religion and its demands made them dissent in ways the government did not appreciate. Their Christianity seemed treasonous, a thought that is hard to process here in the USA, where freedom of religion has long been valued. They were branded traitors in secular governments, and heretics in religious ones. 

It seems that there may never have been Christian persecution if Jesus was something that you could tack on to your identity- I'm a solid citizen, I agree with all the powers that be in their ethical, economic, and educational decisions, and a I'm a Christian, too. But Jesus doesn't add to your identity. He transforms it and renews it and conforms it to himself. And that means that his followers no longer fit into the structure of the world. And this is scary. 

But for us Americans today, it doesn't mean we're in danger. It means we have a chance to engage things, to speak truth, to open eyes and hearts through love. 

Let this book be a sobering encouragement for you. Life lived for Jesus matters. And living well will set you up to die well. For now, don't worry about the "how." Just walk the Way. 

Thank you Plough for my review copy.

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