Monday, June 27, 2011

Martyrdom in the US: Not Enough Evidence to Execute

God revealed his nature in his creation. (Romans 1:19-20) A more complete revelation of God was realized in the coming of his Son, Jesus Christ. This revelation was preserved for the ages by though the written word. When Jesus stood before Pilate he was asked this question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) Had Pilate known Jesus and had he been familiar with his words he would not have had to ask that question. Jesus had already defined truth, he said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6) and God’s “ “word is truth.” (John 17:17) God is the source of all truth, Jesus is the human revelation of truth and the Bible is the written preservation of truth.

The truth in God’s word is perfect and complete. Because we are fallen creatures and our minds are limited we are unable to interpret this truth perfectly. But God assures us that when it comes to the essential truths regarding the salvation of our souls he will simplify those truths in a way that even a child can understand.

This truth has endured throughout the ages. It has survived the inquisitions and the persecutions of wicked men who would suppress truth and destroy it. God is storing up wrath in heaven to release on evil men who would suppress truth with their wickedness. (Romans 1:18) This truth has survived the philosophies of Lenin, Marx and Russell. This truth has weathered the assault of numberless evil rulers through the ages. Truth is eternal and indestructible. God is truth.

All of the early apostles, with the exception of John, were martyred for this truth. A martyr is someone who willingly suffers death rather than to renounce his faith. This word is being redefined in our modern age. We bounce that word about so carelessly. We identify certain terrorists as martyrs but they are actually suicidal assassins whose purpose is the murder those who might believe differently than they do.

Those who were martyred for the preservation of truth are of a different ilk. Polycarp was a contemporary of John the Apostle and a Christian from his youth. Because he was a leader of the hated Christians, Roman authorities called for his execution. Polycarp did not flee. Instead, he turned himself over to them. They dragged him before a crowd driven by their bloodlust. He was asked to recant. The old man defied the crowd and said, “Eighty-six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me. How then shall I blaspheme my King who has saved me?”

When the soldiers came to secure Polycarp he said, "Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails." His words have inspired Christians for nearly two thousand years.

In the mid sixteenth century William Tyndale committed his life to the translation of the scriptures into common English. “It is impossible to establish the people in any truth unless the scriptures were plainly laid before their eyes,” he said. (1) Tyndale was betrayed by a friend. He was captured and imprisoned for 500 days enduring a torture that was unimaginable yet he would not recant. A ridiculous trial was conducted in which he was found guilty of heresy. On October 6 of 1536 at the age of 44 Tyndale was strangled and burnt at the stake. He was willing to die rather than compromise his love for the truth of God’s word. While the flesh dripped from his bones Tyndale said, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

That great American hymn popularized during the Civil War and written by Julia Ward Howe, declares “His truth is marching on.” Its march is relentless. It marches through enemy lines. It marches into the face of evil. It is assaulted, it is ridiculed, it is mocked and yet it marches eternally on. “As He died to make men holy let us die to make men free…” What motivated these men to die for the freedom of others? Did these men not find something bigger than themselves, something more important than their own lives, a truth worth dying for?

Now let me ask a sobering question? Imagine you country has been overrun by an enemy determined to eradicate Christianity. Image our Christian leaders were rounded up and taken to the stadium for torture and execution. Would there be enough evidence of their love and commitment to the truth of God to convict them in an atheist’s court?

Let’s watch as some of these leaders are dragged into court:

Joel Olsteen, the pastor of the largest church in America is first to be tried. “Mr. Olsteen, if a person doesn’t believe in Jesus will he go to hell?” Joel stumbles and stammers as he tries to answer the question. The court senses theological ignorance and feels much pleased as he waters down the word of God. Joel finally answers by saying, “I don’t know.” Joel is quickly released as they consider him more an ally than an enemy. The jurors compare Joel’s words “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us” with those of Charles Spurgeon, “There are some who stumble at Christ because of his holiness. He is too strict for them; they would like to be Christians, but they cannot renounce their sensual pleasures; they would like to be washed in his blood, but they desire still to roll in the mire of sin.” A gospel that tolerates sin is devoid of truth. Real truth offends.

Next, we see Rob Bell being dragged before the court. Rob Bell is a very prominent leader among young American Christians and the court anticipates his martyrdom:

“Mr. Bell, what does it mean when you Christians call yourselves believers?”

“Everybody is following somebody. Everybody has faith in something and somebody. We are all believers." The court is dumbfounded as they expected to hear the name of Jesus in his answer.

“Mr. Bell, what is your stand regarding the Holy Scriptures?”

Bell declared that he views the Bible as a “human product” rather than a truth originating in the heart and mind of God.

Bell’s wife, Kristen, pipes up at this point by saying, “The Bible is still the center for us but…I have no idea what most of it means. And yet, I feel like life is big again – like life used to be black and white but now it’s in color.”

The members of the court look with confusion at each other. This was certainly not the Christianity they had expected to confront.

The judge of the court drops his gavel and dismisses the couple. No evidence for martyrdom here. The next name called was that of Brian McLaren, the emergent leader who had authored many books and influenced countless numbers who were searching for truth.

“Mr. McLaren, do you declare the Bible to be truth, eternal and unchangeable. Would you insist that the God you worship is truth?”

McLaren scratches his chin and then submits to the judge that many would like to “have the truth captured, stuffed and mounted on the wall” but truth is something that is pliable and certainty is never something that can be applied to truth.

The judge shatters his gavel as he slams it down in frustration. “We have come to torture and destroy those who call themselves Christians and boldly stand behind their sacred book. We have found no one who meets the criteria for execution. Court dismissed!”

It’s a sad fact that were our country were ever occupied by those with a goal to destroy Christianity they may find there are very, very few who qualify for martyrdom because we have forsaken truth.

1. Martyrs for the English Bible, Dr. Clyde Votaw
2. The Truth War, John MacArthur
3. Joel Olsteen Interview on CNN
4. Joel Olsteen interview on Fox News
5. Rob Bell on MSNBC

Kevin Probst - Teaches History, Government and Apologetics at the high school level in Columbus Georgia.

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