Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Defining Martyrdom

"Nik Ripken, a global strategist with the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, went to southern Sudan to investigate martyrs, he wasn't able to corroborate large numbers of them. He did find many deaths among historically Christian families. But cultural Christians killed in political or ethnic conflicts are not necessarily witnessing for their faith. Thus, they shouldn't be counted as martyrs, Ripken argues. "When I asked a broad section of Christians in southern Sudan how they witnessed to Muslims, they said, 'Bring a Muslim to Christ? Why in the world would we do that?' "

He offers the Christian exodus from Iraq as another example. "Is that real persecution? Absolutely," he said. "Was it due to sharing their faith with their neighbors? No. It was sectarian violence—Muslim against Christian—and a lot of those ['Christians'] can't tell us who Jesus is."

From a short but thought provoking article on the difficulty of defining martyrdom today that can be found here.

I know Russian Orthodox Christians who regard Tsar Nicholas and his family as martyrs (in fact the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has canonised them as such), but were they killed because they were Christian or because they were the ancien regime personified?  The fact is that in some traditionally "Christian" cultures such distinctions are meaningless because religious, cultural and national identity have been fused - or should that be confused? Such cultures can even be great persecutors themselves (witness the Tsarist persecution of Russian 'Old Believers'), which calls into question their Christian status.
Interestingly, Pope Francis offered this recently: "Politics is a noble activity. We should revalue it, practise it with vocation and a dedication that requires testimony, martyrdom, that is to die for the common good." But in what sense is dying for the common good, however laudable, Christian martyrdom?
Christian martyrdom, I suggest, occurs when someone is killed because of their testimony to the Gospel. Thus, I'm inclined to agree with Ripken that true martyrs are rare even in times of persecution/sectarian violence. That might also mean that true Christians are rare, something Luther thought to be true.

Pic: The Martyrdom of St Stephen

11 comments:

vdma said...

"That might also mean that true Christians are rare, something Luther thought to be true."

The thought in that last sentence is quite sobering. Unfortunately, there is nothing in my own personal experience that disproves it.

Rick

Mark Henderson said...

Yes, it is sobering, Rick.
I'm trying to track down the quote so I can see if Luther meant it for rhetorical effect or whether he was quite serious. It certainly goes against the grain of the later state-established Lutheranism of northern European countries, which Kierkegaard, for e.g., protested against.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

Communism sought to abolish religion altogether, since faith itself was seen as an essential part of the ancien regime, so there was no distinction as far as they were concerned.

Mark Henderson said...

Finally, a sensible comment from Lucian.
But, are 'faith' and 'religion' the same thing, even if Communists (not the brightest people in the world) think they are?

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

The man who wrote that article seems to think that "faith" means making prozelites. Whatever.

Personally, prozelytism disgusts me, since every single cretin on the face of the world has tried to convert us more or less forcefully to their bloody religion: Turks, Hungarians, Communists, Protestants [not Lutherans though: the German minority never harmed us] etc.

The punishment for prozelytism in Muslim lands is death. (Something else our writer seems unaware). Christ told us to accept martyrdom (when it is imminent), but that's not the same as saying that we should seek it or run head-long into it whenever we have a chance.

People who live in in Russia and the Middle East are very pious. And there's a very simple way out for the latter out of `accidental` deaths: to become a Muslim. But they don't. And they keep their faith despite being very aware of what might befall them every now and then.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

Finally, a sensible comment from Lucian.


Hey, I've never criticized your ostentatious display of seriosity..

:-\

Mark Henderson said...

"The man who wrote that article seems to think that "faith" means making prozelites. Whatever."
He's a Baptist, Lucian; don't you have them in Romania ;0)

"Christ told us to accept martyrdom (when it is imminent), but that's not the same as saying that we should seek it or run head-long into it whenever we have a chance."
Agreed; but He did say not to hide your lamp under a bushel (how does that translate into Romanian?).

Mark Henderson said...

"Hey, I've never criticized your ostentatious display of seriosity..

:-\"

Fair enough, but ostentatious? If you knew me personally, I hope the last thing you'd ever accuse me of is ostentation. As an Australian, I despise ostentation.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

We do, and we don't like their proselytizing ways...


Actually, He didn't say that; He said that the lamp (by its very nature) cannot be hidden under the bushel, referring to the fact that those that truly do good deeds do not do them ostentatiously, like the Pharisees, but nevertheless God Himself will make their true goodness reveal itself, even without their wanting or planning for that to happen, since they are meek.

Mark Henderson said...

Yes, and He also said "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Even the Orthodox establish missionary churches on the basis of that command. Of course, that's different from proselytising (no sarc there). But in obedience to that command martyrdom can and does occur - my original point.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

The Orthodox Churches are located in Orthodox lands, where almost anyone is "baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". And the ones that aren't, are still located in Christian lands, where -again- almost anyone is "baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". And yes, we have missions. TO PAGANS. NOT to fellow Christians, who already know Christ! Or to Muslims and Jews, who know, but reject. The Bible also says that we should cease the dialogue after two or three discussions. Not just go on mindlessly pestering people who have already made a conscious choice. (Titus 3:10).