This is Part 7 of the series "A MISSIONARY ECCLESIOLOGY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY". Originally presented in 2005, the relevance is current.
by R. Bruce Carlton
Major Emphasis 6 - Bold Witness in the Face of Persecution and Martyrdom
Within the Christendom model of church, persecution and martyrdom was normally not part of the experience of church members. For many centuries, Christians were the majority of the population in Christendom lands. Persecution and martyrdom were generally reserved for those who deviated from the mainline church or for those outside of Christianity! As the church has moved into the cultures of the Two-Thirds World, it has encountered ancient religious traditions that often fiercely defend themselves from an invasion of a ‘foreign’ religion. In many places throughout Asia and Africa, Christians are a minority. In such environments, persecution and martyrdom often are accepted as part of the normal Christian experience. There is more than a hint of truth in Shenk’s words:
The greatest integrity and vitality of faith today appears to be found in those churches that have suffered and known martyrdom first hand.…As one listens to the witness of Christians who have suffered for their faith, one is impressed by the depth, simplicity, and authenticity of what they have to say. They have not had opportunities to partake in any ongoing theological debate or to develop intricate formulations.
On the one hand, radical discipleship is required for the church to have an authentic, credible witness in the twenty-first century. On the other hand, as Christians strive to live in obedience to the teachings of Christ, they will also find a hostile world that will react with intense opposition (see Matt. 10:16-26). Simson envisions a world where postmodernism will view the church as one of “the main culprits standing in the way of global humanism, the modern slavery of having to have fun and the outright worship of Self, the wrong centre of the universe.”
As the churches in the Two-Thirds World seek to engage other major religions, they will be viewed with great suspicion, and, in many cases, outright traitors to their own people and country.
Any responsible missionary ecclesiology for the twenty-first century cannot afford to gloss over the reality that persecution and martyrdom will be a genuine part of the normal Christian experience. After all, Jesus warned His disciples that suffering and persecution awaited those who followed Him.
While stories of persecution and martyrdom may seem as distant stories from the past for many Western Christians, for many in the Two-Thirds World persecution and martyrdom are daily realities. However, those who daily face persecution would agree with Pobee who says, “The willingness to suffer in the interests of new life in Christ is rooted in the sense of concern, responsibility and gratitude for the invitation to join the eschatological community.”