This video that has gone viral, Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America shared this week with the following words:
My heart is heavy for the families and churches of the Ethiopian martyrs who gave their lives for Christ this last week. Please join me in remembering these courageous individuals and praying for their families, their churches, and their persecutors.
Monday night, our brother and fellow partner in the mission field, The Rt. Rev. Grant LeMarquand, the Anglican Bishop of Ethiopia, said it well:
“The apostle Paul, a great persecutor of the church …of God, was turned to love by his experience of meeting Christ on his way to the Syrian city of Damascus. May God use his church to so act and speak of and from the love of Christ that many former or potential persecutors may be turned and have their named written in the book of life.”
I shared it on Facebook and on this post the next morning: following Paul as he followed Christ.
It wasn’t long after that I realized that the video could well be misunderstood. Watching it again, I have decided that the merits outweigh whatever danger the video has in misleading watchers. It might be thought that the video advocates a reckless laying down of one’s life at the gates of these enemies of the faith, even of all who do not line up completely with them or who do not submit to their rule. However in context it is referring to those who are willing to bear the message as witnesses of the faith, of Christ, of the gospel. It is the willingness of those who continue to live in harm’s way to so bear witness. Such witness is where the word martyr comes from. It simply means witness. But it has come to mean those who witness with their lives even to the death if need be. I don’t believe the video is advocating simply offering our lives to such evil as a witness, but rather the willingness to risk our lives for the sake of the gospel if need be, in order that even those caught up in this evil might be saved. Jesus has promised to build his church, and that the gates of hades will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:13-20).
Archbishop Foley earlier called for the government to protect Christians in Kenya, because God has instituted the state in part for that very reason, to protect citizens from evildoers (Romans 12:17-13:7).
We who bear the message of the gospel are living letters by the Spirit of that same gospel, known and read by all (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). And so while we neither want to suffer persecution and possible death, nor put our families in harm’s way, we also are followers of the one who calls us to take up our crosses and follow. And only if need be, when that time comes, by God’s grace, then we can endure to the end of life as witnesses to this good news found in Jesus, that all might hear and believe and be saved.