Not to long ago there was a song called “Where have all the cowboys gone?” Now, exclusive of all the Broke Back Mountain jokes that instantly came to mind when you read the word “cowboy,” the idea of the song is that there are “no more good men” around. Recently a very similar question was asked, “Where have all the martyrs gone?” While I have been taking the point that in the USAmerican culture the idea of what many understand as “martyr” cannot be seen as “giving of our lives for our faith” because of the religious freedom we have in the country. Yet, there is a very honest question that asks, “is martyr what we think it is?”

The idea had been expressed that because we are a “consumer church” the idea of being a martyr is lost to us – but I am not sure I agree with that, for many reasons. Sure, I believe that we need to be far less on our consumer nature in the church, but that truly has no effect on our desire to “die for our faith” [if that is what it means to be a martyr]. A person telling me “I am willing to die for my faith” truly has no meaning, because they know that the chances are they will never be asked to give their life for their faith. I think of it like calling Superman a “Hero.” Superman is not a hero; he can never be a hero, because he knows walking into a hail of bullets will not harm him, so by doing so does not make him a hero.

People telling me they are willing to give their life for their faith seems silly; recently I was speaking with the Pastor of a local church who was talking about having a "foot washing" service at their church, but he had to change to a "hand washing" because when people heard what was being planned, they voiced their concern did not feel comfortable washing the feet of others; they had no problem with washing their own hands - yet, this church, and it’s leaders, talks about being a "church willing to wash the feet of others.” If a church is unwilling to wash the feet of others, do you truly think they are willing to die for the faith?

The idea of a “martyr” in the USAmerican church just will not work; to have a martyr in the church we need to change some very fundamentals in USAmerica. I see it as having two possibilities, the “Islamic Approach” or the “China Approach.”

The Islamic Approach:
To truly have a idea of a “martyr” we need remove some very basic things; freedom of religion must be taken away. The State needs to approve one religion, and not Christianity, as an “official religion” of the State and force all people to follow the State Religion. The new “State approved ‘Clerics’” of that new “State Religion” faith must be given a loud voice to speak against other faiths, and cause their followers to take action. Once that action happens, we will see who is and is not willing to “die for the faith” – at that point in time we, in the USAmerica, will have martyrs.

The China Approach:
The State must make all faith illegal and go out and stop gatherings, of all churches, and kill the leadership and followers. This way, no faith is selected over another and people are killed for having any faith. Who would step-up to the plate and claim to be a Christian? Who would be willing to “die for the faith?”

The USAmerican Approach:
In a country where religion freedom is allowed, and expression is encouraged, the idea of a martyr is not one people get. Very few people die in USAmerica because of their faith. In the USAmerican culture, a martyr is the street preacher who is asked to move on because he is blocking the sidewalk; a martyr is a person is told they can not stand in the city square and pass out tracks to the passing people; a martyr is a teen who is told he can not form a “Bible Club” in his High School; a martyr is the church who is told they can not us a city park for a worship service on Sunday because of the “separation of church and state;” a martyr is the person who is shouted down as they strive to express a view of faith that is different then those shouting. We have had to lessen the idea of what it is to be a martyr because our culture allows a free expression of faith.

So what is a Martyr?
It seems silly to speak of “what is a martyr” at the end of a post about being a martyr, but the reason is simple – the word “martyr” does not mean what many think it means. The Greek word is “Martus” and is more in line with being “a witness” then the idea of being a “martyr.” For example, here are a few scripture that use the term “martus” and could not, in any way mean a person who “died for the faith:”

1 Timothy 5:19 - Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. [martus]

1 Timothy 6:12 - Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. [martus]

Luke 11:48 - "So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. [martus]

Lu 24:48 - "You are witnesses of these things. [martus]

The questions that come are many, but I think the first is the question – have we misunderstood what it means to be a martyr?


Stephen said...

On the aside point you make:

In the church I grew up in we always did footwashing. When I was in the States I heard of doing handwashing instead and I thought that that was totally missing the point. It sort of sums up what's wrong with a lot of churches for me. We're too hygienic, too afraid to get down to the messy incarnational work we're called to. Let's face it, the feet getting washed are probably very nice feet of fellow church members that they've washed before the service (my mum always made me wash my feet before the service) - not half as dirty or smelly as the disciples' feet would have been.

Washing each others feet is the minimum we're called to. If we really wanted to call ourselves followers of Jesus we would invite homeless people in and wash their feet.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

It speaks volumes that the quality of the early church was so powerful and selfless that it shaped the words current meaning. If only we would all serve God with such selfless abandon to the Mission of God!

Jamie Arpin-Ricci

peter said...

This post is right on. North American (including Canada)churches so often choose comfort over compassion. We support sending money overseas because it is safe. Nobody will get hurt.

Actually changing our life styles and giving up our luxuries and securities, no-can-do.

The church so often talks about these things, but never acts for fear of offending people. I guess for some its easier to insult Jesus than the church elders.

"I can't wash someone else's feet, it would be so degrading, dirty and humiliating..."

Peter Lublink