Martyrdom and the Modern Church

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” These were the words penned in missionary Jim Elliot’s final journal entry before he and his four companions gave their lives in an effort to reach the Huaorani tribe of Ecuador with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In November of 2018, John Allen Chau of Vancouver Washington willingly surrendered his life in an effort to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the people of the Indian Sentinel Islands. The Sentinel Islands are home to the Sentinelese people who have remained untainted by outside contact for millennia. They have killed all who have endeavored to communicate with them and the Indian government has mandated that they are to be left alone under penalty of law. The Indian Navy now patrols the island to ensure no one attempts to contact the Sentinelese in any way.

Chau knew the risks involved with attempting to reach this people group with the Gospel. He knew he would probably die in his mission. He wrote in his final journal entry before going to the island his last time;

Whether I return or not, let it be for the glory of God… You guys might think I am crazy in all this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people.

Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed. Rather please live your lives in obedience to whatever He has called you to and I’ll see you again when you pass through the veil.

This is not a pointless thing. The eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshipping in their own language as Revelation 7:9-10 states.

The Criticisms

The response to Chau’s martyrdom has been mixed. I’ve seen everything from cruel mockery and criticism to praise for his heroism. I don’t expect the world to understand the sacrifice Chau made for his faith. To the world, the Gospel is foolishness. (See 1 Corinthians 1:18.) What has disheartened me is the response I have personally seen from many Christians to the sacrifice of this man.

The criticisms from Christians have been many. For some, what he did wrong was fail to respect the wishes of the Sentinelese, and he should have just gone home when he wasn’t accepted. For others, Chau acted foolishly because he could have exposed them to microbes for which they had no immunity and killed them with a disease. Others complain that he broke the law, or would have spoiled their primitive way of life, or that he was an American Imperialist or akin to a home invader. (Yes, these are all objections I’ve personally heard from Christian people.)

While some of these objections have more merit than others, I have yet to hear someone propose a valid alternative. If the Sentinelese are to be reached, there is no way they will be that does not involve outside contact, illegal activity, and the almost certain risk of death. No matter what tact John would have taken, the results would have been the same. I believe, as did John, that if Jesus was willing to shed His blood for the souls of those precious people, we ought to be willing to risk the shedding of our own blood as well.

What is particularly galling is the arm-chair pontification of lukewarm Christians who have lost the plot of what it means to follow Christ. It is a marvel of marvels that many who would not cross the street to share the Gospel with their neighbor have so much advice for a dead missionary who gave up everything to share the Gospel with people with whom he had nothing in common. “He should have had more training. He shouldn’t have disobeyed the law. He should have prepared better. He was just being foolish. What is it about Americans that they feel they need to be the solution to everything?” they say as they go home to binge-watch the latest series on Netflix. If someone has a criticism for Mr. Chau’s methodology or means, I would invite them to show us the right way of doing things, rather than merely comment about it on social media from their comfortable homes.

The Church is founded on the blood of the Lord Jesus, the foundations of the Church are wetted with the blood of the martyrs. Many in the Church today are preoccupied with stage settings, politics, and making sure we fill the seats on Sunday morning. It is evident to me that some in the modern Church have forgotten what it is to bleed.

The Seed of the Church

Tertullian once famously declared: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The foundations of the church were thoroughly soaked with the blood of those who died declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Acts, we read about the very first martyr, Steven.

After a forceful declaration of the Gospel and a resounding condemnation of the Jewish religious leaders, Steven was stoned to death as recorded in Acts 7:54-60:

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Steven was the first in a long tradition of martyrs. Church history tells us that every one of the Apostles except for John went to gruesome deaths for the sake of Christ. James was beheaded, Peter was crucified upside-down, Thomas found death at the end of the spear, Matthias was burned to death, and James, son of Alpheus, was stoned and then clubbed to death. This says nothing of the modern Christians and missionaries who have faced persecution and martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel.

According to Open Doors USA, every month:

  • 255 Christians are killed for their faith.
  • 104 are abducted.
  • 108 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed, or forced into marriage.
  • 66 churches are attacked.
  • 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned.

Our brothers and sisters around the world face daily threats of persecution. Middle Eastern Christians are denied the best education, the best jobs, and are frequently the targets of violent attacks because of their faith. It is amazing to me that in the middle of such persecution the Christians in Cairo are able to rejoice in the Lord as seen below:

The joy we see in the faces of these dear brothers and sisters is the joy of those who know what it is to suffer for Christ’s sake. The Apostle Paul longed to know Christ, not just in the power of His resurrection, but also in the fellowship of His suffering. (See Philippians 3:10.) This is a prayer which few modern Christians would dare pray, I think. We are far too fond of our comforts to actually ask God for a share of the suffering which Christ suffered for us so that we may know Him through it.

What Are We to Do?

If we are to rise to our calling as the Church, here are a few practical steps we can take:

Support a Missionary.

The Great Commission to make disciples of all nations is for the whole Church. No one is exempt. (See Matthew 28:18-20.) Some are called to go, some are called to send. If God has called you to the marketplace or to stateside vocational ministry, you need to support missionaries who are bringing the Gospel to unreached people groups. People in these unreached groups cannot hear the Gospel unless someone goes, and how can someone go unless the Church sends them? (See Romans 10:14-15.)

Share The Gospel.

Refuse to be lulled into a complacent sleep by the comforts of our self-centered culture. It is time we embraced the stigma of being Christians and it is time we shared the Gospel even if it means social disgrace. (See Hebrews 13:13.) I have personally been mocked, ridiculed, and threatened with physical harm for the sake of the Gospel. This was the norm for the early Church and is currently the norm for Christians the world over. Do not bow to a spirit of intimidation, but preach the Gospel in the boldness of the Holy Spirit, and do not allow fear to silence you. (See 1 Timothy 1:7.)

Become a Missionary.

My parents have done something I will forever be proud of. In their 50’s, they have decided to leave the comfort of their lives as pastors in rural Michigan and have become missionaries to the Island of Curoçau. While it wasn’t an easy decision for them, they have embraced it with joy, knowing it will take them further from their aging parents, their children, and their precious grandbaby.

Maybe God is calling you to the mission field? Maybe the Holy Spirit is leading you to lay down your comfortable life and become missionaries in a foreign land. God is a missionary. Jesus left the right hand of the Father to enter our sinful, violent, and broken world so that He might reconcile us to the Father. The Church is also called to leave our comfortable pews in order the mission of Christ might be continued through us.

Hebrews 11:32-38 tells of the heroes of faith:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak,Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets,who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions,quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in cavesand in holes in the ground.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. -Hebrews 12:1

The very people who were stoned to death, sawed in two, put to death at the sword, crucified, beaten, tortured and killed, yes even Jim Elliot and now our brother, John Chau are standing in the stadiums of Heaven cheering on the Church. The baton was in their hands and it has now been passed to us. It is time we run our race. Let us throw off everything that would hinder us from accomplishing the task set before us. Let us fix our eyes on Christ who authors and perfects our faith, and let us consider Him who endured such great persecution at the hands of sinners so that we won’t get weary and lose heart. (See Hebrews 12:2-3.)

I know that when John Allen Chau stands before the judgment seat of God, he will hear “well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.” I pray I hear the same when my day comes.

May you be filled with courage by the power of the Holy Spirit, and may you be counted worthy of the name of Christ.

Your servant,



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