The Only Martyr’s Death Worth Dying


'The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer' by Jean-Léon GérômeChristians in the United States are increasingly alarmed at the rise of the martyrdom of fellow believers across the world. When dying for our faith comes to our own shores, it’s even more troubling.

Jesus said this:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
—John 15:18

We often think of the tossing of Christians to the lions in ancient Rome when we think of being hated for the Faith.

A list of Christian faith and practice that drew the attention of the Romans:

  • Rapidly spreading the Faith throughout Rome
  • Caring for infants otherwise left to die
  • Caring for the sick, infirm, and elderly
  • Affording women rights ordinarily not given to them
  • Expressing monotheistic beliefs about the nature of God

Only one of the above, though, convinced Roman leaders to send Christians to die a martyr’s death in the Colosseum.

Today, the following beliefs and practices of Christians in the United States raise the ire of those who might hate us:

  • Espousing a pro-life / anti-abortion stance
  • Supporting conservative politicians and politics
  • Opposing same-sex marriage
  • Making wild predictions about End Times
  • Opposing permissive cultural mores

Can you spot the telling difference between the two lists?

What got Christians martyred in Rome? Their monotheistic view of God. It was how Christians depicted the nature of God that Roman leaders saw as an immediate threat. The other factors may have contributed, but they were not the final cause. (I would recommend Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity for further details.)

Today, fellow believers in other countries are martyred for the same reason as ancient Christians in Rome. Consider too the message of the apostles. It was their view of who God is, talking about Jesus, and putting Him above all else that enraged others enough to kill them.

If you and I must die a martyr’s death, the only real martyrdom, the only genuine reason to die for the Christian faith, is the person of Jesus. Be hated because we believe Jesus Christ is Lord.

Being hated for anything on that second list is not the point. Being hated for being opinionated about social issues, or voting for conservative politicians, or for homeschooling, or for anything else that is not Jesus is not martyrdom for the Faith.

Meditate on that earlier Bible verse for a moment.

I write this today because of my concern that we may be unclear on this. The way we talk about why people might hate Christians has little to do with the person of Jesus Christ and what we think about Him. Instead, it seems to be about our opinions on everything else.

There’s enough scandal in the person of Jesus and what He said and did to rock anyone’s world. But, in the United States, is Jesus truly the primary reason people hate Christians? If not, then we need to change the focus of our rhetoric.

One day, if they do come us, let’s ensure we die for the right reason.

Thoughts on Ed Stetzer’s “3 Things Churches Love That Kill Outreach”


Ooutreach by outstretched handOver at Outreach Magazine online, Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, notes three things churches do or believe that inhibit their ability to do outreach. Obviously, outreach is one of the major tasks for the Church, so knowing how NOT to do it is a big deal. As they say in the biz, “Read the whole thing.”

For the purposes of discussion, here are the three Stetzer items:

1. Too many churches love past culture more than their current context.
2. Too many churches love their comfort more than their mission.
3. Too many churches love their traditions more than their children.

Let me begin by laying some groundwork for my thoughts.

For the past 35 years or so, the Church in America has been on a tear to reconstruct itself. In that time, we have seen major initiatives within most churches and denominations to adopt seeker-sensitive practices, to move toward church growth models, and to become more culturally relevant.

Considering the state of the Church in America today, one must be forced to admit that almost all those initiatives have failed miserably to produce more or better disciples. I’m not sure we can find any Christian leader who thinks the Church, as a whole in America, is better off, by nearly any measure, than it was before this experimentation began. Biblical knowledge, conformity to Christian doctrine, evangelism, retaining our youth, community—those initiatives mentioned above failed to produce desired outcomes in any of those areas.

I want to focus on one aspect of those initiatives especially, since it pertains to the core of Stetzer’s comments: the Church meeting as outreach tool.

When you have dominant seeker-sensitive churches confessing that their model failed entirely to make disciples, have we put too much confidence in our switch from “church for believers” to “church for unbelievers”?

I think that outcomes show us the answer is yes. Not only did turning our church meetings into a nursery for non-Christians NOT gain us the outcomes we desired for them, but we sacrificed our ability to make deeper, stronger disciples of the people we already have who already believe.

“Church meeting as outreach tool” backfired. We moved away from sending Christians out of the church to make disciples out in the world before we bring them into the church, and it cost us dearly.

What we do in our meetings must be for the edification of those who already believe. Changing that to cater to nonbelievers has been a stunningly bad decision that must be reversed if the Church is to start rebuilding itself.

My concern with the Stetzer piece is that it’s trapped in the amber of the 1980s, promoting a ministry philosophy that over 35 years has proved largely incapable of creating disciples, which is the primary mission of the Church.

Moving on…

Stetzer’s points #1 and #3 above are essentially the same, just tweaked for different age emphases. I’ll address them together.

Stetzer writes:

“It’s remarkable, and I’ve said it many times: If the 1950s came back, many churches are ready. (Or the 1600s, or the boomer ’80s, depending on your denomination, I guess.)

“There is nothing wrong with the fifties, except we don’t live there anymore. We must love those who live here, now, not yearn for the way things used to be. The cultural sensibilities of the fifties are long past in most of the United States. The values and norms of our current context are drastically different and continue to change.”

Let me counter with this Scripture:

“To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.'”
–Luke 7:31-32

The modern American Church has tried desperately in the last 35 years to show itself culturally relevant and hip. Pastors drop references to The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad in their sermons. Churches have small groups based on cultural affinities such as video gaming or hip hop music. In fact, whatever is cool in culture is what drives our youth ministry. If society talks about a cultural issue, we talk about it too. Heck, like a dog, we wallow in it and then say to society, “Look how up we are on the stuff you like!”

Again, what has this gotten us when it comes to making disciples? Nothing.

Stetzer’s main beef is with tradition. I think that’s an old argument left over from 35 years ago. It’s not the point.

Going back to that Luke passage, the Church is missing that point when it focuses on being counter-tradition. What it should be is counterculture.

More than ever, I believe the fix for what ails the American Church is not culture but counterculture. I strongly believe that many people today are desperate to get away from contemporary culture and back to a slower, more personal, more meaningful place that does not shift daily at the whims of style leaders and their thought leader cohorts. That word authenticity keeps rearing its head.

In fact, I have come to wonder if the solution for the Church is to instead examine culture and then head 180 degrees in the other direction.

That mentality may also ask that we examine tradition and see if it is, in fact, already 180 degrees. If so, then rather than throwing it out because we are counter-tradition, we instead consider embracing it when it’s counterculture.

Stetzer derides being stuck in the 1950s, but I think it’s not just the elderly who are nostalgic. Young people are growing sick of modern culture too. They’re looking for counterculture, but what they’re finding instead in our churches is cultural concession. The world piped, and the American Church danced. For the last 35 years or so, that has benefited no one.

As for Stetzer’s #2…

While I agree that the mission of the Church must, in many ways, conflict with comfort, cultural concession is tiring. I may be speaking solely for myself, but when I come to church on Sunday, the last thing I want is trendiness and the very cultural crap I’m forced to wade through daily. When the Church looks just like the world, no option for a “set-apart place” exists.

Yet people are desperately searching for such a place. In a world governed by clocks, where are they to find the comfort of timelessness? In a world filled with 15-minutes of fame, where can they find the comfort of lasting meaning? They are NOT finding those essentials in a church that operates like a cultural haven, yet that kind of comfort is a necessary balm. We desperately need that kind of comfort if we’re to be refreshed to go out into the world and be countercultural.

Do you want effective outreach in your church? Here’s what I suggest:

1. Make the church for the Church. The seeker-sensitive model failed. Bring back the model that intends for Sundays to be the time when maturing believers are fed meat, not milk. Make it a safe place to practice spiritual gifts and to do the mature things a mature Church fellowship should do without fear that some unbelieving visitor will be weirded out or offended.

2. Remember that outreach means to reach out. The mission field exists beyond the four walls of the church building. Equip people to evangelize out there. Lead the lost to Christ out there, then bring them into the church.

3. Be countercultural. Instead of doing whatever the world is doing, ask if the opposite is the better, more lasting way and closer to the heart of God. You may be surprised how many people are looking to escape culture rather than to embrace it.

We’ve had 35 or more of failed outreach ideas. Time to stop doing what doesn’t work and get back to what people really need.

Apologetics, Evangelism, and a Three-Verse Gospel


I wonder if Christian apologetics is dead.

OK, so maybe not dead, but not in great shape either.

Many will be quick to launch into verses about the Last Days and people not enduring sound doctrine, but I think something else is going on with the way we promote the faith.

We live in an age when you can’t persuade/argue/enlighten anyone through rhetoric. People are dug in because what they believe is always being assaulted by someone with a bigger bullhorn. evangelismI think the biggest bullhorn of all may be the Internet, as it levels the playing field of truth and untruth. Now the deranged can have their loud voice too. Where it got weird for us is that some of the deranged rants proved to be correct, so now we’re not sure we want to believe anything immediately outside our sphere of understanding, if only to keep our sanity.

For this reason, I look at some of the books in my library such as Strobel’s The Case for Christ or McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter, and they almost seem quaint, a bygone of a forgotten era.

I think people are different too. We’re more scattered mentally, without time and patience for nuanced arguments. Bad for us, certainly, but it is what it is.

Evangelism suffers for all these cultural and societal changes. In some ways, we no longer know how to tell the story of Jesus to others. We’re not sure what parts are essential. Even though we know that faith is critical, we’re unclear on how we go about telling a lost person about Jesus.

I think part of the problem is that we’ve let belief in Jesus get too complex. We feel like we have to have a bulletproof apologetic, which disqualifies most of us from ever talking about Jesus because we simply can’t dredge up at a moment’s notice a counter to every question a contemporary denizen of these here United States of 2015 is likely to ask. So we stay quiet.

Let me propose the following.

The fundamental question of life:

Then [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
—Luke 9:20a

Which is followed by this:

And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
—Luke 9:20b

Everyone who has ever lived must answer that question. Some will do it right. Most will not. But everyone will answer.

Along with that question, we Christians must answer this: What Is the Gospel? Many of us stumble at that point.

May I suggest we strip the Gospel question down to its bare essence. Perhaps we need to simplify. Maybe we need to encapsulate the Gospel in just three verses.

A set of three to consider:

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
—Romans 5:8

…[Jesus] said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
—John 19:30b

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
—Ephesians 2:8-9

OR, consider these three:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
—Romans 3:23

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me….”
—John 14:6

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
—Galatians 2:20

Many good combinations of three verses (OK, so the short Ephesians passage is two verses—you get the point) exist. What three do you know well that capture the essence of the Gospel?

Most Christians should be able to start with their three verses and unpack them a little if necessary. No oratory, just a short explanation for people if needed. Then ask the question that Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” with the understanding that everyone at some stage in his or her existence will have to answer that question.

As simple as that may be, people will still struggle with raising the topic of Jesus at all. I think it may be easier than we think, because a lot of people are concerned about the crazy times we live in. If that’s not an opportunity to talk about what really matters, I don’t know what is.

Beyond this, I think we try too hard to close the conversation with a convert. We have to stop thinking it’s on us. If anything, I would steer someone toward reading the Gospel of John and let the Holy Spirit work and convict through the Scriptures. The Jesus People movement grew in part due to the publication and later distribution of self-contained Gospels of John at concerts and events. In lieu of that, the whole Bible is available online. John is a good start, especially when the “I AM” passages are emphasized for what Jesus is really saying about Himself.

We as a Church can’t keep the Light for ourselves. Jesus is who we have, and lost people still need Him.