December 2019 / January 2020 - Vol.107

 arms outstretched in
A New Kind of Saint – Martyrs & Confessors of Faith
“Standing firm for the faith even at the risk of losing life, possessions, and respectability”

by Donald Bloesch

The church in every age needs models, people in whom the passion and victory of Jesus Christ are palpably manifest. As Christians, we are all called to be saints, but there are some who have been specially chosen by God to make a public witness that patently reveals the judgment of God upon human sin. We are all called to radiate the light of Christ, but only some are given the privilege of bearing this light in the face of open and flagrant opposition. We are all expected to take up the cross and follow Christ, but only some carry a cross that poses a direct challenge to the principalities and powers of the world. Only some therefore can be considered saints in the special sense of being public signs of the passion and victory of Jesus Christ. 

This is not to denigrate the unsung and unknown saints who have had to break with friends or family or who have lost jobs or the hope of promotion for taking a stand for what they know to be right. Or the mother who has been left on her own to care for five children and who survives on next-to-nothing and a living faith in God. But it is to insist that those singled out for public rebuke and opprobrium, especially those who die for the faith, should be given signal recognition and honor by the church, since the sufferings of these people become dramatically visible to the world at large. 

…I suggest that the models of the future will again be the martyrs and confessors of the faith,* those who are persecuted primarily because of their Christian identity. 

These are people who will suffer for the sake of the gospel itself and not simply for the cause of social righteousness. These are the people who will boldly confess that Jesus Christ alone is Savior and Lord....The demonstration of a Christian life will still be important, but it is the proclamation of the gospel that will arouse the special ire of a secularized world. Life and words, of course, go together, but the stumbling block that will elicit the rage of the world is Jesus Christ himself and those who bear witness to him (cf. John 15:18-20; Acts 4:24-26). 

What I am suggesting is that the Christian message itself will become the object of ridicule. The life of discipleship will be derided precisely because it calls attention to the gospel, to its claims and imperatives. We are entering an age in which the simple confession of faith becomes the dividing line between the reprobate and the elect, the oppressors and the oppressed, the children of darkness and the children of light. 

What the church needs today is... people who will stand firm for the faith even at the risk of losing life, possessions, and respectability.

* Confessors are those who confess the faith under persecution but do not actually suffer death for their convictions. Church historians have traditionally referred to these people as “white martyrs.”

This article is excerpted from the book, Crumbling Foundations, by Donald Bloesch, (c)1984 by The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Donald BloeschDonald Bloesch (1928 – 2010) was a noted American evangelical theologian. He was raised in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, in which his father and both his grandfathers were also ordained ministers. From 1957 until his retirement in 1992, he was a professor of theology at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, USA, where he continued as a professor emeritus. He wrote numerous books, including Wellsprings of Renewal: Promise in Christian Communal Life, Crumbling Foundations: Death and Rebirth in an Age of Upheaval, A Theology Of Word & Spirit: Authority & Method In Theology.

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