I’ve always enjoyed tales of Christian history. I find myself edified by hearing the discussions over doctrine, the stories of the spread of the gospel and the stories of those who have suffered or died in Christ’s name. So, when I received the opportunity to review Plough Publishing House’s new book, Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship, I was sure that it would be a book that I would enjoy reading.
I was not to be disappointed. Bearing Witness is a book that traces four periods of Christian history with martyr stories and stories of those who were persecuted for their religious beliefs. Although I wouldn’t classify all the martyrs covered as Anabaptists, the book does focus on martyrs of the Anabaptist tradition.
The book is separated into four sections. The first covers early Christians such as Stephen, Polykarp and Perpetua. The second section deals with martyrs of the reformation such as William Tyndale, Jakob and Katharina Hutter and Dirk Williams. The third section is the early modern witness, including martyrs and persecuted Christians such as Ahn Ei Sook, Gnadenhutten, and Veronica Lohans. The final section covers such people as Clarence Jordan, the Wurmbrands and Sarah Corson. Not all of the people are equally famous, but what is equal is their passion for Christ and willingness to give all in his service.
The stories were not equal in length. Some stories are only a couple of pages, and others are quite lengthy. Some stories are also more engaging than others for me. There were a couple of times with the conscientious objectors that were persecuted where I was literally saying, “Come on, guys. Just go work on the farm and grow the plants or be part of the medical unit.” However, an important cornerstone for much of the Anabaptist movement is nonresistance and pacifism. As such, doing that would have violated their consciences and been a sin for them. However, because I don’t share that conviction, it was so frustrating, even for me as a Christian, to see them suffer what I would feel was needless persecution.
The chapter at the end on Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria and their persecution by Boko Haram discusses how many martyrs there are as a result of the Anabaptist pursuit of nonviolence. Many of us Americans think of martyrs as a thing of the past or as an isolated incident, and yet the evidence of this book and others like it prove that danger in Christian service is a constant danger for many Christians around the world.
This is a book best read over time. I think that one or two of the stories a day would be a great balance from this book so that you have time to digest and think about what you’ve been reading. As a homeschool mom, I intend to put this book on my shelf to share with my children in their high school years as part of their education in church history. It’s a great resource for learning about martyrs of both the past and present.
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