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postheadericon True Martyrs

 

For by the sacrificial death of Christ we are set free,

our sins are forgiven.

Ephesians 1: 7

Wickersley Parish Church’s patron saint, a man called Alban, is believed to have been a Romano-British citizen of the Roman town of Verulamium around the end of the 3rd century, who gave shelter to an itinerant Christian priest, later called Amphibalus. Alban was impressed by his guest’s message and after a time he received Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Soon afterwards a period of persecution, instigated by the Emperor, brought soldiers in search of the priest whereupon Alban exchanged clothes with him so as to enable the priest’s escape. Believing Alban to be the priest the soldiers arrested him instead.

At his trial, with his true identity revealed, Alban was urged to prove his rejection of Christ by making offerings to the Roman gods. He refused and defiantly declared his faith in “the true and living God who created all things”. He was condemned to death, led out of the city, across the river and up a hillside, where he was beheaded.

The martyrdom of Christians did not begin and end with the Roman era. Christians have suffered for Christ in every generation since. Most Christian martyrs lost their lives in the 20th Century and conditions are not improving for many Christians across the world.

On Wednesday morning, 18 April 2007 in Zirva, Eastern Turkey, three Christian men, Tilman Geske, a German missionary, Necati Aydin, a Turkish pastor, and Ugur Yuksel, met to study the Bible. On the other side of town ten young men all under 20 years old put into place final arrangements for their ultimate act of faith, living out their love for Allah and hatred of infidels who they believed undermined Islam. The Christians attending the Bible study had met these Muslim men previously and believed them to be ‘seekers’; they readily welcomed five of the group when they turned up at the Bible study. However, their guests had not come to learn about the Christian faith but to kill the infidels. Equipped with guns, bread knives, ropes and towels they tortured the Christians for almost three hours before murdering them in a most grotesque way.

It is right that we should be shocked by this account of martyrdom, but we should not be surprised because Christ warned that such things would happen. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the hour is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.” (John 15: 18, 16: 2-3)

Christians who live in the UK read such accounts with a mixture of horror and relief that we enjoy the freedom to practice and proclaim our faith. No one is likely to arrest us or try to kill us for believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, and were we to experience opposition from individuals or officialdom we may well consider it unseemly to complain when our fellow Christians are suffering such terrible persecution. That said, it would be unwise of us to ignore the change in the climate of tolerance towards Christians in the UK.

Recent months have witnessed what can only be described as the escalation of human rights abuses against British Christians. The arrest of a Christian street preacher in Cumbria shows how serious the situation is becoming. Dale McAlpine, when questioned by a woman, read from the Bible a list of sins, which included homosexual behaviour. Melanie Phillips, writing in the Daily Mail, graphically describes the event:

‘Terrifying as this may seem, the attempt to stamp out Christianity in Britain appears to be gathering pace. Dale McAlpine was preaching to shoppers in Workington, Cumbria, that homosexuality is a sin when he found himself carted off by the police, locked up in a cell for seven hours and charged with using abusive or insulting words or behaviour. It appears that two police community support officers — at least one of whom was gay — claimed he had caused distress to themselves and members of the public. Under our anti-discrimination laws, such distress is not to be permitted. And so we have the oppressive and sinister situation where a gentle, unaggressive Christian is arrested and charged simply for preaching Christian principles. It would appear that Christianity, the normative faith of this country on which its morality, values and civilisation are based, is effectively being turned into a crime.’

Given the politically correct consensus between our new government’s coalition partners the next decade is likely to bring more arrests of law-abiding Christians. This dire forecast begs the question ‘How should Christians respond to this increasingly oppressive secularising culture?’ We could complain but our complaints are likely to fall on deaf ears.  Not many of the 70% of Britons who ticked ‘Christian’ on their census forms are likely to take to the streets over the dismantling of the last vestiges of Christian Britain.

Our second option is to compromise with the prevailing culture. It would guarantee us less hassle but we could no longer, with any integrity, claim to be truly Christian.  A third option is to challenge the prevailing culture through word and deed. The message of the Gospel is freedom from oppression and sin but also freedom of conscience, thought, speech, and practice (little wonder tyrants wish to silence it). By proclaiming Christ and living out our creed with neighbourly love we serve as salt and light to our nation and emulate the many Christian men and women who countered tyranny with love as they defiantly declared their faith in “the true and living God who created all things”. Their example points us to the example of the Lord they loved and served. Jesus Christ, who defied tyranny, died in gentleness of spirit, and gave his life for the world.

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