What Martyrdom In The West Looks Like
By Pastor Andrew Isker, 2/27/23. Reprinted with permission.
Most American Christians have been told their entire lives to be ready to give their lives for Jesus Christ. But the enemies of Christ in the modern globalist world are not going to feed you to lions or burn you at the stake. Instead, if you are a Christian in modern trashworld, your martyrdom will be psychological. Not only will this psychological torment happen to you, it already has begun.
Like many young Christians who first discovered the history of the Christian faith, I was inspired by the stories of martyrs. How could you not be filled with enthusiasm and passion hearing the examples of men and women who gladly went to their excruciating deaths, refusing to deny their Lord? Being thrown to lions, set on fire, beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and starved. I read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, detailing the history of Christian martyrs from the early church to the Reformation, and was filled with awe. After all, how could you not be?
Next, I read Tortured for Christ, by Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of Voice of the Martyrs, who spent 14 years imprisoned and tortured by Communists for his Christian faith. Wurmbrand was held in pitch-black and soundless solitary confinement for three years. He was regularly beaten and tortured and had the flesh from his feet torn off down to the bone. After being released once and told not to preach Christ, he immediately resumed his work in the underground church, preaching and teaching God’s Word, undeterred and without concern for what he had just experienced. And less than three years later, he was arrested and imprisoned again, only ending with a ransom being paid for his amnesty in 1964.
Stories like these that show the devotion of faithful Christians give us heroes to emulate. Of course, the second you begin to apply the lessons of Christian martyrs in our age, malicious people, often within the church, will attack you. College campuses are a window into the future 15 years down the road (or maybe five or ten—the pace has quickened considerably). When I was in college nearly 20 years ago, I began to see the growing hostility to the Christian faith.
At my four-year state university, professors would openly mock the Christian faith in class. It was never even tangentially related to the subject matter they were teaching. They despised evangelicals especially and blamed them for that iteration of “literally Hitler,” George W. Bush. When I spoke up and said, “I am a Christian, I disagree with you and don’t appreciate how you talk about what I believe,” I was met with derision from the professors and my classmates under the professor’s sway. When I would discuss such things with other conservative, evangelical Christians, some were sympathetic and shared similar experiences, while others would scoff and say, “that’s not real persecution. you have a ‘martyr complex.’”
It was at that point, despite not having a framework to articulate it, that I realized the battle lines that would be drawn over the next 15-20 years, not only within the culture at large but within the church. Only very recently, with the “Three Worlds of Evangelicalism” model of Aaron Renn, did the hostility to the Christian faith in our culture and the tepid response to it by many evangelicals begin to make sense. In that model, Renn outlines “positive, neutral, and negative worlds” where the larger culture views Christianity as something generally good (how the culture viewed Christianity until the 1990s), then something neither good nor bad (from the 90s until the mid-2010s), then finally something that is bad and low status (from the mid-2010s to the present).
When I was in college, what Renn calls the “Negative World” had already arrived. If you were a Christian, you were unequivocally low-status. People would think you are an uncool loser, even if you came from money, wore the proper clothing, were good-looking, or possessed anything else that would give you social status; your Christian faith negated all of that.
After the Obergefell decision and definitely after the “mostly peaceful” summer of 2020, my experience in college in the early 2000s—Negative World—had finally arrived for everyone else. Now, simply being a Christian who believes the Bible is true and who desires to live a life according to the commands of Jesus Christ, is something which is a clear impediment to pursuing a “normal life.” A successful career, finding a spouse, and gaining the respect of your friends and neighbors, all of these become much more difficult to attain if you are a Christian living in Trashworld.
Then, as now, the Christians devoted to collaborating with the enemies of Christ will say, “that’s not real persecution.” Of course, it is not the same as Richard Wurmbrand having the flesh of his feet torn off or Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive. No one would dare claim such a thing. Nevertheless, it is a real thing that is happening to us. You wouldn’t say to someone who just broke their leg and was on the ground writhing in pain, “get over yourself. I know someone in hospice with stage four cancer and has way more pain than you.” Only a monster would behave that way.
The fact is, outside of a few exceptional cases, the kind of martyrdom experienced by Christians in the past is not likely to take place here. That is not how the demonic Regime operates. Such overt, direct persecution that came at the hands of First Century Jews, Romans, medieval governments, French Jacobins, Bolsheviks, and Jihadists is not the kind of martyrdom we face. The demons that rule over us are not so direct and confrontational, not so masculine. No, the demons that rule over us are passive-aggressive and rely upon psychological and social manipulation to torment us.
Our persecution is and will increasingly be much more subtle and feminine. The difference between persecution then and now is like the difference between being bullied by Biff Tannen in Back to the Future and being bullied by the antagonists from Mean Girls. Rather than being brutalized, tortured, or murdered, you will be socially ostracized, you will be cut off from participation in the mainstream economy, your children will be taken from you and brainwashed, and all the while, the Christians who collaborate with the Regime will tell you “it isn’t happening.”
What makes modern persecution so insidious is that it doesn’t seem like it is happening, especially compared to the overt brutality prior Christians experienced. It is important to remember the words of the Apostle Paul that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (1 Timothy 3:12-13 NKJV). If you are a Christian, you will suffer persecution for your faith. There is no way around it. That persecution isn’t always going to come in the form of men with swords or guns at your door ready to torture and kill you.
But if you are a faithful man in a godless world that rages against its Creator, you are the tangible, flesh and blood representative of that Creator it is raging against. You are going to suffer. The suffering you are going to face and many of us already face is the social exclusion and intense, unremitting psychological torment of a godless society that is almost designed to get you to apostatize from Christ. There are myriad vectors and mechanisms it employs. It will use your family to pry you away. It will use corporate financial power to dangle incentives for you to compromise just a little bit. It will rob you of your children, and then hold them hostage against you.
Every message, from every corner of the world is a constant, 24/7 stream of that preaches the oh-so-subtle message of: “if you believe in Jesus Christ, if you believe the Bible is true, you are a loser and we hate you. You have no place in our society. We hope you kill yourself.” That is the subtext of every form of popular culture that Trashworld pumps out.
You are not being killed and tortured, but your mind, soul, and spirit absolutely are. Trashworld has perfected a kind of persecution that is even worse than lighting you on fire or feeding you to a starving lion. It has industrialized a kind of persecution of the Christian that 1. doesn’t look “like persecution,” 2. when it is successful makes it appear as if the apostate one day woke up and freely chose to just stop believing in Jesus, and 3. therefore causes Christians to not have their guard up when they face it, leaving them totally vulnerable to its pernicious effects.
But what is the answer to this problem? It is to understand that you are at war against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places, no less than the saints of old. is to bear this suffering with dignity and resolve just as the heroic martyrs of the early church did. It doesn’t matter what faithless collaborating Christians say; they already have their reward. Just as St. Paul said we will suffer for pursuing a Christian life, fake Christians are going to mock us when that suffering comes. But those with eyes of faith understand we pursue a golden crown from the hands of our king.
And though the scars of our persecution cannot be seen with eyes, it is a kind of suffering for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, one we should count as joy, having been found worthy to bear it. That is the perspective ancient Christians had of their suffering for the sake of Christ, and that is how we should view it as well. Whatever affliction we bear is adding to the suffering of Christ. Remaining faithful to Christ and losing out on career opportunities is a genuine sacrifice. Sacrificing a much more comfortable life so you can protect your children from those who seek to do them harm is a very real sacrifice. Being called a bigot, racist, homophobe, fascist, and every other slur because you refuse to bend the knee to anyone but He Who Rules at His Father’s Right Hand is a very real indignity and is very much worth it.
The Bible describes the suffering of Christians as filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Col. 1:24). It may not seem like it at all, but by suffering in this way, you are conquering. Just as the blood of Christ’s people spilled out does not fall on deaf ears but cries out to heaven, so also does the anguish and terror you experience for the sake of steadfastly holding to Christ.
Your duty as a Christian is to band together with those who bear Christ’s name and build real, flesh-and-blood communities impervious to the terror of the “Negative World.” Christ’s enemies are forcing us to band together, which is what we must do. We must build our own society with our own economy within the one that is collapsing before our eyes. “Negative World” is not the end of the story. There have been “Negative Worlds” many times before, and they have all been overcome by the victory of Jesus Christ. So too, will the negative world of the Globalist American Empire.
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