Christian Heroes # 4
What are Christianity’s roots? Jesus sent believers to preach the gospel worldwide (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 8:4). Saul, the greatest persecutor of Christians, became Paul the greatest preacher of Christ. Saul’s credentials made it so unthinkable—tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, zealous Pharisee, legally blameless, church persecutor, Gamaliel’s scholar, destined for Jewish greatness (Acts 22:3-21; Phil. 3:4-6). Only his Damascus Road vision of Christ is adequate to account for his sudden conversion. Thanks to NavPress and Dr. Rick Cornish’s 5 Minute Church Historian, we continue paragraph sketches of great Christian heroes.
John and Betty Stam (1906-1934). More Christians were killed in the twentieth century than all previous centuries combined. Jesus said they will be greatly rewarded in Heaven (Luke 6:22-23). John and Betty met at Moody Bible Institute, got married and became missionaries with China Inland Mission and had baby Helen. Communists assured them safety, but just two weeks later arrested them. They were forced marched to their execution. They overheard soldiers discuss how to get rid of the baby. A Chinese farmer pleaded with the soldiers to spare the baby’s life. They asked him would he trade his life for the baby’s life. He agreed, and they killed him immediately. John and Betty were shamefully paraded through crowed streets in their underwear. A Chinese doctor pleading for their lives was killed. Forced to their knees, they were beheaded. A Chinese pastor found three-month-old Helen in an abandoned house and smuggled her over the mountains in a basket to her grandparents. Once news reached America, hundreds of young people volunteered for the mission field and missions giving greatly increased. Tyrant governments recognize no higher authority, and have little respect for human life and freedom even of their own people. America is headed in that direction. May God’s grace enable us Christians to die for the Lamb of God slain for us to take away our sin and give us eternal life.
Dietrich Bonheoffer (1906-1945) “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,” said Pastor Bonheoffer. He was one of eight children born to Berlin’s leading psychiatrist. He studied liberal theology under its last master, Adolf von Harnack. Dr. Bonheoffer had a brilliant mind and pastor’s heart. When other pastors choose to follow Hitler, he stood firm for Christ. The Nazis cost him his professorship at Berlin University. He founded a small illegal seminary at Finkenwalde that Nazis shut down when they demanded pastors swear allegiance to Hitler. Dietrich visited America but couldn’t stay while knowing German Christians faced the Nazi nightmare. In Germany again, he joined the plot to assassinate Hitler but it failed. In 1943, he was imprisoned for smuggling Jews into Switzerland. In prison, he wrote Letters and Papers from Prison, The Cost of Discipleship, and Life Together. He challenged Christians to replace indifference and cheap grace with disciplined commitment and service. At only thirty-nine and shortly before the allies liberated Germany, he went to the gallous for his faith in Christ. The church gained a martyr and the world lost a hero.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968). Does a name influence a destiny? Perhaps King’s father thought so and named his son after an earlier reformer to become another great reformer. The Bible is clear everybody is descended from Adam and Eve, and created in God’s image with dignity, rights, moral responsibility and an eternal destiny; we’re not just soulless dirt. But our self-centered nature makes us want to put down persons a little different from us. Unfortunately, that’s been true with black persons. Dr. King had a dream that black people would not be judged “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He lead Civil Rights marches in America applying Jesus’ teaching of love with Gandhi’s nonviolent means of addressing social injustice. He became the conscience of persons without conscience. He helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Time magazine named him “Man of the Year.” His efforts brought about passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that mandated desegregation in all areas. The third Monday in January is named Martin Luther King Jr. Day in his honor and more streets are named for him than for President George Washington. May we all follow this Baptist pastor’s dream to treat every person with the same respect and concern.
Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). Too many Christian pastors and parents tell young people “Don’t ask questions; just believe what we tell you and don’t think too much.” That’s a big reason Christianity is declining in some parts of the world where people only want to be entertained. Christianity provides the right answers, if Christians will only abandon their private individual anti-intellectual fear mentality and witness intelligently to others. Francis Schaeffer realized this. His church’s mission board sent him to investigate the battle with theological liberalism in Europe. In Switzerland, he invited international students to his home for small group chats on the big issues of truth, philosophy, and religion. It developed into L’Abri Fellowship where thousands of students found that Christianity is a worldview that applies to every aspect of life with answers that make sense. Dr. Schaeffer wrote twenty-four books including Escape from Reason and The God Who Is There. The church’s entertainment anti-intellectual attitude is losing even its own youth in the cultural war. The universities set the cultural climate and unless we produce capable scholars to engage young thinking minds and future leaders we won’t win many people to Christ.
Mother Teresa (1910-1997). Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, an Indian citizen of Albanian descent, became known as Mother Teresa. Her mother cared for an invalid neighbor and six orphans in their home though they had little means themselves. That example inspired Agnes to minister to the very poor. She became a nun who taught schoolgirls of India geography and led them into the streets to minister to the poor in the slums. She lived among the untouchables in the streets. In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity home to care for and dignify the dying. Harvard gave her an honorary doctorate. Queen Elizabeth and the U.S. Congress paid her honors and she received the Nobel Peace Prize. More than four thousand nuns serve in hundreds of homes she founded in many countries to serve the sick, poor, and dying. It’s not that the world can’t provide food and health care, but that selfish indifferent people, tyrants, bad laws and bad religions promote abject poverty and disgrace. Jesus spoke more about the abuse of money than about any other subject. Mother Teresa showed us real love by simple acts of kindness.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1916-2008). Though raised Russian Orthodox, the Soviet education system converted him to Marxism. His degree was in science but he dreamed of writing of the glories of Russian’s revolution. While a captain in the Red Army, he made the mistake of writing in a letter about Stalin as “the mustachioed one.” The secret police put him eight years in the Gulag or prison system. Under brutal hellish conditions, he saw the best and worst of humanity. Anatoly Silin wrote and memorized theologically rich poetry and shared it with Alexander who became a Christian. When the Soviets released Solzhenitsyn, he wrote, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovish and Gulag Archipelago exposing terror and murder of a typical day in the Gulag. The Soviet revolution brought about sixty million deaths. Proverbs 8:36 tells us that those who hate God love death. Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for literature and world fame. His books were smuggled out of Russian to be published and he was expelled being too much trouble to keep and too famous to kill. After taking on the evil empire, he tongue-lashed the elites of Harvard for abandoning their Christian heritage and moral influence. The West had not lost God by tyranny he declared, but abandoned him for materialism and decadence. This caused some who once praised Solzhenitsyn, to condemn him. The truth is unpopular whether in the Gulag or at Harvard with those who don’t want God. As God’s true people, we are to speak the truth about the Truth no matter the cost (John 14:6).
The Lord Jesus Christ gave Stephen a standing ovation. He was the first Christian martyr who lived for Christ, fearlessly spoke out for Christ, and died for Christ. That’s what it takes to win people to Christ. May we be as faithful today as he was faithful then (Acts 6:5-7; 7).