I remember reading about Felix Manz when I was in college. I read about how he was taken out to a freezing river in the middle of a bitter Zurich winter, how he was tied up and thrown into the frigid waters, the “third baptism,” they called it, for the Anabaptist who had dared to teach adult baptism. Like most Christian young people, I was fascinated by the stories of the martyrs and spent quite a bit of time reading the dramatic accounts of their steadfast faith, even to the point of death. I suppose when you are a young, spoiled American Christian, it can help put things into perspective for you to read about what Christians through history have endured. And, today, to see what kind of persecution is so rampant all around the world. It will cause you to sit up a little straighter. To consider how easily that you are distracted and led astray. It will cause you to wonder what you would really do if it were you. You, kneeling on a beach someplace, about to be beheaded for believing with all your heart that Jesus is real, that the Bible is true, that real truth is worth dying for.
Yet, it wasn’t Felix Manz’s death that intrigued me so much. It was a different part of the story that has caused his last day to stay firmly planted in my mind for all these years. While Felix was being led through the streets of Zurich to his certain death, his mother was nearby, watching the nightmare unfold. And, all the while, the crowd that had gathered could hear her crying out to her precious son, encouraging him to stand firm, to remain true to Christ is this hour of such great temptation. There she stood, I imagine, in horrible agony as she watched them tie his arms to the stick they had jammed up behind his knees, singing out all the while for him to go into his cold, watery grave with complete trust in Jesus. And, then she watched as they tipped him into the water, disappeared from her life forever. I wonder how many scenes of his childhood pulsed through her mind at that moment? Yet, she never wavered. She knew, as she had taught her dear son, that a man is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.*
It takes an all-consuming faith to produce Christians like Felix Manz and his mother. It takes a singular focus. It takes soul-encompassing commitment to living a life that sings out the refrain every day: This is all that matters. This is all that matters. Unless we beg God to transform us into people who are passionately driven to glorify Him in every move, then I fear that we are not becoming and are not producing in our children the kind of Christians who would stand for Christ to the difficult end of a persecuted life.
Lately I have felt such a sense of urgency. Why are Christians continuing to treat this faith as if it is a poorly producing side business in the middle of a hugely prosperous life? Why are Christians abandoning their church families so their kids can play baseball on Sundays? Why are Christians refusing to teach their children the hard truths of Scripture, and why are they reluctant to learn them themselves? Why are Christians satisfied with a faith that only vaguely informs their decisions, that only mildly affects their thinking, that only produces warm feelings and never heart-crushing, soul-wrenching grief over their sin?
It’s probably because many who claim to be Christians actually aren’t. When real persecution comes, those people will fall away quickly. Their half-hearted attempts to live as Christians will turn into no attempt at all, and they will no longer identify with the Bride of Christ.
But, the rest of us. We must think about where the trajectory of our current faith life will lead us and our children. Are we giving ourselves over completely to the God who saves, saying with our every breath that He is all, that He is worthy of our life and our death and anything else in between? Are we beginning now to build a faith within our family that will truly be able to withstand harsh and terrible and cruel and unreasonable persecution, should it come knocking at our door? Are we teaching our children how to live for Christ and how it is an honor and a joy to suffer with Him, even to die for the glory of His name? If we should ever be called to sacrifice our lives for this Truth that we know, will our hearts and souls and minds be prepared, because of an all-consuming, life-long obsession with Jesus Christ, to die for His sake? To cheer our children on to stand firm if they are called to lay down their precious bodies that we love?
I fear that most of us are so far removed from that type of faith that we hardly even understand what it would look like.
Our children are facing a different world than we have known. Their faith is going to have to be real and alive and immune to the mesmerizing but useless distractions of this world. Our children are going to need a faith that devours their entire lives, that dominates every thought, that changes the way they see and hear and understand everything around them. We simply cannot continue to categorize our lives, badly arranging our priorities around things that don’t last. If we keep sending the message that this faith is just part of our lives and not the only thing that matters, then our children will continue to believe us.
They will settle for a version of Christianity that will not stand. That will not speak. That will not mean much more to their lives than a basic hope of being rescued from Hell. And, when persecution comes, it will be a faith that doesn’t lead them into obedience and courage and self-sacrifice, but rebellion and fear and self-preservation. And, the truth is that such a faith offers little hope of salvation. Is it possible that we are leading our children into a counterfeit faith?
We love our comfort too much. Our entertainment. Our popularity. We prioritize happiness over Godliness. We see no joy in suffering. We see no reason to deny ourselves. And, we are thrilled if we make it to worship twice a month.
It will show. When persecution comes. It will show.
Now is the time to decide that this faith is all or nothing. This is how we lead our children into holiness, into steadfastness, into perseverance. We live it now so that we can live it on the day that persecution comes. We live it now so that one day when we are long gone, if our children are called to lay down their lives for this great and glorious faith, they will still hear our voices crying out: Stand firm. Remain true to Christ, even in this hour of great temptation.