Posted in Sunday martyr moment, theology

Sunday Martyr Moment: The Reformation Isn’t Over; and Stephen the first Martyr

By Elizabeth Prata

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs came to mind when I read this week of a Protestant Congregation partaking of the Eucharist at a Mass with Catholics in John Calvin’s old church no less. It is reported,

“The idea appealed because it corresponds to our desire to make the cathedral a meeting place for all Geneva Christians. A space that transcends confessional boundaries,” he said.

That’s hogwash and pure nonsense. The Catholic Church still anathemizes anyone who believes that faith is by grace alone. The Roman Catholic Church has not changed. They still teach that anyone who is not a Catholic is headed for hell. The Reformation isn’t over.

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The Actes and Monuments, popularly known as
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, is a work of Protestant history and martyrology by Protestant English historian John Foxe, first published in 1563 by John Day. It includes a polemical account of the sufferings of Protestants under the Catholic Church, with particular emphasis on England and Scotland. The book was highly influential in those countries and helped shape lasting popular notions of Catholicism there. The book went through four editions in Foxe’s lifetime and a number of later editions and abridgements, including some that specifically reduced the text to a Book of Martyrs. The book was produced and illustrated with over sixty distinctive woodcut impressions and was to that time the largest publishing project ever undertaken in England. Image of John Foxe, Wiki CC

The book’s purpose was fourfold:

  • Showcase the courage of true believers who have willingly taken a stand for Jesus Christ throughout the ages, even if it meant death,
  • Demonstrate the grace of God in the lives of those martyred for their faith,
  • Expose the ruthlessness of religious and political leaders as they sought to suppress those with differing beliefs,
  • Celebrate the courage of those who risked their lives to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.

It is very affecting. I am so humbled by the descriptions of the martyrs since the earliest moments of our faith. As I go to worship on Sunday I think of them as Paul often depicted, running a race. It is a relay race and they hand the baton to the next generation, the baton being the word of the Lord as contained in the bible. The martyrs receive the Crown of Life! I can’t wait for the ceremony when they are called up front by Jesus to be acknowledged for their ultimate sacrifice, yet those who lay down their life will receive it. (Matthew 16:25)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)

I can only read a bit at a time, because the stories of persecution are so powerfully evil, the demonstration of faith so humbling, and the grace bestowed upon martyrs so beautiful. But that’s good though, I hope it takes me a lifetime to read of the stories of my brethren.

Foxe starts with the first martyr, Stephen, and collects the martyrs’ stories into the ages. Foxe has a section on the Inquisition, and the updated book has modern martyrs also. Please stay with me on Sundays as I share stories of life and death, faith and evil, and the grace of Jesus. The book blurb says Foxe wanted us to remember the martyrs, ‘for he knew the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’. It is good to remember.

I’ll type out the passage from my book which is the updated version, recounting martyrdoms into the 20th century.

The second person to suffer and die for the church (after Jesus, who was not a martyr) was Stephen, whose name means ‘crown.’ (Acts 6-8).  He was martyred because of the faithful way in which he had proclaimed the Gospel to those who had killed Jesus. They became so enraged at what he sad to them that they drove him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen’s martyrdom came about 8 years after his Lord’s crucifixion, which would place his death in the year A.D. 35, since it was supposed that Jesus was actually born in about 6 B.C, two years before Herod the Great dies in 4 B.C. (See Matthew 2:16).

The same hate generated against Stephen apparently brought great persecution to all who professed faith in Christ as Messiah. Luke writes,

“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. ” (Acts 8:1b).

During that time about two thousand Christians were martyred, including Nicanor, who was one of the seven deacons appointed by the Church (Acts 6:5).

Thank you Stephen, thank you Nicanor. I will meet you, my brothers, in eternity’s New Jerusalem after the rapture.

Each Sunday I’ll re-post a write-up on the individual martyrs. This series originally ran in 2013 and has been updated.

Author:

Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.