i recently re-read "through gates of splendour" - a book by elisabeth elliot which tells the story of the 5 missionaries who met their death while attempting to bring the Gospel to the auca indians in ecuador in the mid 1950s.
last weekend i went and bought a copy of "the shadow of the almighty", which is the biography of jim elliot, one of those 5 men whose life was taken by the ones to whom he was trying to bring real life. in the preface, elisabeth (again the author) writes:
Jim's aim was to know God. His course, obedience - the only course that could lead to the fulfilment of his aim. His end was what some would call an extraordinary death, although in facing death he had quietly pointed out that many have died because of obedience to God.
He and the other men with whom he died were hailed as heroes, 'martyrs'. I do not approve. Nor would they have approved.
Is the distinction between living for Christ and dying for Him, after all, so great? Is not the second the logical conclusion of the first? Furthermore, to live for God is to die, 'daily', as the apostle Paul put it. It is to lose everything that we may gain Christ. It is in thus laying down our lives that we find them.
When Jim was 20 years old he prayed, 'Lord, make my way prosperous, not that I achieve high station, but that my life may be an exhibit to the value of knowing God.' His life was that to me, who shared it more intimately than any other. Was it extraordinary? I offer these pages so that the reader may decide for himself. If his answer is yes - if he finds herein the 'stamp of Christ', and decides that this is extraordinary - what shall we say of the state of Christendom?
i've emphasised the last sentence in the hope that others will avoid the mistake i almost made in reading it too quickly on the first pass, and thus be in danger of failing to grasp its wide and deep implications.
it's ironic then that the back cover of my copy of "gates" refers to these men as just that: martyrs. but let not the possible pedantry over definitions prove puncturous a perfectly powerful pedagogical point!