Stumbling on the Path of the Apostles

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Is there room for amazing grace in our call to uncompromising faithfulness?

Some have asked me what path the church should take today. I answer: Unquestionably, the path of the apostles. That is, follow the footsteps of the apostles by imitating their courageous and firm stand, not being afraid of any threatenings, not holding life dear, being faithful unto death, not pleasing men. Even while meeting resistance, we should still preach the gospel and teach God’s words to people. The one who can do this will be blessed by God and used by God. He may indeed meet what the apostles met in persecution, but he will also accomplish what the apostles accomplished. Without doubt, God’s glory and great power will be manifested through him just as it was manifested in that day through the apostles.
— Wang Ming-Dao, from A Call to the Church from Wang Ming-Dao

Persecution often has an effect opposite of what is planned by the persecutors. The church father Tertullian wrote that the martyrdom of faithful Christians actually spurred the growth of the early church: “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed” (The Apology). Stories of martyrs can be a great encouragement in the darkest points of ministry, when pastors feel attacked from all sides.

But some martyrdom accounts from Christian history give readers the sense that those who suffered faithfully for Christ experienced very little struggle with fear or temptation. According to Irenaeus, for example, when guards prepared to nail Polycarp to the stake, he said, “Leave me as I am, for the one who gives me strength to endure the fire will also give me strength to remain at the stake unmoved without being secured by nails.” While stories like Polycarp’s can be …

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