The Lack of Martyrs
George Otis Jr. shocked many at the second Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization in Manila in 1989 when he asked, “Is our failure to thrive in Muslim countries owing to the absence of martyrs? Can a covert church grow in strength? Does a young church need martyr models?” Fittingly, he concludes his book The Last of the Giants with a chapter titled “Risky Safety.” In it he writes:
Should the Church in politically or socially trying circumstances remain covert to avoid potential eradication by forces hostile to Christianity? Or would more open confrontation with prevailing spiritual ignorance and deprivation—even if it produced Christian martyrs—be more likely to lead to evangelistic breakthroughs? Islamic fundamentalists claim that their spiritual revolution is fueled by the blood of martyrs. Is it conceivable that Christianity’s failure to thrive in the Muslim world is due to the notable absence of Christian martyrs? And can the Muslim community take seriously the claims of a Church in hiding?... The question is not whether it is wise at times to keep worship and witness discreet, but rather how long this may continue before we are guilty of “hiding our light under a bushel.… The record shows that from Jerusalem and Damascus to Ephesus and Rome, the apostles were beaten, stoned, conspired against and imprisoned for their witness. Invitations were rare, and never the basis for their missions.”14
Otis would no doubt agree with Gregory the Great (pope from 590 to 604), when he said, “The death of the martyrs blossoms in the lives of the faithful.”15
John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, Or.: Multnomah Publishers, 2003), 273-74.