|Mirror of the Martyrs||John S. Oyer |
Robert S. Kreider
Some four centuries ago, thousands of Christians died because they dared to refuse to join the state church in medieval Europe. Their reading of the Holy Bible and their consciences led them to believe that church membership should be a voluntary, adult decision.
These believers died public, tortured deaths as martyrs. Many modern-day Christians claim these persons of courage as their spiritual ancestors. Many of those scenes were etched on copper plates by Jan Luyken, A Dutch artist who worked in the late 1600s. Numerous of these copper plates still exist. Mirror of the Martyrs reproduces 30 of these etchings and tells the courageous stories of these people of faith.
In these stories selected from the Martyrs Mirror, we come into the presence of several thousand Anabaptists who died as martyrs -- more than any other group in the 16th century. Rulers demanded these radicals' exile or death for rejecting infant baptism. Baptism for Anabaptists was a witness to a mature believer's voluntary faith covenant with God through Christ.
We are in the midst of a people who had child-like faith and yet were biblically wise. As we mingle among these Anabaptists, we hear them share a common core of beliefs: believer's baptism, authority of the scriptures, primacy of the New Testament, the discipleship of following Jesus, group discipline with compassion, living simply, separation of church and state, rejecting violence and war, and accepting the way of suffering and witnessing.
The stories of the martyrs were first told person to person. A few stories were printed as broadsides and widely distributed. Early stories were sung as ballad hymns. Entries of a marty's death in the Hutterian Chronicle often carry a notation such as this, "A song was written about him, which is still sung in the church." The martyrs came into the presence of death singing. In song they made their "good witness."
These stories ask hard questions:
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