I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Together for the Gospel 2016. I have also enjoyed reflecting upon some of the messages I heard over those three days, and I have posted some brief articles on a number of them (see my “T4G Reflections” articles).
In a general session address, David Platt spoke about martyrdom and the lessons we can learn from some Protestant Reformation era martyrs about mission. Below is a recap and my own considerations concerning the speaker and the topic.
As I mentioned in another “T4G Reflections” post, I do enjoy the ministry and focus of David Platt. His intense approach suites him well to address the topic of Martyrdom and Mission. While Platt has not experienced martyrdom (I thank God that he is still alive as I write these words), it seems that his Christ-exalting commitment and intensity is just the right recipe for him to exhibit the kind of faithfulness that remains – even unto death. I pray that he is able to avoid such an end, but more conscientiously I pray that Platt will remain faithful.
In a way that only David Platt can, he asked two questions, one for Protestant Reformation martyrs and another for us today.
First, “Why were they willing to die?”
Men like John Rogers and Rolland Taylor went to their death reciting the 51st Psalm. While there might be many other ways to assess their motivated resolve to maintain their commitment to Reformation beliefs, such a specific and recurring recitation is and was fascinating. Platt suggested that this similar performance for many of the martyrs is indicative of their frame of mind, both prior to and during their own executions. From this passage, Platt surmised that these men and women believed at least three things that motivated their willingness to die for what they believed.
One, they believed their depravity deserved damnation. This, at first, seemed an odd place to begin. However, it quickly became apparent that this was exactly the right place to begin. For such a beginning would afford these martyrs the proper perspective as they faced such dreadful opposition. One is very often disappointed and frustrated by adverse circumstances, but these men and women were able to face them with steeled conviction and transcendent contentment because they knew that anything less than eternal hell was gracious on the part of God.
Two, they believed their salvation was found solely in God’s mercy, and separate from their merit. This may also be a less than immediately recognizable motivation for death-defying resolve, but here we may see the humble unwillingness for these martyrs to take any glory for themselves. Not only would they refuse to raise their own merits to God as justification for themselves, but they even refused to acknowledge any contribution among others who may demand such an admission. God alone is worthy of glory, and Christ alone saves guilty sinners apart from any effort or work they have done.
Three, they believed that love like this was worth losing their lives to proclaim. Platt was adamant to remind us that a silent message is no message at all. These martyrs could have avoided their untimely demise by simply believing truth and keeping quiet about it. None of them died for simply believing that salvation is exclusively through Christ and apart from any merit of their own. They died because they proclaimed this Gospel of grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. This lesson is certainly a potent one for us today.
Second, Platt asked, “How shall we live?”
Again, he listed three principles we might implement, based on the convictions of those who have gone before us. One, Platt argued for prioritizing theological precision among God’s people. He pointed out that several of those Reformers who were martyred went to their death over a disagreement with the doctrine of transubstantiation (the teaching that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, though there is no observable change to the elements). Such theological precision is hardly common among many church leaders today, and rare indeed among the laity. While secondary and tertiary doctrines may be handled with grace, charity, and some liberty; no doctrine of Scripture is unimportant.
Two, Platt argued for the mobilization of God’s people for sacrificial mission among all people groups. Because faith alone in Christ alone is the exclusive Gospel that saves, then it is imperative that Christians proclaim that good news to all peoples everywhere. Platt (in his characteristic exasperation) lamented, “When will ‘unengaged people groups’ be an intolerable category for us?” To this I say, Oh, God help us! God forgive us for tolerating such a thing, and God help us to remedy this unbearable reality.
Three, Platt challenged us all to live, lead, and long for the day when “reformation” will be “consummation.” The Church must continually reform, regularly going back to the Scriptures for recalibration, but one day it will not be so. Church leaders, and Christians everywhere, may and should live in such a way that this posture is made visible. We are truly looking for a better country, with those listed in Hebrews 11. Pastors ought to be those who lead on this front by exemplary lives in pursuit of Christ and the spread of His Kingdom – through the Gospel. Finally, all Christians can demonstrate a longing for that day when our faith shall be sight. To this I say, Come quickly Lord Jesus!