I remember reading about Felix Manz when I was in college. I read about how he was taken out to a freezing river in the middle of a bitter Zurich winter, how he was tied up and thrown into the frigid waters, the “third baptism,” they called it, for the Anabaptist who had dared to teach adult baptism. Like most Christian young people, I was fascinated by the stories of the martyrs and spent quite a bit of time reading the dramatic accounts of their steadfast faith, even to the point of death. I suppose when you are a young, spoiled American Christian, it can help put things into perspective for you to read about what Christians through history have endured. And, today, to see what kind of persecution is so rampant all around the world. It will cause you to sit up a little straighter. To consider how easily that you are distracted and led astray. It will cause you to wonder what you would really do if it were you. You, kneeling on a beach someplace, about to be beheaded for believing with all your heart that Jesus is real, that the Bible is true, that real truth is worth dying for.
Yet, it wasn’t Felix Manz’s death that intrigued me so much. It was a different part of the story that has caused his last day to stay firmly planted in my mind for all these years. While Felix was being led through the streets of Zurich to his certain death, his mother was nearby, watching the nightmare unfold. And, all the while, the crowd that had gathered could hear her crying out to her precious son, encouraging him to stand firm, to remain true to Christ is this hour of such great temptation. There she stood, I imagine, in horrible agony as she watched them tie his arms to the stick they had jammed up behind his knees, singing out all the while for him to go into his cold, watery grave with complete trust in Jesus. And, then she watched as they tipped him into the water, disappeared from her life forever. I wonder how many scenes of his childhood pulsed through her mind at that moment? Yet, she never wavered. She knew, as she had taught her dear son, that a man is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.*
It takes an all-consuming faith to produce Christians like Felix Manz and his mother. It takes a singular focus. It takes soul-encompassing commitment to living a life that sings out the refrain every day: This is all that matters. This is all that matters. Unless we beg God to transform us into people who are passionately driven to glorify Him in every move, then I fear that we are not becoming and are not producing in our children the kind of Christians who would stand for Christ to the difficult end of a persecuted life.
Lately I have felt such a sense of urgency. Why are Christians continuing to treat this faith as if it is a poorly producing side business in the middle of a hugely prosperous life? Why are Christians abandoning their church families so their kids can play baseball on Sundays? Why are Christians refusing to teach their children the hard truths of Scripture, and why are they reluctant to learn them themselves? Why are Christians satisfied with a faith that only vaguely informs their decisions, that only mildly affects their thinking, that only produces warm feelings and never heart-crushing, soul-wrenching grief over their sin?
It’s probably because many who claim to be Christians actually aren’t. When real persecution comes, those people will fall away quickly. Their half-hearted attempts to live as Christians will turn into no attempt at all, and they will no longer identify with the Bride of Christ.