Book Review: Tortured for Christ
by Richard Wurmbrand, 1998 reprint of 1967 original. Published by Living Sacrifice Book Company, PO Box 2273, Bartlesville, OK 74005-2273.
Genuine Christianity is demonstrated under the fires of persecution, rather than picky theological debates. In our lax and wealthy western world, we often forget that professing Christians are being martyred today in countries such as China, Egypt, and Sudan. Like the sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemene, who were unaware of the Saviorís agony, we are often oblivious to the fact that more Christians have been martyred in the Twentieth Century than all other centuries combined. It is estimated that in 1997 alone, some 160,000 professing Christians lost their lives for their faith. Perhaps few of them understood the Sabbath and other doctrines as well as I believe I do. Yet, I admire the strong faith and conviction of those who were faithful unto death. Would we stand up for our faith as they did?
Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Jew who converted to Christianity, suffered persecution under both the Nazis and Communists. Wurmbrand was imprisoned twice for spreading his faith, for a total of more than thirteen years, undergoing unbelievable torture and near starvation. And yet, when he was ransomed from Romania by Norwegians, Wurmbrand expressed love for his Communist tormentors. He hates the sin of totalitarian governments, but loves the people, especially the Russians, whom he believes have a deep need for the Truth of the Gospel. Today, Wurmbrand heads the international work of The Voice of the Martyrs, and is called "the voice of the underground church." VOM, active in forty countries and thirty languages, provides Bibles, literature and radio broadcasts in restricted nations where Christians are persecuted; relief to families of Christian martyrs; seeks to win to Christ those who are opposed to the Gospel; and informs the world about atrocities committed against Christians and about the courage and faith of the persecuted.
The book, Tortured for Christ, other literature, and their free newsletter, is available from The Voice of the Martyrs, PO Box 443, Bartlesville, OK 74005. Telephone: (800) 747-0085. Internet: www.persecution.com.
Tortured for Christ, written shortly after Wurmbrand was released from Romanian prison, is one of the most significant books that I have ever read. He vividly tells his experiences in the underground church. Wurmbrand knows first-hand that "A man really believes not what he recites in his creed, but only the things he is ready to die for." He recounts many true stories of others who willingly died for their faith. By the grace of the Almighty, Wurmbrand lived to tell about it. It was even a joy to be in prison, to be beaten, and to suffer. This was not masochism, but a life of true faith in the Creator.
In repressive countries, such as China, there are "official" registered Churches. However, their leaders are picked by the government, their teachings are under constant government scrutiny, and unless the leaders inform the government of activities of the members, the leaders are replaced. Thus, the underground church forms around those who refuse to be ruled by the State. One of the worst "crimes" is teaching youth about God and the Bible. If caught, believing parents are sent to prison, where they are severely and repeatedly beaten, and their children are removed from them and given wholly to atheistic education. If a husband is sent to jail for his faith, his wife and family often starve, because it is illegal to give any aid to families of jailed believers. Many western people refuse to believe that such atrocities exist in todayís "modern" world. I believe Wurmbrand because he was there.
Even in the official state churches, Wurmbrand believes, there is some real spiritual life, despite many treacherous leaders. "I have the impression," Wurmbrand writes, "that in many churches of the West the situation is similar. The congregations are faithful sometimes not because of, but in spite of, their top leaders." This matches my own experience among Sabbatarian churches.
Theologians in the West, Wurmbrand notes, argue over trifles. The story is given than in 1493, when the troops of Mahomet II surrounded Constantinople to decide whether the Balkans would be under Christian or Mohammedan dominion for centuries, a local church council in the besieged city discussed the following "problems": "What color were the eyes of the virgin Mary? What gender do the angels have? If a fly falls into sanctified water, is the fly sanctified or the water defiled?" This sounds ridiculous, but no more so than some of the theological drivel being discussed in Sabbatarian circles today. Wurmbrand nails us when he notes, "The menace of the persecutors and the sufferings of the Underground Church are scarcely ever mentioned. There are endless discussions about theological matters, about rituals, about nonessentials."
Wurmbrand reports that when the Russians occupied Romania, two armed Russian soldiers entered a church with their guns in their hands. They said, "We donít believe in your faith. Those who do not abandon it immediately will be shot at once! Those who abandon your faith, move to the right!" Some moved to the right, and were then ordered to leave the church and go home. They fled for their lives. When the Russians were alone with the remaining Christians, they embraced them and confessed, "We, too, are Christians, but we wished to have fellowship only with those who consider the truth worth dying for." Some people play Church. A separating test would be helpful to us today. It appears that the underground church is ahead of its time. We can learn from persecuted believers. Are we remembering our persecuted brethren? Are we willing to be tortured for Christ?
Two inspiring videos produced by VOM are available for 14-day loan from The Bible Sabbath Association ($5 loan each). Faith Under Fire, describes Christians facing persecution today. Leaping Chinaís Great Wall describes house churches in China. How well will our faith hold under fire?
óRichard C. Nickels
Giving & Sharing, Bible Sabbath Assn
PO Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849
[contact details updated 2003]