The Celtic Martyrs

In similar thought with my last post about martyrdom and whether emergents can be called martyrs, I have found the Celtic Christians’ (some of the first emerging Christians) perspective on martyrdom to be one of great interest and perhaps offering some insight into our current culture. I just finished How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill, and have found some good summaries in Sun Dancing, by Geoffrey Moorhouse.

Ireland is unique in religious history for being the only land into which Christianity was introduced without bloodshed. There are no Irish martyrs… And this lack of martyrdom troubled the Irish, to whom a glorious death by violence presented such an exciting finale.. If all Ireland had received Christianity without a fight, the Irish would just have to think up some new form of martyrdom…

The Irish of the late fifth and early sixth centuries soon found a solution, which they called the Green Martyrdom, opposing it to the conventional Red Martyrdom by blood. The Green Martyrs were those who, leaving behind the comforts and pleasures of ordinary human society, retreated to the woods, or to a mountaintop, or to a lonely island… there to study the scriptures and commune with
God. (Cahill)

They didn’t go alone however. Most often went with twelve others, also remaining available to those who seek insight, instruction and baptism. As more began to stay these hermitages gave way to what many know as the monastery. The monasteries, centers of learning, writing, and languages, preserved much of what was lost as the Western empire was collapsing.

Green martyrdom, however, failed, “both because of the apparently unquenchable Irish tendency to sociability and, perhaps even more important, because of the natural fertility of Ireland itself, which possessed nothing resembling an Egyptian desert…” (Cahill)

With the monk, Columcille, a new martyrdom began in order to reach continental Europe with the gospel. Monks setting off in boats
doing the hardest thing an Irishman could do, a much harder thing than giving up his life: he was leaving Ireland. If Green Martyrdom had failed, here was a martyrdom that was surely the equal of the Red; and henceforth, all who followed Columcille’s lead were called to the
White Martyrdom, they who sailed into the white sky of morning, into the unknown, never to return. (Cahill)

It was in this way that Christianity was revived in Europe.

So that leaves us with today’s emerging church. Are some of them martyrs? False martyrs? Is everything according to traditional orthodoxy? When was any movement completely in line with traditional orthodoxy? Only time will tell as to what difference is made through those of us who are seeking to live out our faith in a way that seems more authentic for us in this day and age.


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Emerging Martyrs?

I really appreciate Ken Wytsma’s latest blog on martyrdom and how it fits into the world of following Jesus today. He writes of martyrs who suffer because they are doing what God wants them to do and those who suffer because they are going against what God wants them to do. Most often those who are not doing what God wants think they are suffering for God when actually they are opposing God.

One of the characteristics of my generation is to jettison orthodox thinking or sound doctrine as outdated and then chart a course for adventure, self discovery, experience, engagement and many other noble things. The problem is that the latter didn’t require the former. Relevant and meaningful engagement doesn’t require a rejection of Scripture and orthodox theology.

These guys, who go by many names and join many of the latest emerging movements, often run into road blocks, rejection by other Christians and have difficulties getting going or being understood and the temptation for them often is to feel justified, persecuted and that they are martyrs.

Makes me think… as most often I read things with great personal reflection. Do I feel like a martyr? I know there are many times I reflect on the slowness and the challenges of this community growing that I have embarked on. The challenges of modeling and encouraging ownership and leadership. The challenges of getting over myself and my own learning edge to be brave and get outside my comfort zone. The challenges of marking my success and value by how I am loving, by how people’s lives are changing, by how connected I am with God’s work… and not marking it by numbers, size, or converts. I find myself challenged every day… and I wonder, do I feel like it’s because I’m doing God’s work, or because I’m not.

Thankfully, I don’t feel as though I have rejected scripture or given up on doctrine. I take it all very, very seriously. Granted I see it as progressing… but the history of those who come before me is essential. I do think that there is a great deal of rejection of Christians toward some of the things coming out of the emerging church. This makes me think twice about what I am doing when I see it happening graciously and openly. So often though, these differences that we have get talked about behind closed doors or with people who agree with us. When we assume we have more of the “right” truth than the next person, it is awfully hard to hear them well. I really hope to hear from people, “Hey, you know, I don’t really agree with you on this… but you want to get some coffee or grab a beer and talk about it face to face?”

I just finished How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill, and he mentions the martyrdom of the Celtic saints. I’ll do another post about this HERE… this one’s long enough.