Christian persecution may evoke many emotions: fear, respect, sorrow, or awe. While suffering for the faith appears far removed from Western Christians, the global church often experiences this reality daily. What should the church think about persecution’s final form, martyrdom? Why do Christians die violent, premature deaths, and does God have a purpose in their murders? More importantly, how is martyrdom a part of God’s mission? These questions are crucial not only for Western Christians but also for those who live in hostile climates, like the church in India. Examining the New Testament and recent church history in India suggests that martyrdom and mission operate together in a significant relationship.
The thesis of this paper argues that martyrdom is a theme in God’s mission, and God directly uses martyrdom to advance his mission, as the New Testament and Indian church demonstrate and exemplify. Because the mission of God centers around Christ suffering violence in obedience and faithfulness to God, God uses the violent deaths of those who follow Jesus to advance his purposes in his mission. God calls every generation of Christians to be like Christ, even if that call means becoming faithful to death like Christ.
To advance the thesis, the paper first presents Jesus Christ as the exemplar of faithfulness to God unto death who sets the trajectory for Christian martyrdom. Second, the New Testament shows martyrdom as a theme in God’s mission, as God allows and gifts martyrdom to advance his mission. Third, the murders of Stephen, James, and Antipas display how God moves his mission forward by martyrdom. Finally, the church in India understands and exemplifies how God uses the death of his people. The paper closes by discussing Christian martyrs in India as examples of how God uses martyrdom to advance his mission.