Feb 26, 2023

John Foxe


I am in close contact with a Christian engaged in ministry in a Muslim-dominated country.  It’s risky, dangerous work.  He relays chilling accounts of Christians martyred for their identification with Christ.  Todd Johnson who directs the Center for the Study of Global Christianity reports more people were killed for their Christian beliefs in the 20th century than all previous centuries combined.  What you just read is not a misprint.   It’s a story that often goes underreported in western media.  The original Greek word “martyr” means witness.  Some Christians witness to Christ to the point of death.  In researching prayers, I have come across a staggering number of martyr stories. John Foxe (1516-1587) lived during a time when heresy was considered a capital offense in England and closely linked to treason since it was assumed a nation could not remain united without a common religion. Foxe was no stranger to persecution. He was disowned by his family and dismissed from his teaching position for Puritan convictions. He and his wife Agnes barely escaped with their lives during Queen Mary’s purge of Protestants. Foxe became a household name in England when his book about martyrs was published in 1563. While its original title was The Acts and Monuments of Matters Happening to the Church, it was popularly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and was widely read in 16th-17th century England. It chronicled persecutions in the early church and gave considerable attention to martyrs under Mary’s reign. His book is not for the faint of heart. It’s 170 woodcuts depict every conceivable means of capital punishment. Would I be willing to die for what I believe?  While the question for me won’t likely be put to the ultimate test, it is not merely theoretical for some Christians living in hostile areas in the world today.  The following prayer originates from Clement of Rome who lived in the first century AD and was likely a first century Christian martyr:

O Merciful and Compassionate One, forgive us our iniquities and offenses and transgressions and trespasses.  Reckon not every sin of Your servants and handmaids, but You will purify us with the purification of Your truth; and direct our steps that we may walk in holiness of heart and do what is good and well-pleasing in Your sight and in the sight of our rulers.  Yes, Lord, make Your face shine upon us for good in peace, that we may be shielded by Your mighty hand and delivered from every sin by Your uplifted arm, and deliver us from those who hate us wrongfully.  Give concord and peace to us and all who dwell upon the earth, even as You gave to our fathers, when they called upon You in faith and truth, submissive as we are to Your almighty and all-excellent Name. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.