So wrote Tertullian in his Apologeticus (circa AD 197). The phrase means that the Christians’ willingness to die for their faith leads to the conversion of others.
Today’s chapter details the events surrounding Stephen, the first martyr of the church. I readily admit this account remains an enigma to me. Following his arrest and the testimony of liars (6:11-14), Stephen begins a beautiful recitation of Israel’s history beginning with Abraham. Acts 7 is a CliffsNotes version of Israel’s history from the call of Abraham (vv 2-3, cf Gen 12) to Solomon’s Temple (v 47, cf 1 Kings 6).
The reason I find the account enigmatic is because there is little or no indication what Stephen said or what he saw that set him off in verse 51. Whatever it was ultimately led to the multitude stopping their ears and rushing upon him with one accord. So violent was the crowd that they gnashed at him with their teeth before casting him out of the city and stoning him to death.
What set off this reaction? Nothing Stephen said through verse 47 should have been of any controversy. Perhaps it was Stephen’s statement concerning the temple in verses 48-50 that set off the crowd. Whatever it was, Stephen lit in to his audience as being uncircumcised in heart and ears. He accused them of resisting the Holy Spirit, being the progeny of those who persecuted the prophets, and the betrayers and murderers of the Son of God.
But their murder of the man of God, though emboldening open persecution against the church, did not dissuade the faithful. Moreover, it did not prevent, so far as we can tell, the incredible growth of the church. Those who were driven from Jerusalem by persecution did not run with their tails between their legs. No sir. They went everywhere preaching the word.
As Americans, we know little or nothing about persecution for the sake of our faith in Christ. In fact, we pray that we might live without it even though Paul repeatedly proclaimed that suffering was part and parcel with accepting and living the gospel of Christ (cf 2 Thes 1:5; 2 Tim 3:12, et al).
Maybe the church needs some persecution to find her way back to her calling. Given the current political climate, it may be closer than we realize.