This is our foreword to the upcoming volume Christof Sauer (South Africa), Richard Howell (India). Suffering, Persecution and Martyrdom: Theological Reflections. Religious Freedom Series vol. 2. AcadSA Publishing: Cape Town (South Africa) & VKW: Bonn (Gerany), 2010. It contains all lecturers and essay of the an internantional consultation by evangelical leaders from all continents who gathered on September 16-18, 2009, in Bad Urach, Germany to produce the „The Bad Urach Statement“.
Many leaders and theologians living in contexts of persecution have developed a sound biblical and theological evaluation of suffering and its consequences for believers, churches and the world at large. It is time that theologians internationally and especially Western theologians start taking this contribution seriously as a major part of a contemporary approach to our world and of systematic and historical theology.
The persecution suffered by Christians under the Roman Empire prior to 311 AD has had a lasting influence on the theology of the church. Although the total number of victims was rather low througout the first three centuries, the experience of persecution has had a formative influence on the theology of the emerging church. The church had from New Testament times developed its theology under the pressure of persecution and oppression. In the current contexts of varying degrees of pressure on Christians, it is worthwhile to restudy the literary heritage of the persecuted church. There is an abundant literature on martyrdom and its connection to theology proper, to christology and soteriology. Ethelbert Stauffer has noted that Eusebius’ History of the Church, the first church history at all, was written from the perspective of martyrology.
We can observe this church developing its theology under persecution. It did not regard a theology of suffering as a threat to theology, but as central to its theology. It was such a church that reached the Roman Empire for Christ. What a pity that this fruitful dynamic fell victim to the triumphalism of the European church in the Middle Ages and was forgotten by a large portion of mission in the colonial age.
We hope that the contributions to the Bad Urach Consultation and its broad theological declaration, the Bad Urach Statement, help to let the whole church once again share in the theological strength of the church under persecution. We hope that it will contribute to taking down the walls between theology, theological education, missiology, and those working directly with the persecuted church, as well as the walls between theologians from the West and the Global South.
The fact that the Bad Urach Consultation has been co-sponsored by the Theological Commission, the Missions Commissions, the Religious Liberty Commission (all of the World Evangelical Alliance) in cooperation with the Theology Working Group of the Lausanne Movement is of high symbolic value!
We are more than thrilled, that Bad Urach gave great theologians from countries where the church is persecuted the opportunity to inspire evangelical theology and missiology at large. Their thinking ought to be studied and discussed by theologians of all confessions across the world and whereever theology is taught.
Prof. Dr. theol. Dr. phil. Thomas Schirrmacher
* Chair, Theological Commission, World Evangelical Alliance
* Director, International Institute for Religious Freedom (Bonn, Cape Town, Colombo)
* Speaker for Human Rights of the World Evangelical Alliance
* Executive Director, Religious Liberty Commission, World Evangelical Alliance