by Terry M. Smith
“I am distressed beyond all misery. I am poverty-stricken and robbed of my ability to work, all of which I cannot overcome in my lifetime. I have been starved so that I cannot now eat or drink, and my body is broken. How would you like to live for five weeks with only boiled water and unflavoured bread soup? I have been lying in the darkness on straw.
“All of this would not be possible if God had not given me an equal measure of his love. I marvel that I have not become confused or even mad. I would have frozen if the Lord had not strengthened me, for you can well imagine how a little bit of hot water will warm one. In addition to this I have suffered great torture twice from the executioner, who has ruined my hands, unless the Lord heals them. I have had enough of it to the end of my days.
“…Therefore, dear Lords, you will find in me nothing but patience in word and deed. I will obey you till I die and I will obey God till I die. But I will not build on this commandment of men, which is against God, as long as there is breath in me. I will not be a hypocrite, either to curry favour or to avoid suffering, but will seek the truth with all my heart.”
It is difficult to focus on the wretched suffering of early Anabaptists and other Christian martyrs. Imprisoned in horrible conditions, Keller endured much in body and soul.
“Keller was an ordinary man,” says Walter Klaassen, “and the fact that he eventually gave up does nothing to discredit the strength and pathos of his testimony.” Yet with all due respect to Klaassen, there is little evidence that Keller gave up.
True, Andreas said he would obey the authorities, but he persisted in saying he would obey God and he would not build on the commandment of man. He said he did not seek to curry favour or avoid suffering. He preferred not to suffer; so did our Lord (see Luke 22:42).
As others have done and said, I write these words while seated in a comfortable chair near a window providing light, living in a country that offers much in peace and safety, having returned from a lunch where I ate too much. Who am I to condemn Keller as he faced a time and circumstances not experienced by me? If his faith was weak, I wish mine were as strong as his.
Centuries later my sadness comes partly from knowing that both the tortured and the torturer knew the Apostles’ Creed; to that extent, they shared a common faith in Christ. Yet despite that connection, one suffered and another caused it.
With Reformation Sunday (Oct. 28) and the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (Nov. 4) soon behind us, I am saddened by the broken body of Christ, the broken body of Keller, and the body of the Church too often still broken today. The Church is still persecuted and, sometimes, still persecutes.
Source: Walter Klaassen, Anabaptism in Outline (Herald Press, 1981), 86, 93-94.