This book, written in just a few days in the middle of the 20th century by an exiled Lutheran pastor, is Tortured for Christ, the testimony of the late Richard Wurmbrand.

The case of Tortured for Christ is a provocative one; Pastor Wurmbrand, one of those who suffered under the bloody regime of the Ceausescus’ in Romania, does not use normative human rights rhetoric. To explain, many say, when confronted by religious or political persecution, that the crime of the offending countries is one of harming others merely for having different ideas. Persecution offends the western sensibility, not because of virtue in the persecuted, but because persecution is intolerant. Pastor Wurmbrand hates persecution, but his stance against it is fuelled not by this western sensibility. For him, persecution represents an evil even greater than intolerance, and those who are persecuted represent a greater good than that of mere dissent.


When he tells the somber tale of Christian martyrdom in the 20th century, he paints for us the portraits of men, women, and children who suffer because they are doing something far too significant to have the adjective mere applied to it. They are resisting the zeitgeist, the spirit of their age, which in Wurmbrand’s time was dialectal materialism taken to its logical conclusion. They do this by promoting the Christian Gospel, which upon close examination is really the very radical idea that people are not clumps of chemicals, meaningless automata driven by hunger and sex, but creatures designed to be images of the Divine. This image was shattered and fragmented by the wilful choice to sin, to pursue mere hunger, lust, power — all partial goods — instead of the perfect good, the Glory of God, with which we were designed to fellowship. God, displeased by this broken fellowship has bent down to pour out not simply kindness, but Himself upon humanity in the form of His Son Jesus. Those who come to Jesus become not mere men, but “partakers of the divine nature”. For Wurmbrand, Communists persecuted this view not because they were intolerant, but because this Truth, and those who believe it, are not mere anything. God has come among us. His message directly threatens our self-centered universe.

These are words only when they come from me, a westerner who has never suffered for this Truth. “The Pastor“, as his people called him, however saw first hand the power of Christ at work in those who resisted the toxic ideology of the Stalinists in Romania. He witnessed as he himself and his fellow prisoners resisted physical, psychological, and sexual tortures by the power of Christ, as He imparted His Spirit and Word to them. His words tell it more honestly than I can:

We had to sit for seventeen hours a day — for weeks, months and years — hearing:

Communism is good!

Communism is good!

Communism is good!

Christianity is stupid!

Christianity is stupid!

Christianity is stupid!

Give up!

Give up!

Give up!

Several Christians have asked me how we could resist brainwashing. There is only one method of resistance to brainwashing: it is “hard washing.” If the heart is cleansed by the love of Jesus Christ, and if the heart loves Him, one can resist all tortures. What would a loving bride not do for a loving bridegroom? What would a loving mother not do for her child? If you love Christ as Mary did, who had Christ as a baby in her arms, if you love Jesus as a bride loves her bridegroom, than you can resist such tortures.

Or consider this passage, even more representative of his ideology, and an even more lucid explanation of what it means to be spiritual:

In the prison of Gherla, a Christian named Grecu was sentenced to be beaten to death. The process lasted a few weeks, during which he was beaten very slowly…He was beaten on the testicles.

Then a doctor gave him an injection. He recovered…and then he was beaten again until he died under this slow, repeated beating. One who led this torture was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, whose name was Reck.

During the beatings, Reck said something to Grecu that the Communists often said to Christians, “You know, I am God. I have the power of life and death over you. The one who is in heaven cannot decide to keep you in life. Everything depends upon me. If I wish, you live. If I wish, you are killed. I am God!” So he mocked the Christian.

Brother Grecu, in this horrible situation, gave Reck a very interesting answer, which I afterward heard from Reck himself. He said, “You don’t know what a deep thing you have said. Every caterpillar is in reality a butterfly, if it develops rightly. You have not been created to be a torturer, a man who kills. You have been created to become like God, with the life of the Godhead in your heart. Many who have been persecutors like you, have come to realize — like the apostle Paul — that it is shameful for a man to commit atrocities, that they can do much better things. So they have become partakers of the divine nature. Jesus said to the Jews of His time, ‘Ye are gods.’ Believe me, Mr. Reck, your real calling is to be Godlike — to have the character of God, not a torturer.”

One great lesson arose from all the beatings, tortures, and butchery of the Communists: that the spirit is master of the body. We felt the torture, but it often seemed as something distant and far removed from the spirit which was lost in the glory of Christ and His presence with us.

Once in a class a professor told us something that disturbed me. He told us that with electrodes applied to the correct places in the brain, he could make you not simply hungry, or increase your libido, but that he could make us eat, or make us have sex. He denied the will. One day in class we were told that thought was random firing of neurons, and nothing more. I did not believe him, but had no evidence to counter. It didn’t occur to me that he, psychologists though he was, really didn’t have supreme evidence for his claim either.

Those who suffer for the right have experiential evidence that there is more to human existence and dignity than random electrochemistry. They have found that the spiritual world is more than a fable told us to provide catharsis. The persecuted, such as those heroes and heroines who suffered under the Ceausescus’ or under Stalin — or suffer under the Taliban — as such, are also soldiers. They fight for the same cause as did their Lord: to save the soul, which they love more than life, from those who would enslave it to the ends of mere culture, tradition, empty political philosophies, and the tyranny of all that the Scriptures call sin. Above all, they are winning, for the Lord is in them to work and will His good pleasure.

They are winning in a decisive sense. There is only so much that military and police action, as important as these are, can accomplish. If we strike down Osama bin Ladin, several more will take his place. The situation, in that sense, is analogous to the danger faced in the Cold War. A direct assault of the Iron Curtain would have brought about nuclear apocalypse.

The missing link in the new war, and the unsung heroes and heroines of the old Cold War, are those who suffer for the crime of opposing the toxic ideology of their own countries. Those who fought oppression from within the old Soviet Union were, as such, unrecognized allies of the western democracies. Likewise the martyrs suffering in nations such as Afghanistan are the allies of democracy. By telling others of the Peace of Christ, endangering their own lives, they combat the underlying cause of the new terrorism. Osama bin Ladin and his network know this. The Taliban knows this. That is why they arrested the Christian relief workers and the Afghani Christians. That is why so-called jihad groups in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sudan slaughter thousands of people. It is this fact which makes Tortured for Christ, with its celebration of Christian martyrs and lucid, evidential attack against stripping humanity of its God and soul, so timely. Richard Wurmbrand calls upon us to rethink the nature of faith, to reevaluate its role in the battle against tyranny.