Friday, June 11, 2010

The Early Chruch

From Nero in 54 AD until Constantine in 313 AD Christianity was illegal. Many people died for being Christian. Many slanderous things were said about Christians and their leaders. Somehow the church kept growing and growing through it all. In the end the Roman Empire became Christian. How did that happen? As Christians we can say that God poured out His grace on them and made his church powerful. There are human reasons as well. There always are. For example, Christians showed great love for each other and even for those persecuting them. That draws people. But why didn't any other group show similar love? Religious groups today copy each other's formulas all the time. Didn't any pagan cult try and copy those fast growing Christians? If they did it didn't seem to work.

What about skepticism? Often you hear about people in this time period as being quick to believe anything. It isn't really true. We have records of Roman skeptics making all the arguments one would expect against the reasonableness of Christian doctrine. How can God become man? How could he be crucified? Why would He spend his whole life in some obscure country and never even rule there? So all the questions were asked. People were not easier to fool back then. The truth is there were many pagan gods out there. The Greek schools of philosophy were quite active. Christianity didn't grow by avoiding the questions but by answering them. The answers were not accepted because the people were stupid but because they were compelling and stood up to scrutiny.

For natural explanation you can pull on the string a little and end up back at a question that can only be answered by God. Where did they get the live? Where did they get the answers? Why were so many willing to die for this homeless Jewish man? Miracles? Sure. But that brings us back to God again. If you aren't willing to accept God as real this isn't a good period of history for you to look at.

One thing the church of that day refused to do was accommodate other religious ideas. Emperor worship was firmly rejected no matter what the cost. Same with gnosticism and any attempt to reconcile Christian teaching with the sexual permissiveness of the day. They were not afraid to be offensive. They didn't expect to get along with everyone. They expected the cross. Nobody had to tell them the cross was an instrument of torture and execution. That was still very much their reality.

Do we dare teach that today? Do we have modern versions of emperor worship that we just don't have the guts to reject because we fear confrontation? Society has gotten softer but has the church gotten softer too?

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