Persecution and Theology


persecution

The economy in Rome was no longer great. They were facing continual threats on the frontier by the barbarians and, as they search for answers concerning the cause for all of these calamities, the scholars suggested that the gods were dissatisfied with Rome. With the celebration of one thousand years of the Roman Empire, the Romans were missing the good old days. The excitement of such celebration “sparked a revival of ancient customs.”[1]

            Emperor Decius is marked in history as the first Emperor to begin an empire-wide persecution against Christianity. As the Roman Empire desperately looked to restore there ancient glory, Decius decreed a universal order to sacrifice to the gods of the empire. Obviously such order was not going to go well with Christians.

            Ferguson identify three responses to persecution; 1) the ones who suffered for their faith, but were not killed, known as confessors; 2) the martyrs, who died for their faith; 3) the lapsi; “those who had fallen away during persecution.”[2]

            Martyrdom was and, perhaps is, the ultimate test of our faith as Christians. It was indeed a test that no many were able to pass; as a matter fact, “more church members compromised their faith than became martyrs.”[3] Theological and doctrinal positions were challenge concerning what to do with those who, indeed compromised their faith during the persecution, but came back to the church after the persecution was over.

            There were basically three responses to those who have fallen away. 1) Rigorism: Establishes that apostate could never return to the full fellowship of the saints. The rigorism approach establishes that the apostate must remain in a penitent’s position for the rest of their lives. Penitent is defined by Merrian-Webster[4] as, “Feeling or expressing humble or regretful pain or sorrow for sins or offenses.” We can say that rigorism did not offer any hope for salvation. 2) Laxism: This group advocated for full restoration to be done immediately.

            While Bishop Cyprian of Carthage himself was running for his life at the start of the Decian’s persecution in 250, “some confessors gave letters of pardon to the lapsi.”[5] They justified such action as they saw themselves as having received a special measure of the Holy Spirit and therefor; they felt entitle to forgive sins and to walk in the privilege of the Presbyterian office.[6] 3) Cyprian advocated for “a middle course that make a distinctions according to the gravity of the transgression. Those who actually sacrificed (Gave or did something in return for the own lives) were to be placed under discipline and could be reconcile to the church at the moment of death.”[7]

            This approach by Bishop Cyprian was designed to address the gravity of their sin, but at the same time “enable them to die in the peace of the church and thus give their conscience and assurance of salvation.”[8]

            Judging by the small research I completed for this essay it was challenging to find a clear, sound and biblical doctrine of salvation. I see the seeds for what is now one of many heresies followed by the Catholic Church. Among many heresies is this idea that the Bishop (priest) has powers to forgive sins for the salvation of an individual. The penitential discipline process started and ended with the Bishop.[9]

            Another issue of concern was the fact that Cyprian viewed the church as an added agent of salvation by stating, “a person cannot have God as his father who does not have the church as his mother,”[10]

            The church is not representative of a mother; the church is the bride of Christ according to Ephesians 5:22-33. It seems like the message of salvation by grace through faith[11] was not as clear as a response to the aftermath of this first persecution.

            Studies like this encourage me greatly to focus on the Word of God and not to deviate to the demands of the culture, outrageous statements by, even respectful ministers of the faith or to be suck into the personal desire for self-glory.

            As the church focus on what to do with those who were weak at the time of persecution, we see how Martyrdom is turned into paganism. We see a disturbed view of martyrdom,[12] even to the point of offering veneration and prayers to the Martyrs.[13]

            My respect and profound admiration continues to grow for those heroes of the faith who did not only died for their faith, but also stood strong in honoring and confirming every matter through the Word of God. In a time where words such as theology, doctrine, dogma and orthodoxy seems to be bad words, I am reminded of the words of Dr. John Piper, “Bad theology will eventually hurt people and dishonor God in proportion to its badness.”[14]

            Today, in our beautiful nation, persecution is none existence compare to the persecution of Decian; nevertheless, bad theology is distorting the message that the apostles lived and died for; the love of God, His redemptive heart towards us, His mercy, His grace and yes, His judgment. May we find ourselves insisting in going back to the TEXT.

 

 

[1] Everett Ferguson, Church History, Volume One: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 160

[2] Ibid. 163

[3] Everett Ferguson, Church History, Volume One: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context, 161

[4] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/penitent

[5] Everett Ferguson, Church History, Volume One: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context, 163

[6] Ibid. 163

[7] Ibid. 164

[8] Ibid. 164

[9] Ibid. 165

[10] Ibid. 166

[11] “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 New King James Version (NKJV)

 

[12] Everett Ferguson, Church History, Volume One: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context, 161

[13] Ibid. 162

[14] John Piper, A Godward Life, Volume Two, 377

 

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