Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Relevance," and Mockery of the Holy Martyrs – Part 1

The Christian's three great enemies are the devil, the world, and his own flesh. They each work to lure him into sin, in order to separate him from his Saviour, Jesus Christ. The World especially, Jesus tells us, hates us on account of Him (John 15:15-25), therefore, we should not marvel when the World conspires against us to rob us of His sustaining Word (1 John 3:13), which includes all aspects of Scripture: not just every word, as Jesus tells us directly in Matt. 4:4, but the form, or grammar, as well – as St. Paul amply demonstrates, the central teaching of Scripture hinging on a single point of Hebrew grammar (Gal. 3:13-16).

But, as I intimated in Rev. Rydecki's post, The Gender Gutting of the Bible in NIV 2011, when we grow careless in our watchfullness, shallow in our thinking, and find ourselves lured by the Siren calls of the World – "Be friends with us, be relevant to us, then we'll listen to you, respect you, and think well of you. Then you will be effective. And that is what you want. Isn't it?" – we find ourselves taking seriously the ridiculous notions that friendship with the World is love for the Gospel, rather than the enmity of God (James 4:4). No (and continuing with the imagery of mythical Sirens and their beckoning calls, from the myth of Jason and Argonauts), to drown out the allure of Worldly Sirens, lest we go mad for our desire of them, we must sing our own songs more loudly. Only with clear heads, can we thus see that wholesale emasculation of the Scriptures in order to make the Bible "relevant" and more palatable to the unregenerate and pagan sensibilities that surround us – not just in a few verses of the NIV 2011, but in thousands of verses, in both obvious and subtle ways – is utterly foreign to the very Words which proceeded from the mouth of God and to the form in which He breathed them. Such is a Worldly notion, created by the enemies of God's Church on Earth and superimposed on the Scriptures to serve Worldly aims within the Church: to lead us into sin and separation from God.

How easy it would have been for the Blessed Martyrs of the early Church to acquiesce to the World's overtures of friendship, which often meant the difference between life and tortuous death. Yet all the while, theirs was truly a Crisis of the Word, of God's Word, the Bible, which was still in the process of being canonized. Irenæus, Polycarp, Justin and others valiantly fought against the teachers of Gnosticism and the authors of apocryphal and pseudepigraphal Gospels and Epistles, and they along with many others were Martyred in the process. But this was the key to maintaining orthodoxy in the face of false teachers, their fraudulent scriptures and their resulting heresies: validating (a) one’s Scripture sources as having come directly from the apostles, and (b) one’s teaching as having descended only from those very Scripture sources.

They could have made friends with the world, if they weren't so dogmatic. They could have made friends with the world, if only they were willing to overlook some corruption in their Bibles. But they resisted this temptation. They were followers of Christ, hanging on to the very words which proceeded from the mouth of God. And they were hated for it, with a venomous hatred. The Ten Persecutions of the Early Church demonstrate this most ably. And make no mistake, the World has essentially held its venom in store for almost one-and-a-half millenia since – at least in the West – reminding us only every now and then that it still hates us.

Over the next week, we will be telling the story of these persecutions, to remind our fellow Christians what Scripture says regarding the World's true sentiment towards us, and to illustrate for them the realities of true Christian endurance and sacrifice, which have been largely forgotten in Western Christianity. Hopefully this will demonstrate the comparitively trivial nature of our striving for so-called "relevance," and the mockery such priorities make of the sufferings of those who struggled to hold on to the pure Word and its teaching, when it would have been so easy, and so seemingly justifiable, to allow both to become spoiled by the World's influence.
    “[T]he martyrdom of the first three centuries... remains one of the grandest phenomena of history, and an evidence of the indestructible, divine nature of Christianity.

    “No other religion could have stood for so long a period the combined opposition of Jewish bigotry, Greek philosophy, and Roman policy and power; no other could have triumphed at last over so many foes by purely moral and spiritual force, without calling any carnal weapons to its aid. This comprehensive and long-continued martyrdom is the peculiar crown and glory of the early church; it pervaded its entire literature and gave it a predominantly apologetic character; it entered deeply into its organization and discipline and the development of Christian doctrine; it affected the public worship and private devotions; it produced a legendary poetry... The sufferings, moreover, of the church during this period are of course not to be measured merely by the number of actual executions, but by the far more numerous insults, slanders, vexations, and tortures, which the cruelty of heartless heathens and barbarians could devise, or any sort of instrument could inflict on the human body, and which were in a thousand cases worse than death.

    “Finally, while the Christian religion, has at all times suffered more or less persecution, bloody or unbloody, from the ungodly world, and always has its witnesses ready for any sacrifice; yet at no period since the first three centuries was the whole church denied the right of a peaceful legal existence, and the profession of Christianity itself universally declared and punished as a political crime. Before Constantine the Christians were a helpless and proscribed minority in an essentially heathen world, and under a heathen government. Then they died not simply for particular doctrines, but for the facts of Christianity. Then it was a conflict, not for a denomination or sect, but for Christianity itself. The importance of ancient martyrdom does not rest so much on the number of victims and the cruelty of their sufferings as on the great antithesis and the ultimate result in saving the Christian religion for all time to come. Hence, the first three centuries are the classical period of heathen persecution and of Christian martyrdom. The martyrs and confessors of the ante-Nicene age suffered for the common cause of all Christian denominations and sects, and hence are justly held in reverence and gratitude by all.”

    Schaff, P. (1996). History of the Christian Church (Vol. 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. (Reprinted from the fifth edition of Volume 2, originally published in 1889). pp. 77-80

This series continues in the following posts:

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