Thursday, December 8, 2011

"Relevance," and Mockery of the Holy Martyrs – Conclusion

Romans 12:2 KJV: And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Matthew 5:14 KJV: Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

John 15:18 KJV: If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.

Romans 3:19 KJV: Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

1 John 3:13 KJV: Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.

John 15:19 KJV: If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

James 4:4 KJV: ...know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Luke 9:25 KJV: For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?

1 John 2:15 KJV: Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

John 16:33 KJV: These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

1 John 5:4 KJV: For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

With the posting of Part 11 of this series, yesterday, I can finally remove the hat of satirist. Be assured, I found it rather distasteful to play the part of a Worldly heckler in Parts 2-11. Despite my limited abilities as a satirist, however, I trust that the reader was not lulled into the mistaken notion that the issues raised were just made-up nonsense, or limited only to the early Church and unique to their situation. Every single one of the points emphasized throughout my satire are points that I have personally been confronted with, worked through on my own, and battled over the past 25 years – and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Make no mistake, the World still hates Christians with a venomous hatred, and has waged war against the Church on Earth ever since the time of Christ. It is only the dominant and civilizing influence of Christianity in Western Society that prevents the unregenerate from killing us today. Christians living in societies which have not so benefited from Christianity know this all too well: in many places even today, Christians are being murdered, sometimes in large numbers, in some cases with the same wanton disregard for humanity displayed by the pagan Romans. Groups like Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors, monitor and report such activity as it occurs throughout the world – from these sources, and others, one can find more information about Christian persecution and martyrdom in our own era.

The example of the Holy Martyrs: Standing firm in the face of enticements and persecution
But how could Christianity have possibly risen to such stature in the the West as to "civilize" it, and make it tolerant of, and even favor, Christianity? Did expert marketing agents of the early Church gather together in conference to cast the Bishop’s vision for the Church into a one-sentence slogan, or develop mission statements simple and memorable enough for lay Christians to recall on command, understand and execute? Did the deacons of the congregations, setting out to “grow the church,” do a SWOT analysis (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats), plan, and proceed accordingly? If they did, wouldn’t the most reasonable course of action, in the face of certain extinction, have been to preserve Christian lives wherever possible by making their self-representation more palatable to the pagans, have been to befriend the persecutors of Christianity by placating them with words and behaviour the pagans didn’t misunderstand, weren’t offended by, or which were even calculated to attract them according to their own standards, rather than remain estranged from them through doctrinal rigidity, other-worldly practice, out of touch lifestyles and a message that made no worldly sense? What was the example of St. Timothy, of Saturninus, the pious orthodox Bishop of Toulouse, or of St. Lawrence the Martyr – who was one of the deacons of the Church in Rome? Did they find that keeping their Christian confession a virtual secret, while virtually behaving like the pagans, was a more effective way to “grow the church,” to be a more evangelical course of action? No. Not at all. They stood according the convictions of quickened conscience; by their doctrine they boldly asserted in the face of paganism what they were convinced was false and what was True; they demonstrated their doctrine in their Church practice and daily lives; and they suffered the temporal consequences. This course of action could not have been the design of any rational human. Could it? Death is so impractical, and so permanent – and so unnecessary for the creative thinker. It would have been so easy, and so easily justifiable, to do just the opposite! Yet, despite the irrationality of unswerving devotion to God's Word and the exercise of "other-worldly" Church practices and unpopular "prudish" lifestyles, we observe after the fact that God used the persecutions to drive heterodoxy out of the Church and to strengthen its unity in doctrine and practice, while the words and living examples of the martyrs – attesting to their immoveable faith in the certainty of God's promises – served to draw the unregenerate into relationship with Him and into His Church:
    To these protracted and cruel persecutions the church opposed no revolutionary violence, to carnal resistance, but the moral heroism of suffering and dying for the truth. But this very heroism was her fairest ornament and stanchest weapon. In this very heroism she proved herself worthy of her divine founder, who submitted to the death of the cross for the salvation of the world, and even prayed that his murderers might be forgiven.... In those hard times, men had to make earnest of the words of the Lord: Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27 KJV). He, that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me (Matt. 10:37-38 KJV). But then also the promise daily proved itself true: Blessed are they, who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:10 KJV). He, that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it (Matt. 10:39 KJV). And it applied not only to the martyrs themselves, who exchanged the troubled life of earth for the blessedness of heaven, but also to the church as a whole, which came forth purer and stronger from every persecution, and thus attested her indestructible vitality.

    These suffering virtues are among the sweetest and noblest fruits of the Christian religion. It is not so much the amount of suffering which challenges our admiration, although it was terrible enough, as the spirit with which the early Christians bore it. Men and women of all classes, noble senators and learned bishops, illiterate artisans and poor slaves, loving mothers and delicate virgins, hoary-headed pastors and innocent children approached their tortures in no temper of unfeeling indifference and obstinate defiance, but, like their divine Master, with calm self-possession, humble resignation, gentle meekness, cheerful faith, triumphant hope, and forgiving charity. Such spectacles must have often overcome even the inhuman murderer. “Go on,” says Tertullian tauntingly to the heathen governors, “rack, torture, grind us to powder: our numbers increase in proportion as ye mow us down. The blood of Christians is their harvest seed. Your very obstinacy is a teacher. For who is not incited by the contemplation of it to inquire what there is in the core of the matter? And who, after having joined us, does not long to suffer?”

    Unquestionably there were also during this period, especially after considerable seasons of quiet, many superficial or hypocritical Christians, who, the moment the storm of persecution broke forth, flew like chaff from the wheat, and either offered incense to the gods (thurificati, sacrificati), or procured false witness of their return to paganism (libellatici, from libellum), or gave up the sacred books (traditores). Tertullian relates with righteous indignation that whole congregations, with the clergy at the head, would at times resort to dishonorable bribes in order to avert the persecution of heathen magistrates. But these were certainly cases of rare exception. Generally speaking the three sorts of apostates (lapsi) were at once excommunicated, and in many churches, through excessive rigor, were even refused restoration.

    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. 75-76.
Christian Education and the Christianization of society
But the accumulation of raw numbers, by the Holy Spirit’s work through potent public witness to the Truth of God’s Word and the certainty of His promises, was not the only factor in the Christianization of pagan Rome. For new converts must be catechized, and for sufficient catechesis, they must be educated. And this is what the Church did, for old and young, male and female alike:
    [B]y about A.D. 150, Justin Martyr, often called the first great scholar of the Christian Church, established such catechetical schools, one in Ephesus and one in Rome. Soon these schools appeared in other regions. Some became well known... Although the teaching of Christian doctrine was the primary focus of these schools, some, such as the schools in Alexandria, also taught mathematics and medicine; and when Origen (‘the prince of Christian learning’) succeeded Clement at Alexandria, he added grammar classes to the curriculum... Their existence, says William Boyd, had far reaching effects. Through them, “Christianity became for the first time a definite factor in the culture of the World. [For example], Christians... appear to have been the first to teach both genders in the same setting... Instructing both men and women, as the early Christians did, was rather revolutionary... [In contrast, Roman] schools, says one educational historian, apparently only taught boys – and then only boys from the privileged class – in their gymnasia, while girls were excluded. In light of this ancient practice, Tatian, once a student in one of Justin Martyr’s catechetical schools, proclaimed that Christians taught everybody, including girls and women. W. M. Ramsay states that Christianity’s aim was ‘universal education, not education confined to the rich, as among the Greeks and Romans... and it [made] no distinction of gender.’ This practice produced results, for by the early fifth century, St. Augustine said that Christian women were often better informed in divine matters than the pagan male philosophers.

    Schmidt, A. (2004). How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. pp. 171-172.
This cultural influence, through a system of catechesis and general education which not only enabled the early Christians to read and understand their Greek and Latin Scriptures and to thus stand with all confidence in their teaching, but which also cultivated their intellect and trained them for a productive life in service toward their neighbor, had, by the time of Constantine the Great, yielded a tremendous change in Roman society:
    The Church had extended to all parts of the Empire... [and] had gained a high social position... Christian leaders, especially the teachers and the writers, had culture and education superior to that of the pagans. And the Christian literature of this period presupposed a well-educated Christian public... The Graeco-Roman world was Christianized...

    Qualben, L. (1964). A History of the Christian Church (4th Ed.). New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons. pg. 114.
This was the apex of religious and cultural change, not to mention economic and political strife, at which Constantine stood in 308 A.D., and from which he oversaw some of the most dramatic changes that the Empire would endure. Requiring a stable, patriotic, productive and cultured citizenry, and himself predisposed toward Christianity, Constantine made the following changes, many of which are considered inviolable in the West even today, all of which are still of great and positive impact:
    Constantine effected one of the greatest transformations in history. Before his death the Roman empire had largely emancipated itself from the old, pagan religions... While Christianity was not formally adopted by Constantine as the religion of the State, he virtually gave it this position. The privileges that had belonged to the religious institutions of old Rome were given to the Church, with several new ones added. He exempted the Christian clergy from military and municipal duties and their property from taxation (313 A.D.). He abolished various customs and ordinances offensive to Christians (315 A.D.). He gave the Catholic but not the heretical churches right to receive legacies (321 A.D.). He enjoined the civil observance of Sunday (321 A.D.). He contributed liberally to the building of churches, to the circulation of the Scriptures, and to the support of the clergy. The Catholic churches were given the privilege of asylum. He preferred Christians to fill the chief offices, surrounded himself with Christian councilors, and gave his sons a Christian education... He tried in every way to strengthen and to unify the Church. In 314 A.D. He called the Council of Arles to settle the Donatist controversy, and in 325 A.D. He called the first General Œcumenical Council of the Church, held at Nicæa in Asia Minor.

    Qualben, L. (1964). A History of the Christian Church (4th Ed.). New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons. pp. 117-118.
In summary:
    Under the inspiring influence of the spotless purity of Christ’s teaching and example... the Christian church from the beginning asserted the individual rights of man, recognized the divine image in every rational being, taught the common creation and common redemption, the destination of all for immortality and glory, raised the humble and the lowly, comforted the prisoner and captive, the stranger and the exile, proclaimed chastity as a fundamental virtue, elevated woman to dignity and equality with man, upheld the sanctity and inviolability of the marriage tie, laid the foundation of a Christian family and happy home, moderated the evils and undermined the foundations of slavery, opposed polygamy and concubinage, emancipated the children from the tyrannical control of parents, denounced the exposure of children as murder, made relentless war upon the bloody games of the arena and the circus, and the shocking indecencies of the theater, upon cruelty and oppression and every vice, infused into a heartless and loveless world the spirit of love and brotherhood, transformed sinners into saints, frail women into heroines, and lit up the darkness of the tomb by the bright ray of unending bliss in heaven.

    Christianity reformed society from the bottom, and built upwards until it reached the middle and higher classes, and at last the emperor himself. Then, soon after the conversion of Constantine it began to influence legislation, abolished cruel institutions, and enacted laws which breathe the spirit of justice and humanity. We may deplore the evils which followed in the train of the union of church and state, but we must not over look its many wholesome effects upon the Justinian code which gave Christian ideas an institutional form and educational power for whole generations to this day. From that time on also began the series of charitable institutions for widows and orphans, for the poor and the sick, the blind and the deaf, the intemperate and criminal, and for the care of all unfortunate – institutions which we search for in vain in any other but Christian countries.

    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. 385-386.
Confessors become Martyrs
The more the Church inches toward the World in her doctrine and practice, and in ideologies which impact them, the more we abdicate our distinctiveness, consign ourselves (at first) to Worldly thinking and practice for the sake of self-preservation (which swiftly turns to the desire of Worldliness), the closer we come to giving the World dominion over the Church, and inviting, once again, its violent persecution against us. But shouldn’t the Church’s teaching, like the Christian's faith, be immoveable? Why should it "inch toward" anything at all?

We Christians are Confessors, and as such stand facing the World in a state of Confession. If this confession is to be regarded as meaningful in any respect, it is required that we maintain our distinctiveness in teaching and practice. And make no mistake, as Confessors we are always one step away from Martyrdom, for the two words are closely related. Dr. Philip Schaff explains:
    Those who cheerfully confessed Christ before the heathen magistrate at peril of life, but were not executed, were honored as confessors. Those who suffered abuse of all kinds, and death itself, for their faith, were called martyrs or blood-witnesses.

    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). pg. 76.
The Confessor is the one who stands in the face of death, publicly holding to his faith in Christ. The Martyr is the one who meets the death he is threatened with. For the Confessor who goes on living, his life, in word and deed, immovably remains a living example of the confession he clinged to, even on threat of death, avoiding any speech or behaviour which would cause him to be seen as viewing his own life so cheaply as to give a false confession and be regarded a liar and hypocrite.

And this Christian State of Confession with respect to the World, and with respect to false teachers and religious sects, along with its close connection to potential martyrdom, is recognized by confessional Lutheranism as well. Each one of our confirmands takes the following oath:
    Do you, as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?

    The Lutheran Agenda. (1946). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. pg. 24
As hard as it is to fathom, if I am going to stand and die on the very Word of God and publicly assert its teachings, I can assure you, such will be nothing less than the very words of God themselves, including the form in which He breathed them, as much and as precisely as the English language can accommodate. I would consider him a fool who would publicly announce his convictions, and be willing to stand to the point of death on the merits and teaching of a gender neutral quasi-paraphrase of the Scriptures, such as the NIV 2011.

The World is still the Christian's Great Enemy
The World is still our enemy. The World still hates the followers of Christ. It always has. And it has always schemed and struggled to eradicate the World of Christianity. It attacks our Bible. It attacks the facts and teaching it contains. It mocks Christ. It mocks those who imitate Him. It erects barriers against Christians – in the realm of politics, business, and even social life. It destroys our education, vaunting the evolving priorities of society over the unchanging needs of Christianity – to read and understand the unalloyed words of God in order that one may confidently stand on them, and to serve one’s neighbor through Vocation for the sake of Christ. The World entices the Church, as a Siren in the shallows, that we may wreck our ship of faith on the shoals. In these ways, and in many others, the World seeks to rid itself of Christ’s influence. What shall be the response of a true Confessor? Our response ought to follow the example of the early Christian Martyrs. First, simply stand on the "odd," "irrelevant," and mightily hated Word of God, in all of its Truth and purity, regardless of what the World thinks of us or threatens to do to us on account of it. Second, retain our distinctive practices and lifestyles, and commitment to true and valid Christian Education, always standing ready to give a defense for the faith that is in us while working diligently in our Vocations in the interest of our neighbor, for the sake of Christ. Third, rid ourselves of those who would compromise God's Word or its teaching, no matter how subtly, who would have us conduct ourselves in a more Worldly and "relevant" fashion, and who would have God’s faithful follow them. Fourth, gracefully accept the consequences, even if it appears to mean the extinction of the Church itself. God, not us, rules His Church, and He providentially governs Creation for the benefit of the Church, His Bride. We need not worry over its demise.

The series concluded in this post, was posted in the following parts:

1 comment:

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

I should add as a post script, lest anyone be led to think that the early Church was left unscathed by the ordeal of the persecutions and the corruption of false teachers and pagan society: despite maintaining Christian peculiarity in a pagan society, despite its successful struggle to establish the canon of Scripture and hold on to its pure teaching, despite its rigorous Church discipline, despite the cleansing effect of the persecutions themselves, despite having grown dramatically in number and in cultural influence such that by the beginning of the Fourth Century it can be said, "The Graeco-Roman world was Christianized," it is also true that the Christian Church emerged from this period partly Romanized and also partly paganized. Professor Lars Qualben (cited above) mentions these facts directly, but it bears mentioning here, as well. For example, from the persecutions themselves, the honor initially given the confessors and martyrs was later, in the post-Nicene Church, vaunted as the veneration of the saints and their relics. From the pre-Christian pagan idea of an incurably evil world (also an element of Gnosticism, mentioned in Part 1), and the idea that holiness is a factor of the greatness of one's sacrifice for the sake of conscience, led, as early as 100 A.D., to the appearance of hermits (those who lived in seclusion for the sake of meditation) and of hermitages (hermits living in proximity). Hermits grew in popularity as the persecutions wore on, and eventually led to Monasticism. Also contributing to Monasticism, and to excessive and meritorious “ceremonæ” in the Church, were widely taught Gnostic teachings which stressed the importance of asceticism and highly ordered ritual.

As yet another example, as the Church ordered itself, the system of governance it increasingly adopted in many ways imitated the model of Imperial Rome, leading to the formation of a "ruling" class and a non-ruling "subordinate" class of Christian. This situation was exacerbated as toward the end of the period of the persecutions large numbers of pagans increasingly converted to Christianity, overrunning the Church’s ability to properly catechize them and maintain Church discipline. This resulted in a stark difference between laity and clergy, both in terms of their knowledge and unity in doctrine and in their relative morality, the latter fact developing into a general recognition of "higher" and "lower" morality corresponding to clergy and laity. Many of these issues (along with many others) were mere germs at the turn of the Fourth Century, in some cases not flowering into heresies until centuries later. It took until the Reformation to identify and solve many of them.

The point is, we must always be vigilant and prepared to root out old compromises which may have initially slipped in unawares as trivial things, but which today stand out as confusing or downright heretical, and prepared to reject the introduction of even the slightest compromises, no matter how well-meaning or “evangelical” they may appear, to honor the Truth we are stewards of, and to save future generations the strife of division as suc trivial compromises lead in the end to wrong thinking, teaching, and practice...

My Opinion

Mr. Douglas Lindee

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