Yesterday, we briefly defined this as follows:
“Conscience” is the seat of an individual’s identity, and is composed of what the individual is convinced is True as inseparable from the reality of his own existence. To deny conscience is to separate oneself from that reality. It is unthinkable for the person with a genuine connection to his own identity; he would rather die than suffer such separation.On March 27, 2014, in our post The Descent of the Contemporary Church into Cultural Narcissism, however, we discussed the term in greater detail, tying it Dr. Martin Luther’s historic Stand at the Diet of Worms. That post featured a recording entitled, Growing in Grace & Knowledge, a title taken from St. Peter’s admonition to “Grow in the Grace and Knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pe. 3:18), admonition which is impossible to heed without deliberately engaging the intellect.
But many Christians, including many Lutherans, have been taught to distrust the intellect – “Reason is the enemy of faith,” after all. Even though Luther meant by this the use of Reason over and against the clear teaching of Scripture, many, in my recent experience, choose to chuck reason entirely out the window rather than give it a foothold, and immediately resort to the accusation “But that’s reason,” when one of their cherished falsehoods is challenged by a thoughtful, Scripturally sound and persuasive argument. They forget that Luther more famously said
“Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason... I am bound by the Scriptures... my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God, and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience.”Conscience. We’ve used that term many many times here on Intrepid Lutherans. Indeed, three titles worth reviewing with respect to this term include the following: Luther emphasizes this fact as well, as he faced the Emperor and certain death, by calling upon human conscience – what he was convinced was True – as the basis for standing in the face of error and refusing to recant that Truth. And Christian conscience is founded on what God has given to mankind: His Word and human faculty, coordinate, the latter in submission to the former.
(Schwiebert, E. (1950). Luther and His Times. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. pp. 504-505.)
“What have you to live for?” is supposed to be the question one is encouraged to consider as he counts his blessings and in them finds the motivation to continue onward in life. But it is a question which cannot be sufficiently considered at all apart from the more serious question, “What are you willing to die for?” It is only in this latter question that one is brought into direct contact with his conscience and fully engages his self-identity, as he is forced to grapple with Truth and Falsehood in their grandest conception, in their most objective and meaningful reality. For the true Christian, that identity is defined by his identity in Christ, baptized (Ga. 3:26-29) and redeemed (Ga. 3:11-14), standing, through faith alone, within the shelter of God’s Saving Grace (Ro. 5:1-2).
Grace. Knowledge. Growth. As the Church not only succumbs to post-Modernism, and other forms of Cultural Narcissism, but fully embraces worldly thinking, it is being denied a collective Christian conscience with the courage, confidence and capacity to identify, confront and repudiate the errors hurled at it by the world, and individual Christians are being robbed of the cultivated faculties necessary to adequately consider and react to the withering attacks of the world against Christ, the Church, and against them, individually.
Unless Christians are in touch with their Christian Conscience – unless they know specifically what they believe is immutably True, why they believe it and how it impacts their thinking, speaking and doing – they are unable, ultimately, to issue any sort of meaningful public Confession.
Yesterday, we briefly defined this essentially as follows:
Confession is issued by a person who, called upon by his persecutors to deny his own Conscience, REFUSES, and who, instead, gives a clear defense for his convictions and submits himself to their persecution.Confession, in this sense, is NOT something a person does anonymously, or in the privacy of a little box called a “confessional”; rather, Confession is issued IN PUBLIC, and IN THE FACE OF CERTAIN EXECUTION. The person who issues a Confession is referred to as a Confessor – and to such we Lutherans refer, for example, when we speak of those who presented the Augsburg Confession to Emperor Charles V as being Confessors.
On December 8, 2011, in our post “Relevance,” and Mockery of the Holy Martyrs – Conclusion, we discussed the term Confession in greater detail, citing the example of the Holy Martyrs from the First Ten Persecutions of the Church, and demonstrating how individual Christians engaged in a lifestyle of living Confession, multiplied across society, have tremendously positive, civilization-defining impact:
Make no mistake, the World venomously hates Christians, and has waged war against the New Testament Church 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, 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:
Jan Hus at the Council of Constance, 1415
“I call God to witness, that I have never taught nor written those things which on false testimony they impute to me; but my declarations, teachings, writings in fine, all my works, have been intendd and shaped toward the object of rescuing dying men from the tyranny of sin. Wherefore I will this day gladly seal that truth which I have taught, written, and proclaimed – established by divine law, and by holy teachers – by the pledge of my death”
“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. (Lu. 14:27). ‘He, that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me’ (Mt. 10:37-38). 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’ (Mt. 5:1). ‘He, that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it’ (Mt. 10:39). 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.Christian Education and the Christianization of society
“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.
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.”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:
Schmidt, A. (2004). How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. pp. 171-172.
“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...”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:
Qualben, L. (1964). A History of the Christian Church (4th Ed.). New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons. pg. 114.
“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.”And in summary, through the persecutions suffered by Christians that resulted from continuing to make a living Confession of their Christian Conscience, the following was accomplished by God in Society, and remains at the foundation of Western Civilization:
Qualben, L. (1964). A History of the Christian Church (4th Ed.). New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons. pp. 117-118.
“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.
What is Martyrdom?
Yesterday, we briefly defined this essentially as follows:
Martyrdom is the fate suffered by the Confessor at the hands of his persecutors.Many American Christians believe the illusion that no one in the World suffers for their Christian faith. This is not true. Throughout the world there are those who are not only free, but encouraged to act on their hatred of Christ and His followers. Such hatred is growing in America, as well; and it is encouraged by the most powerful institutions of our Nation: the media, academia and the State.
Many others believe the lie that their public confession ought to have no impact on the society in which they live, have no voice in public affairs, have no consideration whatsoever in the legal and political structures of their civilization, and that their voiceless Christian Quietism will afford them the luxury of believing as they please, in peace and quiet, unmolested by a world that would hate them, if they only knew that they existed. It sticks in their craw that the Holy Martyrs dared open their mouths in public, offended their pagan neighbors with their religion, openly disobeyed the governing authorities who ordered them to stop, and worse, that across the growing mass of believers over the first few centuries, a consistent public Confession and a REFUSAL to submit to the will of their unbelieving enemies formed the civilization known as Christendom – which we now today refer to as Western Civilization.
Most, however, are oblivious. Living in a world wrought for them through millenia of Christian persecution, they leach from society the benefits won for them by others, neither thinking of their obligation to struggle on behalf of the generations which will follow, nor willing to do so even if the thought occurred to them.
In the opening post of our series on the Martyrs and the mockery the memory of their sacrifices suffer at the hands of those who prefer the “Relevance” that friendship with the World buys them, “Relevance,” and Mockery of the Holy Martyrs – Introduction, we introduced the topic of Martyrdom and the source of the Christian’s willingness to suffer persecution, torture and death: the precious Word of Truth, the Message of the Gospel to a Fallen and destitute race.
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.And, in the final post of that series, “Relevance,” and Mockery of the Holy Martyrs – Conclusion, we concluded with the following words:
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...
“[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.
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.
The Martyrdom of Dr. Robert Barnes, 1540
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
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 Syren 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.