Modern Christians like to point with pride to their First Century counterparts, but do they really comprehend what they were standing – and suffering for, in light of Christian theology?
“Get it right, folks,” says Doug Giles in a recent article at ClashDaily.com, “It wasn’t the church’s belief that Jesus is God, or their love of covered dish dinners, or their Christian rock music that got them the ax; it was their holy defiance to the demonic edicts that Caesar attempted to slap them with.”
Well said. Rome could care less if the church of Christ had simply assumed it’s place in the pantheon of gods representing all of the empire’s conquered peoples. Normally, Rome considered religion, even Christian theology, a kind of social cement to pacify the populace and provide cultural stability.
MYTH: The 1st Century Christians were sent to the lions because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
If that is a myth, why then was Rome so upset with the Christians? Why were they upset enough, like Herodias, to want their heads on a silver platter?
Why The Early Christians Were Sent To The Lions
1) In reality the early Christians were sent to the lions for political reasons, not Christian theology, per se, because of their insistence that Rome was subject to the Kingship of Jesus Christ.
The die was cast with the ministry of John the Baptist, who boldly approached Herod’s throne and confronted the local representative of Rome with the claims of God’s law. “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” was the sum and substance of John’s message to Herod (Mk. 6:18).
The message was crystal clear. There was no aspect of Herod’s life that was immune from the authority of King Jesus. Not even Herod’s personal life was exempt as so many would have it today.
In addition to the “simple gospel,” the church insisted on proclaiming the crown rights of King Jesus. That is, Rome must model her judicial system on the Mosaic law. Rome was not excited about this challenge to the Imperial authority.
2) Another reason the Christians ended up in the coliseum was their refusal to submit to the licensing requirements of Caesar. Instead of submitting to Christ, Rome was intent on licensing the Church of Christ. A licensed church is a kept church.
According to Peter Crenshaw incorporation of all “spontaneous collectivities of persons” became mandatory throughout the Roman Empire by 6 A.D. The leaders of the church refused to incorporate and that refusal resulted in their persecution.
The churches saw incorporation under the empire as a denial of the Lordship of Christ. Because a corporation is by definition “a creature of the state,” to incorporate was to make Caesar their creator rather than Yahweh.
This issue that the early Christians thought worth dying for, has become a matter of mere administrative convenience for most of the churches in America. Rather than a free church in a free state, modern churchmen would rather have the alleged benefits of submission to the state, with little thoughT of the impact on Christian theology. And so the church is muzzled, irrelevant and in the words of Christ, not good for much “except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Mt. 5:13).
3) In addition, the early church challenged the Roman emperor’s claims to deity. Not only did the Roman emperor refuse to submit to the law of God, in many cases he proclaimed himself to be god or demanded worship of the Roman gods.
For example, Nero in the latter part of his reign “practiced incessantly as an artist-performer. Seeing himself as a shining divinity, likened to the sun, to be applauded and adored by the plebeian masses (indeed it seems his music and theatrical compositions were not without success).”
Later emperors demanded that the Christians worship the gods of Rome, which they of course were unwilling to do in light of Christian theology. In 303 a series of edicts was issued by Diocletian “rescinding the legal rights of Christians and demanding that they comply with traditional Roman religious practices. Later edicts targeted the clergy and demanded universal sacrifice, ordering all inhabitants to sacrifice to the gods. Christians were compelled to sacrifice to Roman gods or face imprisonment and execution” (Wikipedia).
Modern State Claims to Deity
Mythbusters notes the following parallels between 1st Century Rome and modern America. Now as then we have a state pretending to the throne of God and – while not overtly religious — making even more intrusive godlike claims to omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence.
1) Omnipotence. Christian theology limits the role of civil government to the trial of alleged violations of the law of God that have been committed within its jurisdiction. The Word of God teaches that the state is to be reactive, not proactive in its police powers. Christian theology does not permit the civil magistrate to impose reams of regulations on its citizens, which it enforces proactively with an army of bureaucrats and oppressive fines.
Instead, the locus of enforcement shifts to the individual, who is motivated by total liability for any violations of Biblical law. For example, if an individual starts a fire and it spreads to a neighbor’s property, he is liable for damages (Ex. 22:6). However, he is not subject to fines for starting the fire as long as he keeps it contained.
2) Omnipresence. It’s a completely different story in modern America. These regulations extend like tentacles into every nook and cranny of American life, thus strangling legitimate Biblical freedom.
3) Omniscience. The IRS demands to know every aspect of the individual’s personal affairs, contrary to the law of the land. More recently surveillance cameras and TSA style searches have violated the person of air travelers and are now being extended to land transportation.
Case Closed: The state is at peace with a church that voluntarily places herself under state authority and meekly acquiesces to its every demand. The early Christians were not sent to the lions simply because they believed in Jesus.
They resisted the pressures to accept state licensing and worship the emperor, insisting instead that Rome was subject to the law of Christ (not to the church). For this cause they were willing to die in the Coliseum. It remains to be seen if the modern American church will follow in the glorious footsteps of her forefathers.
The church should be taking the lead in resisting all of the above-mentioned, godlike claims to total sovereignty by the civil magistrate. To date she has not.