Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. …
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
- Matthew 5:10-12, 44
“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.
- Luke 11:47-51
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
- James 1:2-3
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
- Luke 19:39-40
“The name of faction is deserved [not by Christians but] by those who conspire to slander good and virtuous men, who cry out against innocent blood. They justify their enmity by the groundless plea that Christians are the cause of every public disaster, of every affliction visited upon the people. If the Tiber rises to the city walls or the Nile does not rise to the ﬁelds, if the heavens stay still or the earth moves, if there is famine or plague, the cry is at once: ‘The Christians to the lion’. What! So many of them to one lion? (Tertullian, Apology 40)
“Your cruelty [against us} does not proﬁt you, however exquisite. Instead, It tempts people to our sect. As often as you mow us down, the more we grow in number. The blood of the Christians is the seed [of the church] …The very obstinacy you criticize teaches for us. For who on seeing it is not excited to enquire what lies behind it? Who, having enquired, does not embrace our faith? (Tertullian, Apology 50)”
- Tony Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought
Tertullian (155?-220?) has been called the father of Latin Theology and the founder of Western Theology. He was born Quintas Septimus Florens Tertullianus in Carthage, northern Africa.
He is not to be confused with Tertullus (Acts 24:1) who was hired by the high priest to press charges against Paul in court held by the governor Felix. The charges were false and Felix could not find any evidence to support the claims of Tertullus, but Felix enjoyed hearing Paul talk, thus he kept him imprisoned in Caesarea.
Tertullian on the other hand, lived about one hundred years later. He carried on the work of Justin Martyr in that he wrote to argue against Gnosticism. See Exposing “Hidden Mysteries” from last week. But Tertullian was more prolific. At least more of his writings have been preserved. And he wrote about more things than refuting Gnosticism, such as the quotes above.
The Emperor Nero set an ugly ball in motion, or rock, or simply using the Christians as the excuse du jour. Many think he started the fire that burned Rome. Some say he played the harp or fiddle as Rome burned. But what is known about the incident is that the Christians were blamed for the fire and Christian persecution by the Romans started at that time. But here about one hundred years after the Roman fire, Tertullian is talking about Rome making the Christians the excuse for whatever happens anywhere in the empire. At this point, throwing the Christians to the lions was the usual sport to rid themselves of this “sect”.
Note that even Tertullian calls it a sect. There may have been a structure of bishops about this time, but the first lead bishop in Rome was Pope Leo I (440-461AD). And only the Western (Roman) church accepted the Pope as the only Pope. Often bishops throughout the Christian churches could be called “Pope”. Yet, calling Christianity a sect dates back to the earliest formation of the church where the church was basically a sect of Judaism, with its followers believing that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Tertullian wrote his texts during the transition from a sect of Judaism and when Emperor Constantine was converted and made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire (313AD). Somewhere in that period, especially with the growth of the church being largely among the Gentiles, Christianity was considered a religion on its own.
And also note what Tertullian observes any time the Christians are persecuted. People want to know what it is that is so powerful that you are willing to die for your belief. And as Tertullian says, once you meet Jesus, you won’t go back.
The Christians faced death bravely. Their faith was strong, and they knew what awaited them on the other side. For a world of people who were, above all other fears, afraid of death, this reaction to being thrown to the lions was in the least curious.
Is it not marvelous that God can take some of the worst evil and grow His church?
Note the churches that are growing today. They are often in the areas where Christians are openly being persecuted. There is something curious about a group of people that do not fear death and people who will face persecution rather than denounce their religion.
In the western world, churches are lamenting that their membership is dropping off. People are crying out to God that this must be a sign of the End Times. Some think that the major denominations will die off, probably from apostasy. But note what Jesus told the Pharisees during His triumphal entry. Basically, “If you silence my people, the stones will cry out.”
God’s church will survive until the End Times, but the test of the denominations out there now is to see whether they go the way of the world, toward ultimate destruction, or they stand firm on the foundation of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures?
The choice is ours, individually, as a church, and as a denomination.
I may return to Tertullian for a couple of weeks more.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.