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Monday, February 25, 2013

Into the faith divide: New Testament scholar says early Christians weren’t persecuted

A woman I met recently would be terrified by this book (details below). She holds fast to the orthodox view of Christianity and even wonders if the American form of Christianity has unwittingly doomed her to an eternity in Hell.

To question anything about the faith or a traditional view of that faith is heresy to her mind. That's not an exaggeration and it is not a put down, just an explanation about why some people feel attacked by any talk of gay marriage or anything else of the kind. It is not about civil rights or equal rights, it is about the bedrock of Christianity itself, that once you begin to question parts of it, or some of its supposed tenets, then the entire thing might crumble, putting their souls in jeopardy.

While she was relaying her beliefs, she almost came to tears just thinking about the possibility that she was somehow unwittingly deceived even though she loves God and follows Christ's edicts as best she can tell. I'm inquisitive by nature, which is sometimes helpful, sometimes not so much. But the sorts of questions and topics I raise are not debate points or things that need a fuller hearing to that woman. They are existential threats. She is not alone. How to speak across that divide?

Early Christians weren’t persecuted

From the piece:

Christians wound up in Roman courts for any number of reasons, but when they got there, they were prone to announcing, as a believer named Liberian once did, “that he cannot be respectful to the emperor, that he can be respectful only to Christ.” Moss compares this to “modern defendants who say that they will not recognize the authority of the court or of the government, but recognize only the authority of God. For modern Americans, as for ancient Romans, this sounds either sinister or vaguely insane.” It didn’t help that early Christians developed a passion for martyrdom. Suffering demonstrated both the piety of the martyr and the authenticity of the religion itself, and besides, it earned you an immediate, first-class seat in heaven. (Ordinary Christians had to wait for Judgment Day.) There were reports of fanatics deliberately seeking out the opportunity to die for their faith, including a mob that turned up at the door of a Roman official in Asia Minor, demanding to be martyred, only to be turned away when he couldn’t be bothered to oblige them.

Moss cannot be called a natural or fluent writer, but she is thorough, strives for clarity and is genuinely fired up in her concern for the influence of the myth of martyrdom on Western societies. “The idea of the persecuted church is almost entirely the invention of the 4th century and later,” she writes. 

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