This week Dr. James Dobson predicted that American Christians would soon be a hated minority; however, his timing is wrong: True Christians are already a hated minority and they always have been.
Rome was an empire of legions, law, luxury, and license where Christians were hated because of their creed, conduct, and character; however, what generated massive persecution was their refusal to accept emperor-worship or adhere to laws that conflicted with the Bible. Diocletian was considered a god and was addressed as “Most Sacred Lord” and visitors to his court had to kneel and kiss the hem of his garment. Of course, many high-minded Romans smiled at the pretentious emperors but the Roman elite could live with the regal pretentions since it did not conflict with their convictions–-and it was safer. Christians were offended and many refused to recognize his deity. The fact is that Christians have always been hated even while they were respected for their courage, character, and commitment.
Christians could be and often were taken into court as violators of standing legislation against “treason, sacrilege, membership in a foreign cult, and the practice of forbidden magic, or for belonging to an unauthorized association.” Many of the charges against them were bogus such as the practice of magic but often the spurious charges turned into convictions with penalties that often resulted in the death penalty.
In 250, Emperor Decius tried to restore pagan religion by requiring sacrifice to the pagan gods and those who complied were given certificates confirming their obedience to the government. Some Christians who did not sacrifice purchased certificates attesting that they had done so. Those certificates, or libelli, were required of all inhabitants of the Empire, citizens and non-citizens. Tertullian declared that some churches bought themselves off en masse. Still other Christians sent their servants to sacrifice for them. So, Christians have not always taken a principled position but then no one says they did. Christians are not perfect, only born again, and when we sin, we must recognize it, repent of it and refuse to do it again.
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During the days in which Christianity was spreading, the Roman Empire abounded with voluntary associations, collegia. Many of them were organized for the public good and all were associated with some pagan god and they met in a pagan temple. Some associations provided their members with funeral services; some were business related while others were for athletics. Often members shared a common meal. One historian wrote, “Some were recognized by the government, collegia licita. Some, collegia illicita, were not so licensed.” Most churches refused official approval and were hated as trouble makers, atheists, and outlaws.
In 257, under Emperor Valerian, Christians were threatened with death if they met in their church assemblies or if they even entered Christian cemeteries. Moreover, specific action was taken against the associations of Christians. The churches had been among the collegia illicita, which meant that they were not officially licensed and could be prosecuted at the whim of the sitting dictator.
Some churches formed funeral associations to provide some semblance of legitimacy but that did not guarantee official acceptance or deceive anyone. One historian wrote, “Now by the edict, Christian assemblies were singled out for proscription and the loophole of meeting as burial clubs was stopped up.” Roman officials were not deceived by the “funeral clubs,” since they were obviously churches.
When many independent churches became “the Church” approved by the government, there was a change from simple preachers to secularized priests, from organism to organization. It was now Church, not Christ. There were some Church Fathers but no Great Missionaries. Education replaced evangelism. The Cross had been the symbol of shame and ignominy but by the time of Constantine it became the sign of privilege and prestige and power. The clergy were exempt from military service and taxes, so of course, many wealthy people became priests. The church leaders were worldly, wealthy, but not wise. With these changes in morals and mores there came a change in motives and methods. No longer was godly living preferred, preached, and practiced but the church leaders planned to set up a kingdom “here and now.” Religion and politics were now intermingled. Like today, the church was worldly and the government used the church for its own purposes.
As the Roman Empire crumbled it was only natural for fearful citizens to look for safety, stability, and security and they chose the Christian religion to meet their needs. Troubled officials hugged the church and the church, liking the embrace, hugged back. Thus began an illicit affair that destroyed churches, families, even nations. That illicit affair between church and state is going on today.
Genuine Christians are still hated because of creed, conduct, and character. We demand that the abortion holocaust cease; that marriage has always been, is now, and will always be between a man and a woman; that government butt out of our homes and permit parents to rear decent, loving, and obedient children; and that all governments stay out of our churches and Christian schools.
Most modern churches are willing to follow government requirements to keep them in good relationship with the authorities. It is evident that many modern churches are far from the New Testament church model. No one wants to be hated and considered as the Apostle Paul wrote, “the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.”
The world still hates genuine Christians as it always has and it also despises the sing-song hypocrites among us.
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