Images of Christians being eaten by lions or slaughtered by gladiators in Rome’s Colosseum can be found in many of the West’s museums of art. Oddly, many of these paintings were commissioned by the Church to recall our less than auspicious beginnings.
From the crucifixion of Jesus to the stoning of Stephen, to the persecution of Saul, the Church got off to a precarious start. In its attempt to squash this new, blasphemous religion the Roman Empire did more to coalesce early Christian resolve than they could have imagined.
By the early 3rd century thousands of “Christ followers” had been tortured, crucified, and ripped apart by lions. Because of their sacrifices, many people saw the principles of the Christian faith as a viable alternative to the gods of Rome. One such martyr was a young convert to Christ named Perpetua. Her death in the arena served to solidify the faith in a myriad of Christians who followed, including Augustine.
In the early 4th century, Roman Emperor Constantine (272-337 CE) declared Christianity the official religion of the empire, leaving Christians alone to believe what they wanted. This act (some say on Constantine’s deathbed) changed the lot of the Church forever. The Roman government had cleared the way for the early Christians to spread their beliefs freely; and spread they did.
“Missionaries” ventured forth into the unknown to tell people of the salvation found in Christ. From China in the East to Gaul and Britannia in the West, individuals with godly passion and personal dedication spread the message of Jesus wherever they went. Roman roads, designed to move Rome’s troops rapidly throughout the Empire, now carried the Gospel to the ends of the known world. The Church grew and expanded. And it also became enormously wealthy, possessing lands and holdings funded by her adherents, sometimes willingly, other times, not so much. Eventually, this wealth resulted in a vicious rivalry between Church leaders and Feudal Lords; both vying for political power and possessions.
Many Monastic orders grew out of the perceived divisions and commercializing of the church. Men and women would cloister themselves in monasteries for scripture study, service, and escape. These movements, and others like them, began the separation of the church from society. However, some sets their minds to preserve the codex of Scripture, provide “monastic escapes” for those who required silence, secrecy, and protection. And they provided basic life sustenance for their surrounding communities.
However, they never understood the importance of being IN the community, rather than an evasion from it.
A story— One of the men I mentor is teaching a course on 21st Century Evangelism. When two of the students learned that we were actually going to talk with a real“nonChristian” they dropped out of the class. What have we come to? Should we build more walls and defend ourselves against the onslaught of our “evil” society?
What will it cost you to engage your world?