#tbt – Throwback Thursday, a look back at the story of the Christian Church and having a think as to what we can learn today from them.
It was very early on that Christians began to be persecuted. In fact, the whole thing started off in persecution. As Jesus was arrested the followers of him were threatened with punishment if they admitted they knew him. Right from the off the Christians were persecuted for following Jesus of Nazareth. But from early on, many (and I'm talking MANY) refused to stop following and believing in Jesus. And the authorities hated it, and did all they could to stop it. As we can see today, they failed in their attempts. But they certainly tried.
Various leaders, Emperors, people groups, governments, and individuals have persecuted Christians. One of the early persecutors (and the most known) was Emperor Nero. He did not like the Christians one bit – and took every opportunity to try to bring them down.
In 64AD there was a devastating fire in Rome that took days to stop it. The are a variety of thoughts as to who caused this – many saying that it was actually caused by Nero himself. But for Nero, there was one group who would be the natural targets to accuse. The Christians. They rapidly were given the blame for this and other things, and were persecuted more. Many Christians over this time and the whole of history have been martyred standing up for their faith. When faced with severe physical and emotional pain, thousands refused to give up, and refused to deny Christ. Where Nero and others thought this persecution would slow down and stop Christianity, it didn't. When Jesus said that He will 'build His church, and the gates of hell will not stand against it', he meant it.
This truth didn't stop the persecution though. Christians were the butt of many jokes, found themselves discriminated against most of the time, and were at worst tortured and killed for their faith, and often were refused basic rights. They were often called and considered to be:
- Athiests: as they denied the existence of other Gods.
- Cannibals: as they 'ate the body and drank the blood of their founder'.
- Incestuous: as they referred to one another as brother and sister, and talked about their love for one another.
- Killjoys: as they would often not engage with some of the pagan activities.
These accusations seem ridiculous now eh, and almost laughable! But the reality is that this was not merely schoolboy banter. T hese accusations were followed up by vicious persecution. A Roman Historian called 'Tacitus' shed a little light on the reality of what they went through when he wrote:
“In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights.”
This was severe. This was extreme. And as I sit and write this post, I'm also flicking to the BBC news website reading the latest of the Islamic State Militants who have been brutally killing many Christians if they had not fled. A friend of our church Canon Andrew White (known as the Vicar of Bagdad) was recently interviewed by the BBC discussing what he has been witness to recently in Iraq. You can see it again here. It's happening today. In our days. This isn't something that happened a long time ago but not longer. It's happening now. Mothers, fathers and children are facing terrible atrocities far beyond what I'll likely experience in my life on earth. I'm praying for peace for our brothers and sisters in those dangerous places around the world. We in the UK are in a privileged place where persecution is minimal in comparison to that of others, it's something I'm so thankful to God for.
Going back to the first century now. The beautiful reality through this awful point in the early church, however, is that the church advanced. Despite this persecution from the Romans (which eventually got banned by a future Roman Emperor), Christianity grew. More and more people came to know Jesus, more and more people received Him into their lives, and many gave up their lives for Him, in all the various meanings of the phrase. But the church grew. God's kingdom advanced.
The reality is that despite what we go through individually, we can grow through it. We can become stronger through it. Despite persecution God's church can (and will) grow. What may be close to impossible to see right now, will happen. The same is for us as individuals. Despite what you have been through and go through – you can grow through it. Romans 8:28 says that 'in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.' I believe it and amidst the days we are in, lets hold onto it's truth.