Christianity, from its infancy through it's maturing during the Apostolic
Age knew persecution of various levels and forms. Historically the years
100-325 are known for heightened persecution earning the title, "Period
Christianity had been separated from Judaism and the separation was
a result in part due to prescribed persecution: A persecution which
killed separated and pursued any who called themselves followers of
Jesus. During the Apostolic age, a faith refined by the furnace of suffering
impelled followers of Christ into all lands and peoples. As they went,
they took the core of their infectious and sustaining beliefs with them.
In our day we have seen just as much persecution in the world and all
its various forms from social shunning to the ultimate torture and murder
of believers. Sources claim today's persecution is more so than all
previous ages of Christianity combined!
The devastation is real, yet so is the truth as Tertullian put it,
"the blood of Christians is their seed."
The Effects of Persecution in Personal Lives,
And In the Church
From personal experience I can say that suffering, in any form, causes
one to seriously think through what one believes about the world, the
God of creation and the purpose one has in this life. For the early
church and the age following it was no different. Suffering forced doctrinal
clarity, opened the forum for collating the canon of the Scriptures
and sealed the Bible as the source by which one would have a standing.
Suffering came from internal and external sources - both from within
the church and from the outside: government and anti-Christ practices.
These arenas of suffering shaped the church and two general effects
can be seen as a result of these points of pain.
A Strong Universal Church: Forged by Persecution Suffering from
without served to strengthen and spread the Church universal. "…persecution
was always poised above them." "The fact remained, the Christian as
a Christian was legally and outlaw. 'Public hatred," says Tertullian,
"asks but one thing, not the investigation of crimes charged, but simply
the confession of the Christian name."
This confession is what scripture declares as the overcoming power.
Persecution has paved the way for believers all over the face of the
earth. As the suffering followers flee persecution, and they are preyed
upon by the enemy of the cross, the church is flung to the far reaches
and takes root springing to life all the more. Strength and newness
of life was discovered by those who watched the public stand for Christ.
This new birth also added to the church by causing motive for believers
to disperse, taking the message of Jesus with them.
Persecution from Within: A Cause for Clarity and Unified Purpose
Affliction from within came as a direct result of heresy and false
beliefs. Varying beliefs would alienate one "Christian" from another,
one local body became pitted against a neighboring gathering. Anti-Christian
sentiment was fueled by the beliefs and teachings of such ones as Marcion,
(Old Testament God not the God of the NT), Montanus, (culprit of extra
Biblical Prophecy and rejection of Christ as central compared to the
Spirit), Gnostics, Hellenists and others who wrestled with the philosophy
of faith and accepted views contrary to Orthodoxy.
How was the Church to Survive, Adapt and Transform the World?
The Scripture was wonderfully canonized; core doctrines were articulated
for the learned; truth was recorded by history forever to be examined
- believed and challenged. As a rule, no new thing under the sun is
adverse to the faith, and nothing will be able to destroy true faith.
Suffering, anguish of mind, examination of belief… all these work together
for the ultimate glory of God. That is how God has designed it.
I do not have to be comfortable with this, but I can trust I will find
this a comfort as I experience suffering and as I seek to comfort those
who suffer for the Name above all others! God does not give us all the
answers as to why this is how it will be. He tells us in John 16:33
that this will indeed be the case for His Apostles, why wouldn't it
be this way for us then?
What Shall Be Our Commitment?
Jesus also assures us that comfort can be found, because He has overcome
the world. As I reflect on these things I find both a morbid curiosity
to know how much suffering people have known, I find a gut wrenching
feeling as I begin to feel the pain, I discover a fear of losing myself,
those I love and those I am called to serve in this life. I find also
that I need the Savior! Praise God that he has provided just what I
need. Persecution of every kind is not directed at believers so much
as it is directed against God himself. How he must anguish and suffer!
How much weight he must feel. I cannot wait for the Day of the Lord
to come! My feeble being is not as patient with myself or the world
as he most certainly is. "Thank you Lord for your Mercy - Save your
people, listen to the cry of the afflicted! Turn your ear, hear our
cry, comfort the broken, heal the wasted and dying, rescue the perishing!!!"