Saturday, August 14, 2004

Talkin' Persecution Blues...

Joe Carter, at Evangelical Outpost, had a post a week or so ago titled, Buying a Ticket: How Evangelicals Can Tranform Our Culture, in which he states, regarding the impact of Christians on today’s culture,
So why are we so ineffectual? Why have we not transformed the world in the same way that Christians in early times have done? The reason why is simple. Unlike those who have come before us, we are not disciples, we are not saints. _____ Christ has set us free and removed the shackles of our sinful nature. So what is it that's stopping us? Nothing less than a complete lack of desire. We simply don’t want to stop sinning. We don't want to stop doing evil much less actively work toward becoming more like Christ. _____ …If twelve Jewish men from a backwater Roman province can change the course of history, what could we do with 14-16 million disciples? If evangelical Christians truly want to change our culture we need to do more than argue, protest, and pray. We need to become disciples of Christ. Once we commit to becoming disciples, there is no limit to how God can use us. If we would just buy the ticket, the whole world would reap the windfall.
Dave, over at Welcome to the Planet, had a recent post titled, Competing for Time, in which he says,
Time. It is an interesting concept. No matter how we slice it, we only have 24 hours in a day. I often use to think that if only there were more time in a day, then I could be more productive. …I think one of the most difficult choices to make is the choice for God and the choice to be in worship and community with other believers and seekers. Let's be honest for a minute, it is easy to find time for everything else in our lives other than God. God often takes the backseat. In our community, you won't see some people in church all summer. After all these are prime months for sailing, camping, hiking, vacationing in Hawaii, golfing, swimming, going to the cabin, softball...
Despite the continued cultural attacks on the Judeo-Christian worldview it is simply too easy to be a Christian in the 21st century Western world. There is very little need for us to depend on God. In the May 2004 issue of Touchstone magazine, Mike Aquilina has an article titled, Salt of the Empire: The Role of the Christian Family in Evangelization (not available on-line). In it, Aquilina relies on a book by agnostic sociologist Rodney Stark. Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity, details how the early Church maintained a growth rate of 40% per decade from its inception up to the time of Constantine. What is interesting to note is that Constantine gets no credit for this, since most of the growth occurred before his conversion. Aquilina writes:
To be a Christian was not easy in the year 300. It cost something. Whether or not you were martyred, you had to pay with your life. Christians were laying their lives on the line every time they attended the liturgy, and they continued to do so through the course of every day.
According to Stark, most converts were women, and came not only from the poor but from the mid and upper classes. Consider the typical living conditions of the time, per Aquilina:
…All but the rich lived in cramped, smoky tenements – one family to a small room, with no ventilation or plumbing – which frequently collapsed or burned. The cities were horribly crowded, a city like Antioch having perhaps 200 people per acre, plus livestock (modern Calcutta has only 122 people per acre). Constant immigration meant that the cities were peopled by strangers, with the resulting crime and disorder, so that the streets were not safe at night and families were not even safe in their homes.
Add to this the resulting epidemics due to filthy living conditions, pagan marriage practices where the woman was usually married off at 11 or 12, perverted marriage relationships, and female infanticide. Yet the Church not only survived, but it flourished in this culture. Per Aquilina,
But Christian marriage and childrearing immediately set Christians apart. According to Stark, Christian husbands and wives genuinely tried to love one another, as their religion required. Their mutual affection and their openness to fertility led to a higher birthrate, and thus to a still higher growth rate for the early Church. They did not abort their children, nor did husbands endanger their wives’ lives by doing so.
The impact that Christianity had on families did not stop at the front door. Christian charity flourished and was noted by non-Christians.
The pagans tended only to take care of those in their group. While pagans would only help their brothers, Christians treated all men as their brothers. And the pagans took notice. The wicked emperor Julian, who despised all Christians… had to grudgingly admit their charity: “The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well. Everyone can see that our poor lack aid from us.”

Aguilina provides at least six lessons that our modern Church could learn from the early Church:

1) Come to see your home as a domestic church. 2) Make your domestic church a haven of charity. 3) Make your domestic church a place of prayer. 4) Know that, as a domestic church, you are “on mission.” 5) Cultivate the virtue of hope. 6) Live by the teachings of the Church.

In our culture, to consciously make an effort to become a better disciple, to focus our primary concerns on the ways of God, to truly understand who we are by acknowledging who He is, can be exceedingly difficult. How much easier it would be if the decision was, if you will, made for us. In praying that our Western world Christians make a significant and vital impact on our culture, we may be inadvertently bringing future persecution into our midst. If so, then the jig will be up, and we will find out just what it means to share in the sufferings of Christ*, and whether or not we will choose to rejoice. * 1 Peter 4:13

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