"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up."

Arthur Koestler 

Entries in Church History (3)



I have had the movie Luther (2003) for a long time but only recently watched it. (I’m sure Netflix considers me an ideal customer.) It is a movie that makes you think. I noticed that the people in the movie were trapped in the established doctrines of the age. I am familiar enough with Luther's work to know he was trapped too. In particular the superstition of the age was well represented. Luther's early internal religious life was portrayed as well as a movie could, and it was not pretty. But from my reading Luther outgrew this. While the movie said and showed he outgrew it, his later internal life was not well portrayed, but to be fair, I cannot see how this could easily be done. 

As an aside, the representation of Andreas Karlstadt as a revolutionary did not seem to represent the Karlstadt I know from reading his work on the day of rest. He was more radical than Luther, but opposed the Peasants Revolt. The movie implied he was a revolutionary. This is far from the truth. In his book on the day of rest he has a big emphasis on servant's obligation Andreas Karlstadt in the Movieto serve their masters even on the day of rest.  In the Ten Commandments the Sabbath command of rest is actually directed to employers/masters and their obligation to provide rest to their property and servants. If Karlstadt had been the radical the movie portrayed, this would have been a major emphasis in his book. It was not. 

The church at the time of Luther was corrupted by false superstition and greed. Luther preached against the corruption. As he said at his trial, "Here I stand, I can do no other."

While each of us is also trapped in Babylon, we can rise up and leave it in our hearts. We may not be able to rise up against the system, but each of us can, in our own way, leave it behind. 

We too are trapped by the superstitions and corruption of our age. Can we rise above the myths of our age? The first step is to think about it. I suggest that you watch the movie and think.  


Offering Incense to Caesar

Ancient Christians in the first century had a problem. In order to be a resident (not even a citizen) in good standing one had to acknowledge that the emperor was supreme. The procedure was to go before a magistrate and burn incense to the "genius" of Caesar. From the modern perspective it really does not seem to be a big deal. Caesar, after all, was the legitimate ruler. According to Rom 13, Caesar was the servant of God. What could be wrong in acknowledging that fact? After all, we must give to Caesar the things of Caesar. Isn't that what Jesus taught? 

But even though the financial benefits were significant, and the punishment for disobedience dire, Christians in the first century felt that they could not pledge allegiance to the representation of Caesar in front of the magistrate. The temptation to conform was intense. 

This issue is under discussion in Revelation 2:

 12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Pergamum was one of the cities in Asia minor that had a temple dedicated to Caesar. While it is not certain that Antipas' death was related to this issue due to a lack of information, with a Ceasarian temple in Pergamum, it is logical. Refusal to acknowledge Caesar in this way was the primary cause of persecution in the first century.

We do have the details of one martyrdom over this issue:

Polycarp  8:2 And he was met by Herod the captain of police and his father Nicetes, who also removed him to their carriage and tried to prevail upon him, seating themselves by his side and saying, 'Why what harm is there in saying, Caesar is Lord, and offering incense', with more to this effect, 'and saving thyself?' But he at first gave them no answer. When however they persisted, he said, 'I am not going to do what ye counsel me.'

Looking at this from the modern perspective, why not offer the incense? Surely God does not want Polycarp to die over such a seemingly trivial thing? Polycarp did not look at it that way. 

Polycarp 9:2 When then he was brought before him, the proconsul enquired whether he were the man. And on his confessing that he was, he tried to persuade him to a denial saying, 'Have respect to thine age,' and other things in accordance therewith, as it is their wont to say; 'Swear by the genius of Caesar; repent and say, Away with the atheists.' Then Polycarp with solemn countenance looked upon the whole multitude of lawless heathen that were in the stadium, and waved his hand to them; and groaning and looking up to heaven he said, 'Away with the atheists.'

The reason Christians were considered atheists was they refused to acknowledge and pledge allegiance to the State. 

Polycarp 9:3 But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, 'Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ,' Polycarp said, 'Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?'

So Polycarp was burned alive.  

Is this just an interesting historical incident, or is there something we can learn from it? Have we Christians today become so involved with the State that we are doing the modern equivalent of offering incense to Caesar? A delicate juggling act may be required to be in the world, yet not be of the world. While it is very difficult to know where one should draw the line, this is an issue that deserves a closer look. 




Do the Best You Can

I was reading though the Didache recently. The Didache (Greek for "teaching") was written about 75 to 120 AD and gave mostly good advice on many issues. It shows one very early trend that has haunted the church over the years, Anti-Semitism. It is mild in the Didache, but it does exist.  Some of their issues are difficult for us to relate to. Meat sacrificed to idols is an example. Most meat purchased at the market would have been offered to idols. Paul was discussing these issues in Romans 14. Many had become defacto vegetarians so they would not eat such meat.  Romans 14:

1Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

The important thing is not to condemn those who decide differently from you. The Didache makes this mistake and condemns the Jews because they fast on different days than the Christians do! This is hard for us modern Christians to relate to as the only place we fast is on the freeway.  But with regard to eating meat sacrificed to idols, the Didache has it right. No doubt Paul has influenced them here. 

Chapter 6. See that no one causes you to err from this way of the Teaching, since apart from God it teaches you. For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able. And concerning food, bear what you are able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly careful; for it is the service of dead gods.

In other words, do the best you can.  This is one of my goals for this blog, to do the best I can. I think that this principle also applies to the material on this blog. Jesus told his disciples to be in the world, but not to be of the world. The advice of the Didache is good. Do the best you can.