The article that follows explores the history of persecution of the early church, some of the reasons behind it, and two important questions that we must raise with Christian responses to persecution: the glorification of persecution in the church, and why would anyone what to hurt Christians?
In the first few centuries of Christianity
Level, amount and Persecutions
According to historical record-The total number of Christians martyred in the early church is unknown. Although some early writers speak of “great “modern scholars tend to believe the actual number is not so great as is sometimes imagined. Out of the 54 emperors who ruled between 30 and 311 AD, only about a dozen went out of their way to persecute Christians.
It has been calculated that between the first persecution under Nero in 64 to the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians experienced 129 years of persecution and 120 years of toleration and peace.
The Roman persecutions were generally sporadic, localized, and dependent on the political climate and disposition of each emperor. Moreover, imperial decrees against Christians were often directed against church property, the Scriptures, or clergy only. It has been estimated that more Christians have been martyred in the last 50 years than in the church’s first 300 years.
Why is the Christian Church Persecuted
If we look at history we would see- In order to understand the distrust of Christianity, one can review and understand the Early Roman view of religion. For the Romans, religion was first and foremost a social activity that promoted unity and loyalty to the state – a religious attitude the Romans called pietas, or piety.
Cicero (pictured, right) wrote that “if piety in the Roman sense were to disappear, social unity and justice would perish along with it.”
The truth is at its core, the church is one giant social network. It exists as an intricate, but totally connected community. Even more important, many Christians believe that God is working within this network himself. Devotion to Jesus has been a large part of the African-American experience. The black church has been and continues to be a powerful force in the African-American community.
In the United States, Christians reacted to slavery in a substantially different way. While there was vocal Christian protest against the slave trade and much of the abolitionist movement was spear-headed by Christian people, there were also many Christians who defended slavery. The issue of slavery grew more divisive, and eventually most of the major Protestant denominations divided over the issue. This actually set the stage for the Civil War.
Another major example of Christian Persecution was The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing (below) was an act of white supremacist terrorism that occurred at the African-American 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, September 15, 1963, when four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted a minimum of 15 sticks of dynamite attached to a timing device beneath the front steps of the church.
Described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” the explosion at the church killed four girls and injured 22 others.
What can we do in an effort of prevention
With structural racism the global issues are deep rooted worldwide. While the issues seem to become more pronounced everyday making this tragedy about religion instead of race allows many others to avoid discussions about how their positions vis a vis race and government tend to reenforce rather than dismantle the structural racism still present in our society today. On a more social, practical level, Christians are distrusted by extreme mist organizations in part because of the nature of their worship.
In any case, it is sad that such experiences ever occur, because the church is an indispensable part of the believer’s life. Not only does it provide a place to worship, serve and learn about God, but it is also a community where believers can practice love toward their brethren as the Bible requires; “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
These tools extend fellowship beyond the church walls and stretch it around the world are needed as They help us fulfill Jesus’ command to Peter, which still echoes for us today: “Put out into deep water” (Luke 5:4). GLG