Sunday, April 6, 2008

Confessing Christ: Inflexible Obstinacy

In view of the "negative responses" received about Issues, Etc. being too "abrasive" and "hyper-orthodox", consider the following excerpt about how the Romans treated the Christians.

In Ludwig's Handbook of New Testament Rulers and Cities, Charles Ludwig introduces readers to Pliny's letter to Trajan by noting the following (I have highlighted one section in bold which seemed to me to be most significant about how Christians may give the impression of being "abrasive" or "hyper-orthodox" to the outside world -- and suffering as the result):

Pliny -- nephew and adopted son of Pliny the Elder -- had been sent to Bythinia as corrector civitatium [or governor of Pontus/Bithynia from A.D. 111-113] and was answerable to the emperor Trajan. In Bythinia, he learned that Christianity was a force in Christianity. Puzzled about what he should do, he sought the advice of Trajan. After greetings and assurances of loyalty, he wrote:

"I am unacquainted as to the method and limits to be observed in examining and punishing them [i.e. Christians]. Whether, therefore, any difference is to be made with respect to age . . . between the young and the adult; whether repentance admits to pardon; or if a man has once been a Christian, it avails him nothing to recant; whether the mere profession of Christianity, albeit without any criminal act, or only the crimes associated therewith are punishable; in all these points I am greatly doubtful.

"In the meantime, the method I have observed toward those who have been denounced to me as Christians, is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed, I repeated the question twice again, adding a threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed; for I was persuaded that whatever the nature of their creed, a contumacious and inflexible obstinacy certainly deserved chastisement." There were others also brought before me possessed with the same infatuation, but being citizens of Rome, I directed them to be carried thither.

"These accusations, from the mere fact that the matter has been investigated, began to spread, and several forms of mischief came to light. A placard was posted up without any signature, accusing a number of people by name. Those who denied that they were Christians, or had ever been so, who repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered religious rites with wine and frankincense to your statue (which I had ordered to be brought for the purpose, together with those of the gods), and finally cursed the name of Christ (none of which, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing), I thought proper to discharge. Others who were named by the informer at first confessed themselves Christians, and then denied it; true they had been of that persuasion formerly, but had now quited it (some three years, others many years, and a few as much as twenty-five years ago). They all worshiped your statue and the images of the gods, and cursed the name of Christ.

"They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt or their error was, that they met on a certain fixed day before it was light and sang an antiphonal chant to Christ, as to a god, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but to never commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food -- food of an ordinary innocent kind . . .

"I therefore thought it proper to adjourn all further proceedings in this affair, in order to consult with you. For the matter is well worth referring to you, especially considering the numbers endangered: persons of all ranks and ages, and of both sexes, are and will be involved in prosecution. For this contagious superstition is not confined to cities only, but has spread through the villages and countryside. Nevertheless, it seems possible to check and cure it . . ."

So, like the Bythinian Christians (1 Peter 1:1) , Wilken and Schwarz persevered in their confession brought on by "anonymous" accusers unknown to them. Because they did this on the radio, appearing to be haughty and proud, they were summarily fired from their positions under the guise of financial difficulties.

The Ablaze! movement in effect considers the unwavering confession of pure doctrine to stand in the way of missions and evangelism. How frequently Dr. Kieschnick has railed against "incessant doctrinal purification" as obstructing the proclamation of the Gospel. Because those like Dr. Kieschnick who want to appear at every point to be loving and accepting in order that people be brought to Christ, they fear giving offense by stating the doctrine of Christ as unassailable truth to potential converts. It sounds too sure of itself. It sounds too proud to claim that one actually knows the truth and insists upon it. In this, the Ablaze! movement shows that it is a child of our postmodern times.

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