Thursday, 13 December 2007

Faithful unto death

Yesterday the UCCF North West team had an excellent team day, where Mike Smith spoke on the first two centuries of the history of the Church.

I came away from the teaching sessions with a mixture of emotions. The Christianity of the 2nd Century, particularly, seemed a very different expression of Christianity to our own. Part of this was the overt and dynamic persecution of the Church by the Romans. I can hardly imagine what it was like to be a Christian in the culture of fear when at times 10% of Church members were martyred and many more were tortured. I can scarcely take in the sort of pressure that churches must have felt in knowing how to deal with former members of their congregation that had denied Christ under such persecution and torture.

However, no doubt a great deal of the differences between the 2nd and the 21st Century owes to the fact that, nearly two millenia later, we are beneficiaries of the reflections that many godly people have made before us. There were evidently some bright 2nd Century theologians (some of the writings of Justin Martyr cited yesterday appeared particularly brilliant). Yet since then, the minds and souls and reflections of countless Christians (and the ongoing challenge of heresy) has brought us to the depth of theological insight that we have today. For that I am extremely grateful. Beautiful theology helps us to appreciate the beauty of our God. I'm glad that the Christians who have taught me have given me the teaching of grace to combat the deep legalism that many of the 2nd Century Christians grew up with.

However, and above all, the thing that struck me was that, despite their obvious lack of theological depth, the Christians of the 2nd Century really clung to Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. I guess the gospel at that time must have appeared very simple and unpolished, yet proclaimed Jesus as Lord. And the Lordship it proclaimed was to such a depth that folks like Polycarp and Ignatius went willingly to martyrdom. It was the same Lordship that saw Christians take the gospel from the North of England to India to the Sudan in just a few years.

It's true that, theologically, Christians are much more richly fed. Yet I wonder whether we grasp the simple gospel of Jesus Christ as Lord as deeply as our brothers in the 2nd Century.

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