Monday, August 07, 2006

What Holds Us Back?

In 258 in a Roman cemetery Pope Sixtus II and four of his deacons were murdered by soldiers executing the edict of the Roman Emperor Valerian to the Roman Senate. After sending delegates to learn the details of the situation, the North African bishop and future martyr, Cyprian, wrote a letter to Bishop Successus. Cyprian informed him of the sad news and through him informed pastors everywhere in North Africa. Cyprian also encouraged them to strengthen all Christians in the face of systematic and legal persecution.

In his letter, Cyprian reported the chief tactic in Valerian's edict:

"...the truth concerning [what happened] is as follows, that Valerian had sent a rescript to the Senate to the effect that bishops and presbyters and deacons should immediately be punished; but that senators, and men of importance, and Roman knights, should lose their dignity, and moreover be deprived of their property; and if, when their means were taken away, they should persist in being Christians, then they should also lose their heads; but that matrons [ladies of the upper classes] should be deprived of their property, and sent into banishment."

While men were to be killed and woman banished, the ruling powers confiscated the property of both men and women of means. Early in its history Christianity and comfortable living were compatible. Some presentations of the early church incorrectly suggest that all Christians were not well-to-do.

In the ages of martyrdom (past and present) some of the upper class citizens may have renounced their Christianity. Those who did not were killed or banished for Christ.

I place no dollar amount on any of us. However, after living in Sri Lanka and India for almost seven months in 2005 and 2006, I have seen with my own eyes that nearly everyone in the U.S. lives far more comfortably than millions of people living in Southern Asia and elsewhere in the world. Yet, comfort doesn't determine human dignity.

Compulsions of one sort or another affect us all, including practicing Christians. Would we defect from Christ and living his gospel if powers confiscated from us property, people or daily comforts?

Cyprian closed his letter with a conviction: followers of God and Christ are not slain, they are crowned. That conviction summarizes the entire Bible because it describes God's upside-down way of working in our human history and individual lives.

No comments: