Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve Jones here… I’m feeling very much like I’m in the minority these days. My country seems to be turning its back on orthodox Christian faith, beliefs, values and practice at an alarming rate. Just think what has happened in Canada since the 21st century began. It has definitely moved from indifference to hostility.
Should we bemoan this reality and retreat from the culture-wars, or see it as an opportunity?
First Century Realities
Seventy-million people lived in the Roman Empire in the first century… approximately one-fifth of the world’s population.
Within seven years of Jesus’ death, Christianity made up 0.001% of the Roman Empire. It is estimated that by 300 AD Christianity made up 11% of the Roman Empire. In 64 AD Christianity was ruled as illegal.
Christians were viewed as atheists — not believing in the Roman gods. Christians were accused of being cannibals. A Roman Senator in 160 AD spoke in Senate stating that Christians butchered babies, eating them and drinking their blood, which was a huge misunderstanding of the practices surrounding the Lord’s Supper.
Starting in 249 AD, a state-wide persecution began where every key Christian Bishop was arrested, and many were eventually executed. The Bishop of Rome was killed and the Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, was beheaded in 258 AD.
During Emperor Diocletian’s reign, a great persecution of the church took place, when hundreds and thousands of Christians were killed. Historians report that executioners worked in week-long shifts for weeks in the Eastern part of the Empire. But Diocletian got cancer in 311 AD and stopped the persecution in order to ask the Christians to pray to their God on his behalf. The next Emperor, Constantine, “Christianized” the Empire over the following 10-15 years. Sunday became a holiday, no more execution by crucifixion, divorce became much more difficult a process, state funds went to house-churches so that they could build large basilicas, and the symbol of the cross is put on the shields of Roman soldiers. In fact, Constantine declared in writing that all previous Roman Emperors were in hell. Constantine certainly gained no political credibility by doing and saying all these things… whether he was a Christian or not is not for historians to debate. But, one could agree that his actions indicated that, at least, he thought he was a believer.
And so, by 381 AD, the tables had been reversed. It was illegal to be a “pagan”, and State-Christianity began, causing big problems for the genuine church for centuries to come.
In fact, Basil of Caesarea (330-379 AD) who supported the Nicene Creed wrote that Satan saw the church growing under persecution, and so he changed his tactics and wedded the church with the state, causing the church to become less “effective”. Basil, of course, was right.
Twenty First Century Realities
How “effective” has the Canadian church been in persuading our nation with the truths of the Gospel?
In 1993, 50% of Canadian population “strongly agreed” and 26% “moderately agreed” with this statement: “God is understanding and forgiving.” In 2013, these figures dropped to a mere 36% who “strongly agreed” and 22% who “moderately agreed” — a drop from 76% agreeing with the statement on some level to only 58% over a 20-year period in Canada.
In 1993, 39% of the Canadian population “strongly agreed” and 22% “moderately agreed” to the statement: “I believe that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God provided the way for the forgiveness of my sins”. In 2013, these figures also dropped to only 24% who “strongly agree” and 20% who “moderately agree”, which is a drop from overall 61% of the population agreeing on some level to 44% in just 20 years.
There has definitely been a shift in the last 20 years in our own culture. The culture-wars rage and the stats drop even more precipitously among younger Canadians. Is the future bleak for the genuine Christian church in Canada? Maybe. It certainly seems that way when we look at the statistical trend.
But I’m hopeful because I worship the God of hope.
In the first century, the Romans lived a fatalistic life; there was little concept of hope and grace. The Romans’ faith was a ritualized faith, with sacrifices made at the temple and priests praying for you as you venerated your ancestors. You left home each day and prayed to “Janus” (god of the door), and prayed daily to other gods in their deeply-dark spiritual world. Then Christianity came along and gave freedom and liberty from sin and guilt, introducing the life-giving concepts of mercy, love, grace, and hope. Our Western society has been so permeated by these Christian concepts that the old Roman world-view seems foreign to the average Canadian.
But it will soon be lost (if the stats are true) if the genuine church is not “effective” in communicating these truths in new and winsome ways. We must remain faithful witnesses in the darkness — no argument with that. But we must also find ways to be more “effective” in sharing just how good the Good News really is.
Have a blessed week,
P.S. - Watch (this 9 second video) of a Harvard Professor sharing the importance of the church in our democratic society.