Would you be prepared to die for your faith?
Around the beginning of the 2nd century (112 AD), Pliny (the younger), the Roman governor of Bythinia-Pontus, sent a letter to the emperor Trajan asking him what was to be done about the spread of Christianity. At that time it was already a capital offense to be a Christian, and one of the problems that Pliny was experiencing was that some people would inform on Christians for no other reason than that they bore them a grudge. Pliny had already executed some Christians, thinking perhaps to eradicate the religion. However, it soon became evident to him that great numbers of people of both genders and at every echelon of the empire professed the new faith.
In his letter to the emperor, a translation of which can be found here, Pliny described his practice of interviewing those accused of being Christians. In order to test the veracity of the accusations, Pliny would ask the defendant to make a sacrifice to the emperor, and to curse Christ, because, as far as he had heard, nobody who was genuinely a Christian could be forced to do either of these things. Can you imagine it? At any time, you could be going about your business and and you could be dragged off and brought before a court. The charges? You are a Christian. The trial could be very short—if you capitulated. “Are you a Christian?” If you said “no”, all you had to do to prove it was to make a sacrifice to the emperor and say “Jesus be cursed.” That would be the end of it…
But the trial could also be mercilessly long. If you said “yes”, you would be tortured to see if they could induce you to curse Christ or to sacrifice. If at length they could not. You would be executed.
Tonight in class, I was reminded of this correspondence and it got me thinking. What if the same were true today? What if it were a crime to be a Christian and the authorities needed some way of proving who was and who was not. We don’t have an emperor today, and we are not in the habit of making sacrifices (at least in the culture I am most familiar with) to idols or political leaders. So I wonder what the test would be. Obviously the ‘cursing Christ’ test would stand the test of time. A true Christian could never curse Christ. But what of the other test?
I’d like to conduct a poll of sorts. Please post your feedback as a comment below.
What is one thing that:
a) the culture around us routinely does and,
b) a Christian could never do?
One more consideration before you comment. Sacrificing to the emperor was not a grey area. It was not an issue of contention between fellow Christians. It was very clear cut. A true Christian could never do it, and if one could, that alone was sufficient proof that they were not a real Christian. I’m looking for a universally shared conviction here, not an opportunity to be judgmental of other Christians.
So here goes. Finish this sentence: “A real Christian could never…”