catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 3 :: 2009.01.30 — 2009.02.13


What does it mean to stand?

Christendom was not yet fifty years old, and Nero reigned over the Roman Empire, using Christians as torches for his dinner party.  The citizens of Rome whiled away the afternoon watching Christians tortured and eaten alive by lions and beaten until the streets ran red with their blood.  Of course, they could be freed if they would renounce God and name Nero as Sovereign, if they would bow the knee to the empire.

Yet, vast numbers of Christians sang and prayed and worshipped in the underground cemetery we know as the Roman Catacombs, a maze in which they could become lost to the earthly Empire or found in the heavenly kingdom.  We can yet see evidence of their meeting places, marked in the earthen walls and preserved for these two thousand years.

In the midst of this nightmare, Christianity thrived.  How could this be? And today, in an empire, an era when Christians can worship freely here in the United States, where the rule is much rather than less, the Church appears to have grown more feeble.  How can this be?

I wonder if part of the reason for this difference stems from two different understandings of the church’s mission.  Paul compelled the early believers to imitate him as he imitated Christ.  He taught the early church that love was key to all that they did; in fact, anything they did unmotivated by love was worthless.  Paul taught the early believers that they were to live lives worthy of and pleasing to God, to be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so they could have great endurance and patience and overflow with thankfulness.  They were to cultivate their faith, their relationship with Christ; He alone is their reality.  Their value system was not rooted in the systems of their present world; rather it was on that which had eternal value.

So they held loosely onto this life and its things, knowing that what mattered was not to attack or subvert, overthrow the earthly empire, but to live in it as strangers, aliens marked by their love for the heavenly Kingdom and its values.  And the Church thrived.

I fear that today we have too much.  We immerse ourselves in this empire’s amusements just as those first century citizens did.  Our Coliseum takes center stage in our homes on wide screen TVs.  Our Coliseum is portable, in Technicolor, in high-resolution digital pictures and surround sound screaming from our game systems, our Blackberries and cell phones.  And we have become hardened to brutal murders and sexual perversions and cursing.  We laugh along finding it amusing, and we blend in with this empire. 

I fear we have found life so comfortable that we do not need God.

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