Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.1 Peter 2:11
Christianity hasn’t always been mainstream. If you’ve lived in Western Culture the last 1500 years, it’s a strange concept to think politicians wouldn’t try to appeal to “evangelicals” or schools wouldn’t pledge to be “under God.” The idea that Christianity is the status quo is a relatively new idea. In the earliest days of Christianity, there were a handful of eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, that grew into a few thousand people who would meet before sunrise to pray, worship, and eat a meal together.
When you consider that Rome, at the time, was the largest empire in the known world, a small number of devoted followers with no political power, or social standing, didn’t stand a chance at influencing the world. But it did. What started as a prayer meeting began to grow. Christianity infiltrated cities, one relationship at a time, one apartment building at a time, one marketplace at a time as if releasing white blood cells into the bloodstream of the Roman Empire.1 As the movement grew, they didn’t trade their peculiarness to try and appeal to a larger audience, instead, they doubled down on it. To be a Christian meant to be a peculiar. Their example challenged how Rome defined status, and as you might expect the empire didn’t like that.
In AD 64 the emperor Nero used Christians as a scapegoat and blamed them for fires that burned down a large portion of the city. They were arrested, some were dressed in animal skins, and eaten alive by wild dogs. Others were tied to posts and set on fire as torches to provide light for the palace parties at night. The emperors who followed did likewise, attempting to kill the growing movement of peculiar people. The persecution was so severe that Roman citizens who despised Christians actually began to pity them.
In the face of such cruelty, Christianity grew from 5,000 to 5 million Christians between AD 40 to AD 300 because you cannot kill the church or the hope of the gospel message. Eyewitnesses watching Christians be burned alive claimed, “The fire of their savage executioners appeared cool to them because they fixed their eyes on their escape from the eternal unquenchable fire and the good things promised to those who endure.”2
If you live in the modern world, the chances of you being arrested and murdered for your faith today are almost certainly zero. Religious freedom should be celebrated, but in some ways could it be an indictment of the modern Christian? Could it be that the faith that once toppled the largest empire in the world from the inside, is no longer a threat to the power structure of this world? Is it possible that in an attempt to broaden our reach, we forfeited the very thing that made the Christian faith attractive to being with? Have we become simply—ordinary?
Peter’s words to the earliest Christians is a reminder to you and me that if our faith is in Jesus, we are temporary residents in a world waging war against our soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) Christ commanded us to blend in but never fit it. We are peculiar, strange people who stubbornly believe that a man came from heaven, died, rose from the dead, and will return again to get us. That’s crazy! We were never meant to feel at home here. Our allegiance is to another ruler in another world.
If, in the craziness of political elections, 24-hour news, the grind for success, and the pursuit for status, you feel like a fish out of water, be encouraged—you’re doing it right. My prayer for you and me, as peculiar strangers in this world, is that we will endure, not trading our strangeness for acceptance and that the fire of those who oppose us will cool us, “because we fixed their eyes on our escape from the eternal unquenchable fire and the good things promised to those who endure.”
- Sittser, Gerald L.. Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World. Pg. 113
- Quote is taken from Martyrdom of Polycarp, a letter from the early church fathers to the church in Smyrna and Asia Minor around the 2nd Century AD.