Monday, January 31, 2011

Tried By Fire

"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia...Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold {1} trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ..." I Peter 1:1, 6-7, (ASV) 

The Roman Emperor Nerva was well advanced in age when he became emperor in the AD 96. In October of 97 AD he adopted Trajan as his son. This move made Trajan the "emperor in waiting." Nerva die three months later which made Trajan the new Roman Emperor.

Trajan is usually considered to be an excellent Emperor by most historians. He seemed to be friendly, fair minded, and was even considerate to his enemies. Trajan even has a place in Christian history. In an exchange of written correspondence with Pliny the Younger we see the attitude of Trajan toward "Christians."

This is important because this is probably one of the earliest references of Christians in pagan literature. Trajan wrote to Pliny, who was the governor of Pontus and Bithynia for three years. Pliny had written to Trajan explaining to the emperor how he  handled the "Christians" in his provinces in Asia Minor. He informed Trajan that he required that they worship the Emperor and the Roman gods or they would face execution.  

Believe it or not Pliny's main question centered on the question of whether the order of execution be extended to children. Pliny also wondered if Christians could be allowed to worship "Christus" if they offered sacrifices to idols. Trajan gave the following instructions to Pliny:

"You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down a general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out, if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshipping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age."

Trajan did not persecute Christians with the same fervency or violence as Domitian or other emperors. However, Trajan was responsible for the martyrdom of several believers including pastors of local churches. He was responsible for the deaths of Pastor Ignatius of Antioch and Pastor Simeon of Jerusalem.

What would such persecution do your faith?
How would persecution effect the American church?
Why does God test our faith? 

Monday: "The Monday Mentor" - Summaries of Christian Topics

Come along with us on Mondays and be "mentored" as we examine various points of interest from book reviews to pertinent events in church history. We hope to challenge, stimulate, and encourage you as we share various facts about people, places, positions, and performances of biblical, theological, or Christian interests.


Seams Inspired said...

I hadn't heard of Trajan before, Gregg. Thanks for sharing a bit of history today. :o)

I've never been persecuted by my faith, and honestly, am not sure how I would respond. I've been snickered at, and made fun of because of my beliefs, though I never really gave it a second thought.

I believe America is already being tested. Every single day I see how worldly views are being adored and Christianity is being scorned. We're not holding up/standing up very well. (Just my humble opinion). I do wonder what it will take for a Christian uprising...and wonder if I'm ready for the challenge.

As for God testing our faith...that's a complex question for me. The short and simple answer (again, just my opinion) is not that He tests us for His sake. He tests us for our bring us closer to Him.

Great post, Gregg! Thanks for sharing. Happy Monday! :o)

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I also learned something today as I had never heard of Trajan before.

Enjoy your day.

Cathy M. said...

Corrie Ten-Boom's Papa, teaching on the faith to endure persecution, said it was like a train ticket. He would only give it to her when she was just about to board the train, otherwise she might lose it.

I have no confidence in my lily-livered, craven, yellow-bellied courage; however, I have supreme confidence in God. --Praying for my brothers and sisters who are experiencing persecution.

IanH said...

Very interesting history lesson. I have heard lots of people say " I have faith and will stand firm in my beliefs". However, my gut says that no one will know for sure how they will respond until they are at the moment of truth. History is full of examples of people that stood firm, right to the point of martyrdom. Unfortunately, many who thought they were believers folded when threatened.

I believe that in a few short years that North America will be tested to the extreme. All the signs are showing that Christianity is becoming a minority. In our community of 10,000 people, there are only about 500 that attend church regularly. There are many more that profess to be Christians, but do not read the Bible, attend church or otherwise follow the Word.

Apathy is a silent killer when it comes to politics, religion or other important issues.

I am afraid that we will wake up one day and find that the freedoms that we take for granted are gone. The first statement to be made will likely be " I don't know what happened, but...."


Why does God test our faith?

I used to think God does not test us. I reasoned that He knew what was in us, so He had no need to test us. He does know -- but we don't. It is true that God does not tempt us to do wrong or to fail, just to see if we will.

Testing of our faith is beneficial for the one being tested. He may think he is ready to graduate -- that he knows it all. Testing allows him to see what the real situation is. It confronts him with reality.

Mike said...

I think true persecution of the church in the west would do us good, to be honest with you.

I used to be a subscriber to Discipleship Journal and I once read a quoation of a Chinese pastor who said he prays that the western church will face the kind of persecution the eastern one does.

Persecution has always done good for the spread and cause of the gospel. While I don't wake up every day hoping to have my head lopped off because of my faith in Christ, I think it would push me to being more radical in my (our?) pursuit of Him!