Written by Andy Webb | Monday, September 9, 2013
I‘ve often wondered what it would have sounded like if they’d had the modern “missional” celebrity pastors in the early church, and how they would have handled issues like Roman pressure to compromise on the Lordship of Christ or the exclusivity of Christianity. I sense it might have gone something like this:
Archaeologists working in Turkey have recently uncovered what they believe to be a 2nd Century fragment from an ancient interview with popular Lycus Valley Presbyter, Elder Lew Dicean, which occurred shortly after the Martyrdom of Polycarp. The fragment is part of a larger scroll, with the Latin Title “TEMPUS” and dated February, 157. Here is what they have translated so far:
“T: So what do are your thoughts?
L: What, the Polycarp thing?
L: Well it’s hard to criticize such a well known guy who’d been in ministry for so long, but I can’t get away from thinking, ‘Come on guys, its just a pinch of incense!’ I mean, think about it, we Christians already support the Roman state in so many ways every day. We pay the taxes that go to build those temples, buy the incense, and make the busts of Caesar! And we even use money that has his image on it already. And hey, who doesn’t worship that just a little, right?
I’m looking forward to a juicy steak tonight that my wife cooks so well – mind you I’m not ‘THAT’ guy, I cook too, it’s just not my night – and I know that steak came from a bull sacrificed in the name of Caesar. So aren’t I kind of a hypocrite if I declare Caesar is Lord in the secular realm in all those ways, but refuse to burn a little incense and say three words?
T: But don’t Christians view that as a compromise?
L: Look, all of us, Christian, Pagan, Jew, Zorastrian, whatever, have to compromise our religious faith a little to be good citizens of the empire. It’s the price of citizenship. And let’s face it, NOT burning incense doesn’t get you into heaven. I think in the future, you’re going to see more Christians seeing this as a political and not a religious issue, and attitudes about whether mixing politics and religion has been healthy are definitely changing.
T: So where do you draw the line?
L: Well, not where Polycarp did. I know he had his reasons, but I think there’s this unhealthy fascination with martyrdom amongst some Christians who see Christianity in this very aggressive, confrontational light that just turns modern people off. We need to engage not enrage the culture. One of our guys, Paul, once wrote in one of his letters – and I have this beautiful framed copy at home – “become all things to all men.” To me, that says I must first become a good Roman before I earn the privilege of being able to tell them about Jesus. So for me, the incense is just part of “becoming a Roman” so that I can win Romans. I think in the future you’re to see less of that martyr in your face Christianity that makes enemies and more of the “Compromissional approach” that I favor…
Andy Webb is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church America and serves as Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, NC. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.