Tag Archives: persecution

Paul, Apostle of Christ, The Movie

Nero’s Torches , 1876, by Henryk Siemiradzki (1843–1902). Nero used Christians as torches in Rome, in the last days of Paul.

Who was the Apostle Paul, and what was it like to be a Christian in Nero’s Rome, in the A.D. 60’s? Paul, Apostle of Christ, a film directed by Andrew Hyatt, and made by Affirm Films (who also made Fireproof and Courageous), tells the gripping story in a creative way.

Normally, I am a bit skeptical about Christian films, but this one was fantastic. The premise behind the film is that Luke, a physician and companion of Paul, comes to visit Paul, when he is imprisoned in Rome’s Mamertine prison, awaiting execution. Unfortunately, while the film’s premise is very interesting, there is a lot we do no know about the last days of Paul, or how Luke wrote Acts, with any particular degree of certainty. We know from Eusebius, an early church historian, that Paul was held in the Mamertine, and we also know that the madman, Emperor Nero had blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians, using Christians as torches to light the city.

Did Luke write the Book of Acts, in Rome, during the last years of Paul’s life? Were Priscilla and Aquila in Rome, when Luke came to visit? We have no evidence for these speculations made in the movie. But to focus on these historical questions misses the point of the film. In Paul, Apostle of Christ, we get a glimpse into what motivated Paul, as well asking some very real questions as to how the Christians might have thought about Nero’s persecutions.

Should the Christians fight back and resist Nero? Should they flee Rome itself, and avoid the Romans? Should they stay in Rome and pursue a non-violent course? These are tough questions, and the film rightly explores them, as the persecuted Christian community looks to their imprisoned leader Paul, for help.

Many Christians today think of the so-called “Great Tribulation” solely in terms of a future event, that will happen prior to the Second Coming of Christ. Yet Paul, Apostle of Christ makes a very convincing case that the “Great Tribulation” was just as real, and bad enough, in those terrifying days, in Nero’s Rome. Along the same lines, another recent film, Tortured for Christ, tells us that such “Great Tribulation” even happens in our own day, but that much of American Christianity seems rather oblivious to that reality.

If anything, viewing Paul, Apostle of Christ, should encourage any person, believer or non-believer to take the time and seriously read the Book of Acts. Be thankful for the freedoms that many of us take for granted. Find your faith in the Risen Jesus, just as Paul did. Pray for the persecuted church.

Tortured for Christ: The Movie

Richard Wurmbrand was a Lutheran pastor in Romania. The Communists threw him into prison for fourteen years. They tortured him, trying to persuade him to reveal the identities and locations of secret Christian believers. However, even solitary confinement in an underground cell did not force him to break his faith.

I am listening to the audiobook version of Tortured for Christ, and the story is riveting. Wurmbrand’s story is now coming to film, and if enough people buy tickets in advance (by February 26), local movie theaters will show the film on Monday, March 5.

Some Christians in America “think” they are being persecuted, but this is prejudice, not persecution. Real persecution of Christians, like what Wurmbrand went through, is going on all over the world. Voice of the Martyrs, the organization that Wurmbrand founded after leaving Communist Romania, in 1964, for the United States, is dedicated to raising awareness of Christian persecution across the globe.

Did the Apostles Die as Martyrs?

As a young Christian, one of the standard reasons often given to me for the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection is that all of apostles, with the exception of John, died as martyrs. Why would the apostles have died for a known lie? The only sensible conclusion is that the martyrdom of these apostles proves that the Resurrection is true.

The problem with this approach, as argued by such scholars as Candida Moss, reviewed a few years ago on here on Veracity, is that the Bible and other early sources tell us very little about the death of the earliest apostles.  We are forced mainly to rely on traditions, that in a number of cases, date to a few hundred years after the martyrdom events took place. Can such traditions really be trusted?

Sean McDowell’s new book, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, is the result of his PhD dissertation research, an exploration into the historical accounts of how the first apostles of Jesus died. Sean McDowell, Biola University professor in apologetics and the son of another popular apologist, Josh McDowell, has investigated many of the traditions associated with the martyrdom claims, weighing the evidence as to which accounts are most probably reliable and which ones are more doubtful.

The only negative comment I have right off about the book is its ridiculous price tag.  Fortunately, Sean McDowell has a few informative articles on his blog that I can commend to you to draw your interest. Also, there is a great podcast interview with Sean McDowell at Mere Orthodoxy. I had a wonderful opportunity to hear Sean speak a few years ago at an apologetics conference. Here he is with his summary conclusion:

McDowell’s cautious and nevertheless still encouraging work is quite refreshing. His critical evaluation may offend some who would rather gloss over certain facts, but this is not necessary. Even if not every single one of the original apostles, except John, died a martyr’s death, there are still good reasons to accept the witness of the apostles as a defense for Resurrection faith. The author reviewed another recent book by conservative Moody Bible Institute’s Bryan Liftin, After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostlesthat also comes to much of the same, sober-minded conclusions.

UPDATE: 03/03/16.  A brief interview with Bryan Liftin on this same topic just came out today at The Gospel Coalition: Polycarp was directly discipled by the Apostle John, and he was martyred in the mid-second century for his faith. But did a dove really fly out of Polycarp’s body when he died? Fascinating stuff. Also, Michael Patton at Credo House has a great 40-minute lecture on the martyrdom claims of the apostles, along with a helpful article, that may even be using Sean McDowell’s research.

Here is my application takeaway from thinking about this, though I know that some might challenge me on it: The tendency to stretch the truth a bit, when it really is not necessary, simply to make an important case for something, was a problem in the early church just as much as it is a problem in our day. We must carefully guard the Truth for the sake of the integrity of the Gospel.

Folks, we need not fear the Truth as believers, even when that Truth exposes common, popular overstatements with seemingly good intentions. Sometimes, believers have a knee-jerk reaction to criticism that can devolve into a paranoid persecution complex, that tragically trivializes real persecution being experienced by our Christian brothers and sisters in places like Syria and Iraq. Instead, as Christians, we can look to fair-minded, intelligent, Biblically-sound scholarship and sober thinking to give solid reasons for our faith, even when we are challenged. Taking responsibility for our own personal discipleship, is something we strongly advocate here on this blog, and it is important now more than ever. We must be careful not to give into smooth and slick talk in an effort to “protect Christianity.”

Wrong Kind of Christian

A growing number of college campuses today are not extending the welcome mat to evangelical Christians today. Is it merely an issue regarding sexual discrimination or is it an erosion of religious freedom?

A growing number of secular-minded college campuses are not extending the welcome mat to evangelical Christians today. Is the central issue regarding sexual discrimination, or is it an erosion of religious freedom?

Tish Harrison Warren has written a very compelling article at Christianity Today on her experience as a campus ministry worker at Vanderbilt University. Several years ago, Vanderbilt University kicked several Christian student groups off of campus for failing to comply with the university’s revised anti-discrimination policy.

Along with Bowdoin College in Maine and possibly soon the entire Cal State school system, with some 450,000 students, Vanderbilt has joined a growing trend that is seeking to revise their criteria for allowing religious groups to affiliate with university campuses, allowing space for on-campus meetings, as well as sometimes permitting the partial use of student activities fees to fund some aspects of their programs. The conservative Christian groups at Vanderbilt sought to challenge what they considered to be an intrusive form of control by the university. Vanderbilt insisted that leadership in student religious groups should not be limited to those adhering to an organization’s statement of faith. This put the Christian groups on that campus in a real bind, having to choose between the principle of honoring their creedal commitments against working with the anti-discriminatory policies of the university.

It is a dilemma worth thinking about deeply.
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Persecution: In America??

Early Christianity scholar, Candida Moss, of Notre Dame argues that Christians have overhyped the stories of martyrdom in the early church with negative impact on public discourse today in America.  Is she right?

Early Christianity scholar, Candida Moss, of Notre Dame argues that Christians have overhyped the stories of martyrdom in the early church, having a negative impact on public discourse today in America. Is she right?

Are Christians in America being persecuted for their faith? The answer to that question largely depends on what you mean by “persecution.”

When I was a high school student in the late 1970s, I helped to start a prayer group with some friends of mine during the lunch period. One of my teachers, who I knew was a Christian, offered his classroom during his lunch hour so that we could meet and pray together. It was only a handful of us, but we witnessed a number of remarkable things as a result of these prayer meetings.

Within a few months our meetings were shut down by the public high school principal. Now, the principal was not an atheist zealot. He was actually rather sympathetic to what we were trying to do. Rather, he was just loathe to engage in any controversy, fearing that some atheist parent might call him up or write an angry letter about “separation of church and state.” So off we were sent back to the noisy cafeteria for our Christian fellowship.

The whole thing seemed rather stupid to me.

Students during the lunch hour could get a pass to go to the library and read a book. In the days before the Commonwealth of Virginia lowered the age for restricting the purchase of tobacco products, kids could go outside to the smoking area and enjoy their nicotine habit. So you could go to a quiet place and read a book, or you could smoke your way to lung cancer and early death, but you were not allowed to meet in an unused classroom to engage in Christian prayer.

Go figure.

But was it persecution? Let me put it this way: The crackdown on our high school prayer sessions did not exactly exemplify the remarkable tradition of religious freedom that characterizes the best of the American experience. Our prayer meetings had been voluntary, student-led, and met in neutral space during the school day on a school-sanctioned break. But is it right to call its demise persecution? Well, it was inconvenient and annoying, but on the positive side having a prayer meeting shut down was sort of like a “badge of honor.” Merriam-Webster defines “persecute” as “to treat someone cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs,” so in some sense, interfering with a bunch of teenagers talking to God might qualify. But frankly, my lunchtime restriction was nothing compared to the life threatening treatment of Iraqi Christians fleeing for their lives for the past ten years.

You have to put things in perspective.

Nevertheless, a film released in the summer of 2014 plays on the theme of “persecution” in America. Is this something indicative of what is happening now, or is it a prophetic glimpse of what might eventually happen to Christians in America in the future? … Or is it just a bunch of nonsense?

Many cultural critics have dismissed the film as simply feeding into a Christian fantasy with an overtly political agenda. I was intrigued by one such negative film review by Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. As she puts it, Christian claims of persecution in America are so “middle school.”
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