Ken Curtis, Ph.D.


WANTED: CHRISTIANS! Anyone having information about those belonging to the dangerous superstition known as "Christianity" is to report to the authorities without delay. This is an insidious movement and must be stopped. Christians are charged with the following:

1. Cannibalism
2. Disruption of business
3. Gross immorality (including incest)
4. Antifamily actions
5. Poverty
6. Atheism
7. Introduction of Novelties
8. Lack of Patriotism
9. Antisocial behavior
10. Causing Disasters

"Behold how they love one another." This was a hallmark of the early Christians. Yet these same believers were the object of repeated persecutions and oppression for almost the first 300 years. Why were the believers so hated in the Roman Empire? What were they guilty of? What were the charges against them?

Before you read any further, look at the "Wanted" poster that we made up. Put a "Y" in front of those that you think the Christians were actually accused of. Put an "N" in front of those you do not think they were accused of. Put a check in front of the ones that you think they were actually guilty of.

1. Cannibalism. The Roman world could not understand the communion or Eucharist. They heard references to "partaking of the Lord's body" and assumed there was cannibalism going on behind closed doors. This accusation didn't last long, as the Christians were able to show that it was bread and wine - not human flesh - they were using.

2. Disruption of business. Guilty as charged. In some places the growth of the church hurt the income of the pagan religions by curtailing their sale of animals and sacrificial meat. (See also the disruption caused in Acts 19:21ff.)

3. Gross immorality, including incest. The believers called each other "brother" and "sister" and professed love for one another. The pagans assumed this had to involve lust and immorality. The exemplary lives of Christians eventually put this accusation to rest.

4. Anti-family Behavior. There was an element of truth in this charge. When one became a believer, he or she was welcomed into the family of Christ. This new family became the Christian's deepest commitment. The new faith also typically made believers better family members than they had been before. But when a conflict came up between their natural family and the family of Christ, their first loyalty was to Christ.

5. Poverty. Christians were ridiculed by the pagans because so many of their number were poor. Their god was not all that good, the pagans figured, if he didn't care that they were poor. And he wasn't all that great if he didn't do anything about it. The Christians countered that there were advantages to "traveling light." Wealth could become a snare, and, besides, they were rich in what counted most in life. They somehow not only managed to find enough to get by, but were even able to share with others in need out of their meager resources.

6. Atheism. The Roman world had a multitude of gods and statues all around to represent them. Christians insisted there was only one true God, invisible in the heavens, and they refused to honor the Roman gods. Thus the Romans considered them atheists.

7. Novelty. The Roman world honored tradition and the ancient religions were revered because they were old. Christianity was accused of being a new upstart. Traditional Romans feared that converts were merely seduced by the novelty of this new faith. Christians countered that they were heirs of Judaism, an ancient faith the Romans recognized. Besides that, the Christians claimed they were the most ancient faith of all - they worshiped the God who existed before creation.

8. Lack of Patriotism. There was no distinction between church and state in the Roman Empire. All civic festivals were religious. It was expected that all would participate and thank the gods for their blessings to the empire. Christians would not participate because it would imply they were worshiping gods they denied. This would be idolatry. Further, Christians would not join the army because they did not believe in killing. So there was some validity to this charge, yet Christians affirmed their loyalty to the state, prayed for the emperor, and lived lives as exemplary citizens.

9. Anti-social behavior. This was related to the charge above, since the Christians would not participate in the civic festivals nor involve themselves in what they considered immoral behavior. Many Romans resented their independence and their conviction that they were "in the world but not of the world." So Christians were often scorned and charged with anti-social behavior.

10. Causing Disasters. Because the Christians would not honor the Roman religions and gods, when flood, famine, or disaster came, it was assumed that the Christians were the cause. The gods were sending punishment, many Romans figured, because of the Christians' atheism. This charge played a large role in the notable persecution at Lyons in 177 under Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Satirizing the prevailing view, the church father Tertullian put it this way: "If the Tiber reaches the walls, if the Nile does not rise to the fields, if the sky doesn't move or the earth does, if there is famine, if there is plague, the cry is at once: 'The Christians to the lion'."

Here are the answers for the quiz. Every item should have a "Y", and none an "N." Numbers 2, 5, and 9 could be said to be true in a sense and, therefore, could have a check mark.

Yes, A real Threat
As you see, the Romans perceived the Christians as a threat. That is why they had so many accusations. While many of the charges were frivolous and false, the Romans were right in perceiving the threat. Christianity did pose a mortal danger to many of the most deeply held assumptions of the Roman world. In what ways does our present society see the church as a threat? What are their charges against us? Which are valid and which are not?

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