It did not take long after the death of Christ in AD 33, and the birth of the Christian faith following that time, for Christianity to become a persecuted group. Christianity was deemed a "religio ilicita", an "illegal religion" in AD 64 by Emperor Nero. This initiated nearly 300 years of Christian persecution. Persecution that finally ceasing in AD 313 with the passing of the Edict of Milan by Emperor Constantine.
Ancient Rome was a society that prided itself on its tolerance of other cultures, perspectives, and faith-based groups (sound familiar?). After occupation they did not disband all aspects of that invaded culture, instead, they would cut a deal with the leaders. We see this in the New Testament background of the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day. Deals were made with local leaders, Rome became the governmental rulers, and the occupied nation could continue living as they were in their cultural and religious practices. All that was asked, all that was required was the paying of taxes, the acceptance of Rome's authority, and the recognition and admittance of one simple statement, "Kaiser Kurios" - "Caesar is Lord."
All that was required was that each citizen would burn a pinch of incense on the alter of Caesar, bow the knee in recognition, and then continue their lives as normal. Sincerity wasn't even a requirement, you did not even have to truly mean it, just simply do itEarly Christians however, understood the significance of the act they were being asked to perform. From its inception Christianity had a very simple statement of faith, one that summarized a profoundly practical and theological perspective, the proclamation of "Iesous Kurios," - "Jesus is Lord." Within that three century period of early Christianity many Christians who declared that Jesus was Lord and refused to bow the knee to Caesar died for their faith.
Nearly every time I read the testimonies of these early Christians I think of my own faith. The atmosphere of modern Christianity reminds me very much of the atmosphere of Jesus' day. We go to church on Sunday, worship once a week, keep our convictions to ourselves, and that is where the picture ends. Every other aspect of our life, our time, our money, our education, is devoted and dedicated to "the state."
We hold no fear of danger because we hold no potentiality of being dangerous. Therefore, when the world dictates that our beliefs, convictions, and ideologies are "bigoted" and "hateful" we change them. God's words in Holy Scripture become pliable and are reinterpreted to best fit the appeasement of society. We conform to the pattern of this world with the compromised notion that it is the only way we can make an impact.
Many self professed believers look less like the Christians who were rounded up and died for the name of Jesus, and more like those that killed the prophets preaching repentance. When we forget where we have come from we have a misguided picture of where we currently are, and we certainly do not know where we are going.
In the midst of all of this however, I am reassured with the notion that Christians for the past two thousand years have professed - "Iesous Kurios," - "Jesus is Lord."