The Call to Social Martyrdom

Christian Life & Theology, Podcast Episodes

In this episode we meet ten figures of the early church: five men and five women who shaped the culture of the first 500 years. A common theme in this era is the challenge of Rome’s idolatry: will these women and men burn incense to the emperor, or will they choose Christ and die? Learn how their lives model a faith for us today.


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Welcome to Verity podcast. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer, and I am here to teach you how to know what you believe, to live it boldly, and to communicate it graciously to the world around you. I believe that women are ready to go deeper in their faith than ever before and they don’t have to go to seminary to do it. I am so glad you’re here and I hope you’ll join me on this journey, because every woman is a theologian. 

Hello, friends, and welcome back to Verity podcast. We are in the middle of our early church section of this church history series, and today we are going to be talking about key figures of the early church. I’m so excited for how this series has turned out, because the way that it’s been structured, which was experimental by the way, it’s kind of adding layers to your understanding of what was going on in this church period. 

So if you’ve listened to the previous episodes, we talked about the world of the early church, what was going on culturally at the time of its spread, and then we talked about the creeds and the councils. And now we’re talking about these key figures, these people who played a role in the early church. And so by this point, you will probably recognize some of these names, some of what they did and what they were involved in. And I have for you five or six male figures of the early church and then five female figures of the early church.

 Now, when it comes to records, we have a lot more about the male figures because they were predominantly in the apostle bishop overseer type of roles. And the women, just as essential, were often in the role of financial support, hosting the churches, acting sometimes in a discipler role as the leader of a convent. So they were not overseeing the churches in the way that many of the bishops would have been at this point. But they still served a very important role, as you will see throughout this series. And it’s going to change over the course of history, as it does in different cultural areas. But it’s still interesting to see what they did, and as we’ll see in this episode in particular, what the church fathers said about them, what they said about the church mothers.

Okay, so let’s start with the men. We’re going to start with Polycarp. So Polycarp was a personal disciple of the apostle John as an old man. He was a bishop of the church at Smyrna in Asia Minor, which is present day Turkey. So this was around the year 120 to 140 AD. He was martyred in the year 155 AD. Church fathers Irenaeus and Jerome both mentioned him and wrote about him.

And what Polycarp is most famous for, aside from his faithful life and being discipled by the apostle John, is how he behaved during his martyrdom. And so there are records of what Polycarp said and how he behaved when he was brought before the roman consul. And so I’m going to read to you one of these transcripts of what happened. So Polycarp was brought to the arena. He had been brought in because of the persecutions against the Christians in approximately 150 AD. We talked about this in our first episode of this series. We talked about the persecutions that would happen under the different Roman emperors. This was one of them.

And the proconsul asked him to curse Christ and be released. Basically told him, I don’t want to kill you, but if you curse Christ and you say he’s not the Lord, then I will release you. Polycarp said, 86 years I have served him. He had never done me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my king, who has saved me? The proconsul reached for an acceptable way out. Then so this old man just swearing by the genius of the emperor, and that will be sufficient. So the word for a genius here that he’s using is the spirit of the emperor. And this would be basically like sacrificing to a pagan God or saying that the emperor was equivalent to God.

So he’s basically swearing by the spirit of the emperor. Polycarp said, if you imagine for a moment that I would do that, then I think you pretend that you don’t know who I am. Hear it plainly. I am a Christian. And so the proconsul threatened him with the wild beasts to throw him in the arena with them. And he replied, bring them forth. I would change my mind if it meant going from the worst to the better, but not change from the right to the wrong. The proconsul’s patience was gone.

I will have you burned alive, he said. Polycarp said, you threaten fire that burns for an hour and is over, but the judgment on the ungodly is forever. The fire was prepared, and Polycarp lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed, Father, I bless thee that you have deemed me worthy of this day and hour, that I might take a portion of the martyrs in the cup of Christ. Among these may I today be welcomed before they face as a rich and acceptable sacrifice.

So Polycarp was one of the early martyrs who set an example for a faithful and brave martyrdom in the face of Roman pressure. To either sacrifice to the gods or to give allegiance to the emperor as a God. And this, again, is reflective of the culture of Rome. They believed if you did not acknowledge the emperor as a God, if you did not acknowledge the state as the arbiter of religion, then you were a threat to the state, you were a threat to the peace, you were causing dissension, you were causing the plagues and the wars, because the gods were displeased by your objection. And we’ll talk at the end about how this is reflected in our current culture. 

The next person we’re going to talk about is Origen. So this is spelled Origen. And he lived in Alexandria around AD 185 to 254. He’s also known as Origin Adamantius, or Origin man of steel. And he was one of the earliest christian scholars. Some of his most important works are Hexapla de Principius and Contra Kelsum. In the year 202, Origin’s father was beheaded, so he was martyred himself.

And so teenage Origin began teaching grammar and christian belief to support himself. He became extremely prolific in his writing and his education. In fact, St. Jerome at one point sarcastically said, has anyone ever read all that Origen has written because he wrote so much? His book on first principles is what’s considered Christianity’s first systematic theology. So Origen laid out a structured approach to christian belief and to Greek philosophy in his book Sixfold. This is an early example of textual criticism and apologetics. They call it the first truly interlinear Bible. So it was formatted in six columns.

It had a Hebrew text with five columns of various Greek translations. And his purpose in compiling this was to confront the gnostic view of Christianity, or the gnostic take on it, which we again talked about in an earlier episode, that gnosticism was the teaching that matter, or physical body is bad, the spiritual is good, and it has these mediators, or eons, that go between the two. And it taught a misconstrued view of who Jesus was and did not teach that Jesus was truly God. It was the mother of the New Age movement. So the original book, Sixfold, or Hexapla, was 6500 pages long and took 28 years to complete. While Origen believed that scripture had three levels of meaning, literal, figurative, and moral. And this caused him, towards the end of his life, to allegorize a lot of scripture that was actually historical narrative. So he basically wrote extensively about scripture, saying that certain passages of the Old Testament were allegorical or making these stretched analogies to Christ.

In the Old Testament, after AD 251, a plague swept through Rome, and Emperor Disus laid blame on christians for failing to worship him. And so during this persecution, Origen was imprisoned and tortured and purposely kept alive. But then when he was released because of his age and because of the injuries, he did pass away. One of his famous quotes is this, for whatever be the knowledge which we are able to obtain of God, either by perception or reflection, we must of necessity believe that he is, by many degrees, far better than what we perceive him to be. 

The third person we’re going to talk about is Clement. Clement was the bishop of Rome. So Pope wrote first Clement, or the first epistle of Clement, and this is typically dated to about 80, 96, probably before the death of the apostle John. This letter was written to the city of Corinth, and it was mainly focused on correcting dissension and envy. If you want to read it, you can find it at there’s a lot of old documents translated into English there, and this particular epistle is extremely long. It’s little paragraphs chunked out, but it’s, I think, 48 or 50 different paragraphs. In his letter to the Corinthian church, both Origen and the historian Eusebius of Caesarea maintained that Clement was the same clement.

So Clement I in Rome was mentioned by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:3, and then Irenaeus of lions, who lived in  AD 130 to 200, told us that, quote, this man Clement, as he had seen the blessed apostles and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing in his ears and their traditions before his eyes. End quote. This is from his work against heresies. 33 now, what I wanted to read to you when I was looking through the letter to the Corinthian church from Clement, the epistle of Clement. I read through it, and I was trying to pick which quote to share with you, and I found his passage that encouraged the Corinthian Christians to pray for their leaders.

And I wanted to read you the prayer that he wrote for the leaders at that time. The reason I chose this is because we know from what we’ve studied so far about the church in this period that Christians were heavily persecuted by these people. They were being actively chased down and killed by these leaders, by these emperors. And this is the prayer that Clement wrote, quote, to our rulers and governors on the earth. To them, you, Lord, gave the power of the kingdom by your glorious and ineffable might to the end that we may know the glory and honor given to them by you and be subject to them in not resisting your will to them. Lord, give health, peace, concord, stability, that they may exercise the authority given to them without offense. For you, o heavenly lord and king, eternal givest to the sons of men glory and honor and power over the things that are on the earth. Do thou, lord, direct their counsel according to that which is good and well pleasing in your sight, that devoutly in peace and meekness, exercising the power given them by you, they may find you propitious. O thou who only has power to do these things and more abundant good with us. We praise you through the high priest and guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty to you both now and from generation to generation and forevermore. Amen. End quote. I thought that it was extremely powerful and beautiful to see him praying for these people who could very well put them to death. 

The next one we’re going to look at is Irenaeus. He was a bishop in Lyon, which is the capital of Gaul or France, and born around 125 AD. So at this time, Pothamus, the previous bishop of Lyon, was experiencing persecution from the locals because there were enemy raids on the city, there were plagues on the city. And they took this as evidence of the god’s displeasure because again, the Christians refused to worship the gods. They refused to bow to the emperor. And so pothonous is dragged to prison and Irenaeus replaced him. 

One of his most famous works is the book against heresies. And it’s here that we find the most beloved quote of his, the glory of God is man fully alive. So what was popular at the time of Irenaeus’s life was a gospel, one of the four gospels that was your particular favorite because of where you lived. So, for instance, if you lived in Texas, your favorite gospel, the gospel of Texas, was Matthew. If you lived in Florida, the gospel that you read was in Mark.

So it was basically like, oh, well, we don’t read Luke and John and Matthew because we live in Florida. We only read Mark. That was what was going on at this time. And so Irenaeus was actually extremely influential in teaching that all four gospels were the scriptures and all four were important. Here’s a quote from him. It is not you that shapes God. It is God that shapes you. If you are the work of God, await the hand of the artist who does all things in due season. Offer him your heart, soft, intractable, and keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you. Let your clay be moist, lest you grow hard and lose the imprint of his fingers. 

The next person we’re going to look at is Ignatius of Loyola. This is the bishop of Antioch in Syria, and he was martyred under the emperor Trajan in AD 110. His priorities were unity, truth and martyrdom. He believed that he would be martyred, and he asked for support and prayer and encouragement from the church in support of the martyrdom he believed was coming. And he was killed eventually. We have seven letters of Ignatius.

He was on his way to Rome to be killed, and he wrote his seven letters on the way to Rome. And one of the letters he wrote actually was addressed to Polycarp. So we also have the communication between them. He was apparently a disciple of John along with Polycarp. And so Polycarp, Aranaeus and Origen all refer to each other in their epistles and writings. He mainly countered gnosticism and docetism. So these are two heresies. We talked about this in the creeds and the councils that dealt with the nature of Jesus.

One other thing that Ignatius noted, this kind of was a new thing that was after the gospels, after the New Testament epistles, as the church began to grow, he noted that there’s a difference between bishops and elders, and he argued that there should be one bishop in charge of each congregation to prevent church splits and ensure that the correct orthodox beliefs were passed down. So that’s an interesting possible change between what was happening in the Jerusalem church and how the church adjusted as it grew. 

Here’s a quote from Ignatius. To give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do thy will. 

The next person we’ll talk about is Athhanasius. And you know a little bit about him from the last episode. Athhanasius was born in the city of Alexandria sometime in the 290’s.

He became bishop of Alexandria, serving first as a secretary to Alexander, who was the bishop of Alexandria. And Athanasius was elected to the position May 9 of 328. His nickname was the Black Dwarf, and he was African and very short. He was present at the Nicene council because Alexander, his bishop, faced off with Arius, who was teaching Aryanism. And if you go back to last episode, we talked about what that is and how it changed the nature of Jesus Christ. 

So Athhanasius would have been there, he would have seen it, but he wasn’t in any particular position of power at that time. When Athanasius came to power as the bishop of Alexandria on five occasions he was banished from the city, and this was because of his fight for orthodoxy, his fight for the nature of Jesus. Nevertheless, he stayed the course. And he is most famous for his work in a book called on the incarnation. So this book defended the divinity of Christ as he took on flesh. If you want a good advent or Christmas book to read on, the incarnation is a great early church document to read because it talks all about it. Here’s a famous quote from Athanasius.

He, the life of all our lord and savior did not arrange the manner of his own death, lest he should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No, he accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others and those other, his special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced. And he did this in order that by destroying even this death, he might himself be believed to be the life and the power of Death be recognized as finally annulled. A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat. End quote.

 Now we’re going to look at Justin Martyr. Justin lived approximately between AD 100 to 165. And he was a teacher, writer, and of course, a martyr. As his name implies, he lived in Samaria but moved to Ephesus to study philosophy in his search for truth. So he actually started as a pagan philosopher. He started as sort of like an atheist, someone searching for the right way of thinking. He was influenced by watching christians die, by watching them be martyred.

This is what he said. When I was a disciple of Plato, hearing the accusations made against the christians and seeing them intrepid in the face of death and of all that men fear, I said to myself that it was impossible that they should be living in evil and in the love of pleasure, end quote. So he’s saying he watched these christians go to their deaths and how they acted as they died, peaceful, willing to do it with no screaming or no attacking, no defending themselves. And he said, these people can’t be living in evil and pursuing pleasure. These people have something genuine. And he became a follower of Christ. His work articulated a couple different things. He has one particular work called a dialogue. That’s a discussion with a jew regarding the superiority of Christ in Christianity. And so he answers the objections of jewish individuals about Christianity and defends the christian faith.

In 165 AD, Justin and some of his followers were arrested. He was taken in for trial under the reign of emperor Marcus Aurelius. And he eventually would be beheaded. But this is what he said, if we are punished for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hope to be saved. And as he was going to be beheaded, he is quoted as saying, no one who is rightly minded turns from true belief to false. And essentially what he was saying to the prefect who had him beheaded is you’re asking me to condemn what I believe. You’re asking me to turn from it. But if I am rightly thinking, it would not make sense for me to turn from what is true to what is not true, and he was killed for that.

The last gentleman we’re going to talk about is Saint Jerome. This is not his real name. This is his nickname. His real name was Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius. So it’s nice that his nickname is Jerome. He was one of the greatest christian scholars and the greatest figure in the history of Bible translation.

It took him 30 years to create the latin version of the Bible, which is still being used by the Catholic Church today. I actually own a Latin Vulgate. I copy the passages out of it alongside what I’m reading in my English Bible. And it’s just so neat that this is what was translated by him. He was probably born and lived around ad 345 in Dalmatia, which is modern day Bosnia. He is considered one of the early church fathers best known for his work in translating the Hebrew and Greek into Latin, which was at that time the language of the empire. So in a sense, he was the first Tyndale. He was taking the Hebrew and Greek scriptures and translating them into the common language of Latin, which then fast forward to the 15-1600’s. Now it’s no longer the language of the empire, had to be translated again, but at the time, it was the language of the empire. 

And so for five years, Jerome lived alone in the desert, studying Hebrew and Greek.  When he returned back into the regular life, he started practicing his language skills by studying Origen’s writing. And then he eventually translated the Bible into Latin. Interestingly, his latin translation did draw some criticism, including from Augustine. So Augustine is another one of the church fathers from Africa, northern Africa. He was a prolific writer, and I totally forgot to do a little write up on him. So we will hit Augustine in the future, I promise.

But he was a prolific writer. He wrote the city of God. He was one of the first church fathers to write extensively on predestination and lay the groundwork for Calvin and Luther’s theology. Anyway, he criticized Jerome because of the wording of his latin text. And even accused him of tampering with the word of God. But here was the issue. The Latin of the time didn’t have equivalent words to Hebrew, so Jerome would translate thought for thought instead of word for word. He would try to capture the essence of what the Hebrew was saying in Latin, even though there wasn’t a direct correlation of words.

This is the same problem we have in English. There just isn’t always an exact replica of that word in English. And so he wrote basically the first dynamic equivalence Bible translation, which is fascinating. A modern dynamic equivalence would be like your NIV and your CSB bibles. He died in Bethlehem on September 30, 420. And now there’s two quotes I wanted to share with you. The first is this. The scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for theologians to swim in without ever touching the bottom. I thought that was beautiful. But then there was this other quote attributed to him which I thought was really sweet as well. He said, it is no small merit in God’s eyes to bring up children. Well, isn’t that sweet? I love it.

The Every Woman a Theologian winter collection is here and I am so excited for all of our new offerings. We have some new books such as the sex Talk you never had, which is an updated and revised version of my popular book on purity, pornography and a biblical sexual ethic called Christian Cosmo. We also have our new offering from Jeremy Jenkins of all things all people called Should Christians Practice Yoga? This is a part of our quick theology series, a series of little booklets that are only $6 in the print version, $3 for the ebook version. And I know you’re going to love Jeremy’s balanced and wise approach to this topic. You can also check out Good News is Coming by my friend Priscillis Perot Dominguez. This is an amazing children’s book about the gospel and it’s in both English and Spanish. These are just the books, you guys. We also have all of our great Verity home offerings, all of our Bible in the year products. You’ve got to check it out and you can head over to and it will take you straight to the winter collection. 

Okay, let’s turn to the women of the church. This first one is a person that I am excited to share with you because our cat is named after her. Our cat’s name is Perpetua and Perpetua was a strong young woman in the early church. She was a martyr and reading her story makes me a little embarrassed that I named a cat after her and not like a human child, but we love our cat and we love her name. 

So who is Perpetua? She was a 22 year old noble woman. She had an infant son, and she lived in the city of Carthage. She was wealthy and lived with her parents. And at the time, Carthage is in North Africa. So she’s another one of our african church mothers, young church mothers. But because there was a vibrant christian community in North Africa, again, where Alexandria is, so where Athanasius is, where Augustine is now, where Perpetua is, you have this struggle with the Roman emperor. And at this time, Emperor Severus wanted to persecute the christians there and drive them out.

And so he began to arrest them. And one of the people that he arrested was Perpetua. And what’s believed is that he went to the catechumens. So the people who were in their training to receive baptism, they would go through weeks of discipleship training before they could be baptized. And he went to one of those, or he sent his men to one of those classes and took these christians out. And so Perpetua was put in prison. Her baby was left with her family. And her father, who was not a Christian, begged her to deny that she was a Christian and came to the prison begging her, holding her child, begging her to please have pity on him as her father, have pity on her children and her child and give up her faith in Christ to come and be with her family.

She told her father. And this is again, according to the transcription that we have, it will all happen in the prisoner’s dock, as God wills. For you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves, but are all in his power. Perpetua was then taken for her hearing with her friends and fellow catechumens. Perpetua’s friends were questioned first. They all admitted to being a Christian and refused to make a sacrifice. Did you notice? You hear that again? The test of their faith or the test of their allegiance to the state was to make a sacrifice, to make a statement, essentially, to the god, to the emperor, to the state. When Perpetua was questioned, she said, no.

Her father, carrying her baby, came in and begged her to perform the sacrifice and have pity on her baby and have pity on him. And Perpetua said, I will not. And then the governor asked her, are you a Christian? And she said, yes, I am. All of them, Perpetua and her servant Felicity. So it’s often paired together, Perpetua and Felicity. They went together to the arena where wild beasts were released. They were attacked by the wild beasts, but not killed. And then eventually, they were all killed by the sword.

So in this story, Perpetua, at 22 years old, this wealthy young woman gives up her family and her baby to stand on the truth of the gospel. And it’s hard, really to hear this story, especially of such a young woman whose family is begging her not to be faithful to what she believes and whose government is telling her that she must sacrifice her belief in Christ in order to be a member of the community. And yet she goes boldly to her death. 

The next woman we’re going to meet is Marcella. She was born around 325 AD. St. Jerome called her the glory of Roman women, which is such high praise. She was a Roman matron and was widowed after seven to nine months of marriage. She refused to marry again to the consul, and eventually she was tortured by the Goths, who looted Rome in 410. They were trying to find out where her wealth was, but she had given it all away. 

Something that’s fascinating about her story is that when Jerome arrived in Rome in 382, he was summoned by Pope Damascus I. Marcella actually entertained him, like, welcomed him to her house. And Jerome spent three years there in what he called her, quote unquote, domestic church. I just love that he called her home a domestic church. Isn’t that inspiring that she created such a culture in her home that that is what it was like? He translated the Bible into Latin in her home, and she learned under his teaching, even as she critiqued his translation. So he wrote throughout his life on her christian devotion, on her intellect, on her genius, on her Hebrew and Greek abilities.

And he particularly noted that she deferred to men who might be threatened by her vast store of knowledge. And what he means by deferring is her humility. So she did not use her vast door of knowledge to lord over the men around her. She presented herself in humility. And this is a perfect example of what true submission is, what biblical submission is. It’s that kind of deference and humility. Like, I know all of this, but I’m not going to use this to lord over you, to penalize you, to shame you, to tell you I deserve something. I am going to treat you with humility.

And it’s the same kind of humility that some of the church fathers, like Polycarp, also exemplified. But I think it’s so interesting that it’s actually noted by Jerome, who himself struggled with humility. So this is a quote from Marcella by heaven’s grace. Captivity has found me a poor woman, not made me one. Now I shall go in want of daily bread, but I shall not feel hunger, since I am full of Christ.

The next woman of the early church we’re going to talk about is Paula, also a Roman noble woman who supported the work of Jerome. She became another friend and colleague. So part of her christian commitment was to go from being extremely wealthy, as the Roman noble women were, to asceticism.

So giving everything up, wearing plain clothes, living as a woman who was poor, and giving away her wealth. Jerome first met Paula in Rome around 382. About the same time he would have met Marcella, and so both of them would have worked directly with him and with the other bishops who were in the city. There were some other colleagues of Paula. This would be Principia, who opened the first convent for women, and also Acela, Albina, Marcelina, Felicitas, and Fabiola. Here’s what St. Jerome said about Paula. The more she cast herself down, the more she was lifted up by Christ. She was hidden, and yet she was not hidden by shunning glory. She earned glory, for glory follows virtue as its shadow, and deserting those who seek it. It seeks those who despise it. End quote.

The next two church mothers we don’t have a whole lot of information about, but they still contributed to the early church in significant ways. The first is Amma Syncletica of Alexandria. That’s a mouthful. She went by Syncletica, and she was born in Macedonia around 380 AD in a wealthy family that then immigrated to Egypt.

Both of her parents and two of her brothers died while she was young, and she became the heiress of the family. But eventually she gave away her fortune to the poor. Have you noticed the pattern? And entered into solitary life with her sister. She taught that we are born three times into life, first through the womb, second through baptism, and the last through discipline. And so we are shaped by those three instances as we live our lives. And the quote attributed to her is, remembering of wrongs undermines spiritual health. 

The last woman of the early church we’re talking about is Eudosia alia. Eudosia. And I might be mispronouncing that. Originally Athenaeus was the wife of Theodosius II. She was the daughter of Leontius, one of the last pagans who taught rhetoric at Athens. So she’s the daughter of a pagan philosopher, but she was introduced to the christian faith by Patriarch Atticus, and in 421, she married Theodosius. Through the circumstances of the time, disagreements, she was banished away from the emperor, but she ended up moving to Jerusalem, and from there used her influence to support the council of Chalcedon. She also wrote a lot of poetry, including paraphrasing much of the Bible. So we know what we know about her from the poetic contributions that she made and then her connection with the council of Chalcedon. So as we look at all of these martyrs, these writers, these teachers, these bishops, something that becomes apparent is that the church in these early years had a decision to make. 

Every Christian had a decision to make. They could either follow Christ or they could follow Rome. They could either have an allegiance to Christ or they could have an allegiance to the emperor. And as previously stated, if you did not bow to the emperor, if you did not put a little bit of incense on the altar, make a sacrifice to the emperor. Not a big sacrifice, just enough to say that you gave your allegiance in this way, that you said the right thing, you had a choice. You could either give allegiance to Rome or give allegiance to Christ. It was not like you could blend the two.  Even though christians really did try sometimes their compromise in order to appease Rome is not what’s remembered. The people who are remembered, the ones that shaped Christianity in those early years, are the ones who are willing to lay themselves down.

So how do we understand this? Know, today we are not being thrown into a den of lions, thrown into an arena, to be hung on a cross, or to be publicly executed, at least in America. So what’s the equivalent circumstance? And the question we have to ask is this. What is the God my culture demands I sacrifice to? And today our God is identity and sexuality. If I will not confirm, affirm, and say that this God is true, if I will not burn my bit of incense, if I will not give my allegiance to this, I can be socially martyred, aka canceled. Right?

In American culture today, our God is the God of identity. And if you do not affirm my identity, if you do not give credence to this identity as an essential piece of culture, as a means of showing love, you are a threat to the culture itself. You are a threat to the state. You are a threat to peace. You are a threat to love. You are a threat to all things the culture perceives as good. And if you refuse to back down, even lovingly, peacefully, kindly, the way the martyrs behaved, that was the thing about them. They were not thrashing and screaming and yelling and cursing. They were peacefully strong in the face of opposition and in the face of martyrdom. But even so, the culture still killed them. 

Isn’t it interesting that some of the smartest church fathers, like Justin Martyr, were convinced to follow God because of the behavior of the martyrs as they went to die? We today, we don’t have the opportunity, most of us, to die a martyr’s death. And I would praise God for that privilege, the fact that we have been protected in that way.

I praise him for that every day. And I pray for those who are at risk of martyrdom. The people living currently in the Middle East, even in China, around the world, places where people could be killed for their faith, we should be praying for them. But as we live in this place of privilege, in western society, where I live in America, the question I have to ask is, am I willing to face a social martyrdom to stand on what is true? And many christians today are compromising. 

The things that were taught in the early church by the apostles, passed down the holiness that is required of christians. The sexual immorality that we are called to walk away from, the sexual morality we are called to walk into. We instead are burning incense to the emperor so that we can avoid martyrdom. And when we look at the early church, what we see are people who knew the God of their age and knew how easy it would be to appease the state, how easy it would be to appease Rome. All you had to do was swear by the genius of the emperor, swear by the spirit of Caesar. Just say that. Just say that he’s got. Just say that he’s supreme. That. Say that it’s right. Say that it’s true. And they said, I will not.

As Perpetua said, or they said, it is too late. I can’t turn to what is false after thinking rightly. So. What is your risk of martyrdom? What is the truth that you’re called to stand on? What does the gospel say? There’s the gospel of Jesus Christ, right? It transforms us and it eradicates and removes our sin. And so any teaching of our culture that changes the nature of sin and calls something holy, that is sin, that is a deception, that is a lie, and it does not deserve our allegiance. So what is the God of your city? What is the God of your age? Maybe the God of your city is the new age gnosticism. Oh, we can blend this with Christianity. Maybe you’ve even heard people using verses like all things are clean to those who are clean. So I can participate in anything. I can blend the new age with Christianity. It’s no big deal. The answer is no. 

Will you stand on what is true even if it means a social martyrdom, don’t go looking for martyrdom. If you want to read these documents, go read the work of Justin Martyr. Go read the work of Polycarp of Irenaeus. When they talk about martyrdom, they say, no, I’m not going to go look for it. I’m not actively hoping that I will be martyred. Ignatius himself talks about this too, where he knows I’m not actively seeking out attention so that I will be killed. But if I am martyred, I will take it as an honor to identify with Christ. And so for us, it’s not like we are rude and mean and posting things on Facebook that are inflammatory, intentionally inflammatory. Or that we go about communicating our faith or the holiness of Christ in a way that is directly offensive, but that we are peaceful and kind and loving while also standing on truth. And if the loving, peaceful truth offends and you are then brought to account and they ask you to burn the incense to the emperor, you then have a choice. Will you stand on what is true or will you give in? That is a choice that we might have now, or we at the very least will have in the future. And the early church fathers and mothers can inspire us and encourage us that we are not alone in choosing the path less traveled thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of Verity podcast.

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