Trump's Got Covid: I'm Not his Biggest Fan, But ... I'm Called to Pray

Even if I disagree with President Trump, I am a fan of life.

About ten minutes ago, my wife zipped me a text of a screenshot. This is what it looked like:

I’m not a fan of the president, but I am a fan of life.

But moments like this test me. I’ve had multiple thoughts about this Tweet:

1) What if he’s lying to gain some weird political momentum?

Like the beast in Revelation who has a head wound and comes back to ‘ooooh and awe’ the masses after a miraculous recovery (Rev. 13:3), could this be an opportunity for the President Trump to strategically “get this illness” and then get better and come back stronger? (To be clear: I’m not even trying to hint that the President is the antichrist or beast of Revelation but giving a metaphor, only. I’ve written and spoken on this topic quite a bit, and it is well known that I would hold that such a figure existed in the first century — Nero-Domitian-Roman Empire.)

I don’t know.

But I want to be honest with you, it was my first thought.

2) Maybe he will have a bad case. Not bad enough to kill him, but bad enough to make him sick to the point where he has a metaphorical “come to Jesus” moment and repents of some of his nonchalant posture towards the disease and towards marginalized people.

Here’s the thing. While this may be how I feel at one level, on a deeper level, I do not want him and/or the First Lady to suffer. As a follower of Jesus I’m called to “love [my] enemies” and to “pray for those who harrass…” (Matthew 5).

I truly want ANYONE infected with COVID-19 to build antibodies without moving from an irritating illness to suffering. So, even though his policies differ drastically from the sorts of things that bring human flourishing for the most vulnerable among us, and even though his rhetoric fans the flames of systemic and individual pain for marginalized persons, I do not long for “eye for eye” justice. I long for a change of his heart, mind, and actions.

3) Maybe I should pray for him.

And this is where I will land. I. Will. Pray.

Why?

  • Because it is entirely possible to not be a fan of the President and to desire God’s best for him.

  • It is entirely possible to to not be a fan of his words and actions and to still try to empathize with him.

  • It is entirely possible to believe that he upholds racist systems while longing for the restoration of his immune system.

  • It is entirely possible to believe that he failed to handle COVID-19 responsibly and hope that his body develops antibodies to bring about his recovery.

  • And it is entirely possible to pray that he will have a change of heart because of how this pandemic has now hit home.


Here’s the thing. You may not agree with me on President Trump. You may endorse his presidency and plan to vote for him again in November. I need you to know something: I disagree with you but I am not your enemy. Especially, I want to make this clear, if you are a fellow follower of Jesus. We may have some disagreements about policies pertaining to human rights. But that is a discussion for another day.

But for me, I will take my political cues from two sources: the Jesus revealed in the New Testament and what I hear from marginalized communities in our country.

The Jesus who stood up on a hillside and gave us the Sermon on the Mount—I can’t imagine him ignoring the cries of the oppressed among us.

The Jesus who not only taught his disciples to love their enemies, but modeled this sort of radical love as he forgave them and died for the very people who executed him.

The Jesus who rose from the dead to inaugurate the eventual defeat of sin and evil in all their forms: personal sin, systemic sin, and everything in between.

My ultimate political cue that I get from Jesus isn’t, just to be clear, vote Democrat because they will save us from these sins.* Rather, it is that Jesus is the only King … the only “President” … that is worthy of my allegiance.


So, what do I do with the news that President Trump and the First Lady have COVID-19?

I pray.

I ask God to use this situation to influence the President and to bring about the restoration of both body and soul.

Jesus says that as his disciple I have 3 basic marching orders:

  1. Love God

  2. Love neighbors

  3. Love enemies

Most of the time President Trump teeter-totters between #2 and #3 for me. And as a Christian, it makes no difference which number he ultimately lands on. Love is my call. Love is the virtue Jesus invites me to cultivate. So I choose love.

I’m no fan of the President, but I am a fan of life.

I pray for him and the First Lady. I pray they recover. I also pray, that the President has a change of heart and mind.

While the following might be an extreme verse to use, depending on how you view President Trump, this passage from the Hebrew Scriptures give us some needed perspective on why we Christians are called to desire life:

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Ezekiel 33.11

If the God of the Bible takes no pleasure in the death of wicked people … the most extreme example of what we might consider an enemy … then it follows that wherever President Trump lands on the love neighbor |————| love enemy spectrum, God desires life. Every time. And not life only for life’s sake.

But a life that turns from evil and discovers a truer life … a life of love … a life that looks like Jesus.

Maybe this is President Trump’s opportunity to truly live.



*To be clear, I’m not saying that voting in the election is off the table for me. I will vote for the candidates and policies that I understand will tilt our systems towards more equity for marginalized people. I do this fully knowing that these votes are lesser evils. I’m an “independent” with convictions that look like Republican issues at times and Democrat issues on other points. I just want to follow Jesus and listen to the voices of my marginalized neighbors so that I can utilize my privilege for the greater good.

The Bible #6: Church gets a Sword ... and a Bible

From Tribulation to Peaceful Compromise

In my last reflection on the Bible, I took some time to catch us up from when this series took an extended break at the end of last year. Something that I want to keep in our minds during this first part of a long series on the Bible is a basic flow of events:

  • The Jesus Event —> The Jesus Movement —> The Jesus Documents —> The Jesus Book = The Jesus Story (the ongoing story of God)*

Before getting into the Bible directly, I’ve attempted to outline some historical factors that give us an important insight: the Bible is not the center of our faith, Jesus is the center (in harmony with the Father and Spirit, of course). Simply put, the question I’ve invited us to ask is: Why the Bible?

Well, for the earliest followers of Jesus, the Bible was the written witness of how Jesus changed everything. Even before it was a completed Bible—in the sense that it was systematically put together—the stories of Jesus and the writings of early leaders like Paul and Peter, rooted the Movement in moments of suffering. It was central, but not the center. The Jesus Event and more specifically, Jesus himself, provided the center. He had risen from a grave. Resurrection is real. Even death won’t ultimately win.

Catch Up….

Podcast Version of this Newsletter


Last time, we looked at the tribulation the Jesus Movement faced for a season under Decius. Fortunately, his reign was short. Things seemed to calm down a bit until the latter part of the reign of Dioletian (284-305 CE). At this time, power is shared so technically Diocletian was co-emperor. 

In 299 CE, the story goes that the emperors in the imperial house took part in a sacrifice that was meant to predict the future by reading the entrails of the animals. (This was common in Greek and Roman religions).

It failed. 

This sacrifice-gone-bad† led them to conclude that the gods were angry due to the growing presence of Christians. By 302, Diocletian ordered that the small Christian-Buddhist-Zorastrian sect (oversimplified description) referred to as Manicheans be eliminated. Their leader was burned to death and low-status members executed by the sword. The so-called high status members were forced into slavery in rock quarries. 

In winter 303, Diocletian issued an official edit against Christianity. It ordered the destruction of Scriptures [documents not full bibles!], worship buildings, and martyrdoms. Christianity would keep spreading. Fortunately, the persecution was localized mostly. Many governors were lenient and most common people were not in favor of mistreating the Christians. 

This lasted until Constantine the Great. He would offer the church both a sword and a Bible.


I know. Some of you hear Constantine and think: you mean that guy who The Da Vinci Code exposed as the real reason we only have 27 specific documents in the New Testament. That’s silly conspiracy theory stuff that has been demonstrated over and again as ahistorical malarkey.

Constantine comes to power and quickly decides to favor the massive Jesus Movement. By this time, it had grown throughout the empire, and beyond. His Edict of Milan in 313 CE lifted all previous edits against Christians. They were free to finally worship out in open. In fact, the emperor “converts” and suddenly the documents that are universally read and recognized can be formally brought together in an organized fashion. After years of fear dominating the Jesus Movement, now for the first time they can worship freely without risking state-sanctioned harassment

Imagine having funding for something that was done on the DL for so long (DL = “secretly” or “down low”). Imagine not having to exist in the shadows any longer. The best thing Constantine did for Christianity was give it enough freedom and resources to bring together the sacred Jesus Documents. Of course, the worst thing Constantine did was to bring the power of the sword (you know, that one Jesus told Peter to put away), strangely close to the historically nonviolent way of Christ. Peace is good, but peace gives the Jesus Movement an openness to compromise. Where there had been relatively few known Christians who would endorse any sort of violence up to this point, this new relationship with Rome laid the foundations for Christianity becoming the official religion of the Empire and for Augustine’s “Just War” theory to become the dominant perspective. 

They say that power changes people. We inherited the blessings and curses of that power. The blessing that stands out for our purposes is the canonization of the Scriptures—out in the open, with resources—free from persecution. The curse, however, led to a Jesus Movement that at times behaved like an “Empire Movement” and we are still recovering from this impulse. (By the way, the most nuanced treatment of the so-called Constantinian Shift is found in, The Early Church on Killing by Ron Sider.)


So, we return to where we started in this series: Why the Bible? 

Something happened (The Jesus Event, especially the resurrection)

Something compelling happened (The Jesus Event was so compelling that it launched the Jesus Movement which gave us the Jesus Documents and eventually the Jesus Book)

And finally, two last thoughts on this question after a brief passage of Scripture….

This is the disciple [John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”] who testifies concerning these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 25 Jesus did many other things as well. If all of them were recorded, I imagine the world itself wouldn’t have enough room for the scrolls that would be written. John 21.24-25 CEB

If we believe the Jesus Event, then we too are invited to find our place in the Jesus Story.

During the earliest persecutions of Christians, they had to discern what it meant to be the continuation of the Jesus Story. Something happened in recent generations and they chose to step into that storyline, even if it meant giving their lives. The book pointed to a Person. The Person empowered them to become new persons. 

A book can’t contain Jesus, but it points us in the wisest possible direction towards Jesus.

The book helps you know the Person. The book tells the story of this event that was so compelling it divided an empire. Jesus can’t be contained…. He’s beyond what a book could ever portray.

So, in the end, the church got the Bible … and the sword that came with it.



Notes:

*I’m being a bit playful here, so please don’t read too much into it what I mean by The Jesus Story. It is the ongoing movement of the Kingdom that started with an empty tomb 2k years ago.

Sources for Imperial House sacrifice: Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 10.1–5; Barnes, "Sossianus Hierocles", 245; Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 18–19; Burgess, "Date of the Persecution", 157–58; Helgeland, "Christians and the Roman Army", 159; Liebeschuetz, 246–8; Odahl, 65.

The Bible #5: Movement Continues (Hello, again)

Back to our series on the Bible!

In the fall of last year, I started what I called an “ongoing series” of reflections simply called “The Bible.” I had hoped to continue this series (after a break last November) in the winter/spring of 2020. Well, we all know what happened.

Covid.
Stay-at-home orders.
Pandemic. 

If you are anything like me, many things shifted in your life. For my part, my “full time” work hours quickly turned into half days that I split with my wife. We have two kiddos so we came up with a plan to get us to the summer. What that meant was, between ministry work, writing my first book, and being present to my family, that my newsletter and podcast had to slow down. That still may be the case for some time.

However, I find myself with fresh motivation to put together a few more posts in this series (which does not have an end in sight), so I’m creating them in advance so that they can flow to your inbox consistently for a few weeks.

Catch Up….

Podcast Version


As a way of catching us up, it seems helpful to remind ourselves of the basic flow of events that we’ve been tracing: 

  • #1 Jesus Event: his life, teachings, death, resurrection (the most important from an ‘event’ perspective), appearances, ascension, and future return.

  • #2 Jesus Movement: the ongoing gathering of communities committed to worshiping the Triune God and living in the power of God’s Spirit to represent God’s Kingdom (or party, or other image for God’s values coming to bear among us)

  • #3 New Testament Documents (or, as I said previously, “Jesus Documents”): various documents that are recognized as being Holy Scripture, although not systematically organized throughout all the churches.

  • #4 Compiled Bible: This is finally put together in the fourth century, in continuity with what the churches throughout the known world already affirmed about a particular set of 27 documents (along with the Hebrew Scriptures).

The early church was driven by the Jesus Event to form the Jesus Movement. This produced Jesus Documents that eventually became the “Jesus Book” (Compiled Bible). 

The Jesus Movement should have been snuffed out by years of on again off again persecution. But instead, it grew. And here’s been the main point of these early reflections on the Bible: 

The Bible is not the point, it points to the Point who is a Person. Jesus is the Point and the Event of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension launched a movement in the world. The resurrection specifically is the anchor-point of the Jesus Event that gave the movement courage and joy as they continued to tell others about God’s love. The Bible is central to the Christian faith without being the center of it. That place is reserved for Jesus alone.

As we noted last time, placing Jesus at the center led the early Jesus Movement to suffering, and at times: death.


The early church leader, Tertullian (155 - 240 CE) is cited as saying:

“If the Tiber floods the city or if the Nile refuses to rise or if the sky withholds its rain, if there is an earthquake, a famine, a pestilence, at once the cry is raised: ‘Christians to the lions!’”***

As we looked at in part 4, the earliest Jesus-followers committed themselves to Jesus and his movement, even ’til death. From the days of the apostles through 250 CE, the people of Jesus found themselves in times of relatively little pressure and persecution and intense seasons of it. (See the timeline in the previous post.) Tertullian gives his perspective from his own lifetime. 

Christians often were scapegoated when things went wrong. Their unwillingness to worship the gods of empire left people suspicious of them. While it was legal for Jews to worship only one God, the lines continued to blur as to whether or not this movement of Messiah-followers qualified as Jews. Ultimately it was decided that they did not.

One of the worst seasons of persecution came during the reign of Decius (reign: 249-251 CE). He issued an edict calling for the worship of the (non-Christian) gods across the empire. This was the first systematic, empire-wide attempt to suppress Christianity. Up to this point, most persecution was localized but this move was a big deal. 

By January of 250 CE, orders came that customary annual sacrifices in Rome to Jupiter and the other imperial gods must be observed everywhere else. While this wasn’t specifically directed at Christians per se, it directly affected them uniquely: either they accommodate or risk execution. 

When Decius ordered everyone (without partiality) to worship the imperial gods, the system’s rigidity involved unique ways to prove you had complied. Documents called “Libelli” were required if you were stopped by authorities to prove that you had participated in the Greco-Roman sacrifices. (If you want a modern-day parallel, get to know some undocumented persons and what it is like to be asked about “papers”.) We have copies of these types of documents:

Of course, by this time, the members of the Jesus Movement were rooted in the Jewish Scriptures and the New Testament documents. However, these scriptures (as I said earlier) weren’t readily available in a completed package. The stories they knew either orally or through their local leaders (who likely kept and copied the Scriptures) propelled them to faithfulness. Although Decius wasn’t in power long, his actions led to immense suffering. Not for a book—but in order to be faithful to a Person: Jesus. 


Well, I hope this catches you back up. If you’d like, feel free to go back to parts 1-4 to get the full picture. In our next installment, we’ll trace the rest of the story to the time of Constantine.

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Footnote:

*** Andy Stanley used this quote in his series The Bible for Grown-Ups (week 1). In many ways, Stanley inspired my extended look at the early church, but I made it my own as well. The ‘spirit’ of this series in parts 1-6 was inspired by Andy Stanley in the Bible for Grown Ups, week 1 as well. I took my own direction with it but his emphasis in that talk and elsewhere on the ‘event’ that grew Christianity instead of the Bible as the foundation has been quite helpful.  

N.T. Wright & Sarah Bessey 🔥

Great books came out in the past couple of months.

Hi friends!

I’m excited to share with you about two great books that came out in recent months. First, I’ll talk about Sarah Bessey’s Miracles and Other Reasonable Things. My interview with her can be found here:

Podcast Episode

I won’t take up too much space here. However, let me say that Sarah’s latest book moved me deeply. She steps into her own darkness and pain in a poetic way.

When I interviewed her, I had only made it through the first bit of this book. As a result, my questions are broad. However, the next day I had a drive to make from Seattle to Canada. During that commute, I finished my other friend’s, Cara Meredith, audio book about her journey of falling in love with the son of a civil rights icon. (More to come on this in an upcoming podcast as it is also powerful stuff!). Then, I started Sarah’s book. Listening to it brought me to tears more than once. I was truly touched by the Spirit on this trip.

I was unprepared for how powerful this short book would truly be. If time permits, I may take it up a second time. In this book, I was reminded of the provocative message of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the tender love of our Heavenly Parent. I would rank it in the top few books—when it comes to its impact—that I’ve read in recent years!


Second, N.T. Wright has two recent books added to his massive catalogue: History and Eschatology and The New Testament in Its World. Here is where I chat with him about these two projects and his ongoing work for Jesus:

Podcast Interview

The first of these is based on the Gifford Lectures from 2018, but features about 50% new content that prof Wright added to it. The second, The New Testament in Its World, is a larger volume aimed at students. It brings together all of his major works in an accessible textbook which was co-authored by Michael Bird (who did most of the compiling as well as some writing in areas that prof Wright has not focused on as much).

As many of you likely know, I’m someone who follows N.T. Wright's work with great interest. This book stands as a middle ground resource. Those who have only been exposed to his 'popular level' books (Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, Paul: A Biography, Simply Jesus, etc.) will find this book as an excellent bridge into his scholarship. You will get summaries and fresh content based on books like Paul and the Faithfulness of God and Jesus and the Victory of God.

Also, some will likely think that this book is *only* a distilled version of his other work. But two other points could be made.

  • First, prof. Wright told me that he rewrote the section on Romans because he has evolved in various areas.

  • Second, several areas have been augmented by the good work of Michael Bird, especially areas dealing with theology and the general epistles.

I hope this offers a helpful perspective on this resource. I highly recommend this book if you want to take your understanding of the New Testament and the world that produced it to a deeper level and you want to take a next step in engaging the scholarship of NT Wright.


Well, friends, I hope you will check out both of these podcast interviews and will find both resources helpful as you seek to follow Jesus in intelligent and humanizing ways.

Peace my friends!

Kurt Willems

The Bible #4: 'Til Death

A series of emails and podcasts about reading the Bible well.

This is a long series on the Bible. Here are all the previous parts, that you really need to check out in order if possible to get the full picture of what I’ve suggested about the Bible thus far.

Please Note: There is a podcast version of this series available as well.

Get Podcast Version


The Bible is central to the Christian faith but it is not the center. The center is occupied by the Trinitarian God whom Jesus reveals.

Jesus revealed that the true heart of God is immeasurable love for humankind and the whole cosmos. We will look more at that in future parts of the series with greater detail, but by now I’ve more than betrayed my bias. The Bible doesn’t belong as the Point of our faith or the Center of it.

We are part of a Movement called Christianity and the Bible tells the story of how it all got started. We are people of the Movement of Jesus, with and for Jesus; not people of the Book alone.

By the latter part of the first century, a few decades after the Jesus Event, a gospel attributed to Luke came into being. Just like Paul and John, who we looked at before, Luke hands down an account of the Jesus Event:

Many people have already applied themselves to the task of compiling an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used what the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down to us. 3 Now, after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, I have also decided to write a carefully ordered account for you, most honorable Theophilus. 4 I want you to have confidence in the soundness of the instruction you have received.

Luke 1.1-4 (CEB)

Luke’s main point of emphasis as he gets started is that he aims to write down something that happened. Events were fulfilled among his contemporaries which needed accounting for so that new followers of Jesus would understand the Movement they had joined.

Luke claims to have access to “original eyewitnesses” who “handed down” the stories that make up what we have called the Jesus Event. He’s not simply going from his own memory but openly relies on the words and witness of other people.

Luke’s gospel was no solo project.

Luke’s gospel also didn’t come down from heaven on a golden tablet of perfection.

This gospel was part of an unearthing process for the writer. He likely drew from other gospel traditions such as Matthew and Mark. He likely had access to first hand witnesses who also gave him insights not reflected in other gospel stories about Jesus.

But here’s an important point to make: Luke tells the Jesus Event story so that those who come after him (even Theophilus [perhaps a patron?]) will be able to trust that the movement they have joined is rooted in reality.

This isn’t an “ordered account” so that we can get on with systematic theology debates. This is an “ordered account” that brings about “confidence in the soundness of the instruction” that has been received.

This instruction has to do with what it means to follow Jesus as a member of his movement. Luke often emphasizes the outcasts of society and the calling of disciples to be Jesus’ hands and feet of generosity, mercy, and justice. It’s like Luke is setting his patron up: Theophilus, you’ve done well by worldly financial standards. Make sure you hold on to that loosely. Following Jesus means opening up your hands a bit.


A Compelling Movement

The story Luke tells about loving enemies, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, offering piety through prayer, and so on combine to give us a picture of why the Jesus Event kept on propelling the Jesus Movement.

The Jesus Movement was different. Love was at the center of their communal life because Jesus himself was the center of their devotion. Although conflict and compromise existed in the earliest generations of faith, so did miraculous and merciful things that the Roman Empire could never offer it citizens and slaves.

The movement was compelling, even ‘til death.

Something happened that was so compelling that it divided the world for the next 300 years.


Two Reactions to the Jesus Event

Perhaps you remember earlier in this series where we looked at 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul gives his own “ordered account” of the Jesus Event. Not only does he emphasize the story and witnesses of the event, but he keeps his rising spiritual authority in check by remembering the past.

Paul states that he doesn’t “even deserve to be called an apostle because, I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 1.9). His life shows two of the major reactions to the Jesus Event and subsequent Movement (that gave rise to the New Testament documents and eventually led to the formation of the completed Bible).

  • Reaction #1: this event that happened was so compelling that it is worth dying for.

  • Reaction #2: this so-called event that some say happened was so destructive that it must be stopped.

None of this led the earliest followers of Jesus to stop and say: Wow, we should really get together and make sure we have our Bible all put together in a coherent way. Nope: it led them to suffering and death. It led them to follow Jesus when it was hard.

They didn’t first and foremost follow a book. They followed a person and the teachings that had been handed down as a result of the Jesus Event.

No Jesus Event—no resurrection—then no movement and eventual Bible. It is Jesus that was, from the beginning, the sole reason people gave their lives to keep the Movement going.

So, then, when did the Bible finally come together?


The Basic Flow of Events

To move us forward, here’s a reminder of the basic flow of events:

  • Jesus Event: his life, teachings, death, resurrection (the most important from an ‘event’ perspective), appearances, ascension, and future return.

  • Jesus Movement: the ongoing gathering of communities committed to worshiping the Triune God and living in the power of God’s Spirit to represent God’s Kingdom (or party, or other image for God’s values coming to bear among us)

  • New Testament Documents (or, as I said previously, “Jesus Documents”): various documents that are recognized as being Holy Scripture, although not systematically organized throughout all the churches.

  • Compiled Bible: This is finally put together in the fourth century, in continuity with what the churches throughout the known world already affirmed about a particular set of 27 documents (along with the Hebrew Scriptures).

Keeping that flow in mind, let’s go back to the Apostle Paul. He gives us an example of the two reactions to the Jesus Event that become significant for the next 300 years.

Of course there are more, but these two will do for now: either you believe the Jesus Event and give yourself to the Jesus Movement or you don’t. The worst of those who didn’t believe were glad to kill Christians for a variety of reasons since it was an unsanctioned religion according to Roman law.

And kill they did. Here are some “highlights” from those 300 years:

  • 64 CE: Several Christians in city of Rome killed by Nero after the fire

  • 66-70: First Jewish revolt in Judea; Jerusalem destroyed. Many Jewish followers of Jesus forced to flee and end up in places like Asia Minor.

  • 95: Executions under Domitian (but not directed only, or perhaps not at all, against Christians)

  • Date?: Killing of the “witness” (martys) Antipas of Pergamum (Rev 2:13)

  • 112: Execution of some Christians in Amastris, Bithynia by the governor, Pliny the Younger

  • Exact date?: Ignatius of Antioch taken to Rome and executed

  • 132-135: Bar Kokhba Revolt

  • ca. 150: Execution of teacher Ptolemaeus and of Lucius in Rome (reported by Justin Martyr)

  • ca. 156-57?: Polycarp and 11 others executed in Smyrna

  • ca. 162-68: Justin and 6 others executed in Rome; Killing of Carpus, Papylas and Agathonice (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 4.15.48; and Acta); Bishop Publius in Athens is killed (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 4.23.3); Killing of Sagaris in Laodicea (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 4.26.3)

  • ca. 177: Executions of almost 50 Christians in Gaul (Lyons and Vienne)

  • ca. 180: Executions of 12 Christians from Scilli (Acts of Scillitan Martyrs)

  • ca. 180-185: Beheading in Rome of Christian philosopher Apollonius (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 5.21 and Acta)

  • 202-206: Around this time there were arrests and deaths of Christians in Carthage (Perpetua, Felicitas and others in 203), Rome, Corinth , and Alexandria (father of Origen, Leonides and several others)

  • 206 – 235: Relatively few major incidents against Christians

  • ca. 236: Political oppression under the emperor Maximinus I

  • 238 – 249: A Decade of Relative peace under the next two emperors

We haven’t even made it to 250 CE yet and look how long this list is already!

Here’s the big idea: Christianity spread, even under persecution, without a compiled Bible.

Something happened that was so compelling that over and again, Christ-followers were willing to suffer and even die rather than forsake the Jesus they had come to know and follow.

The Bible, although it is wonderful, isn’t the primary motivation for this sort of faith commitment.

Very few people will die for a book alone, but many people are willing to lay it all down for a Movement.

For these early, and many modern Christians throughout the world, when they joined the Jesus Movement they were saying: ‘til death.

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