The Challenge of Christians

In a Non-Christian World


Dr. John Hoole – November 25, 2018



Church History – The Beginnings.


I want to tell you a story - a powerful story.  A story so exceptional that, if you did not already know parts of it, you would not believe it’s real.  It’s a story of the Church of Jesus Christ.


The story actually begins before the church is formed.  It starts with the words “In the beginning,”  - “in the beginning, God created.....”  We move through the days of creation and on the final day of creation, He made you.  He was ecstatic with what He saw when He made you; and He said ....“That’s very good.”


But the words were scarcely out of His mouth when sin infiltrated planet earth.  Time passes and sin increases and we come to the flood.  Noah and his family alone survive.


We come to 2000 BC. - the man is Abraham.  First, God puts a call upon a man - and then his family - then a tribe.....then a loose collection -- and then a confederation -- and eventually a nation.  The promise goes to Abraham, then to Isaac -- from Isaac to Jacob.


We move to the year 1500 BC. - the person is Moses.  And the nation promised to Abraham is 6 millions strong by now.  Moses leads them out      --   Joshua takes them in.  But they are harassed by armies and they want to collect themselves into a tighter nation - and they want a king of their own.


So, eventually David becomes the king....and little did Israel know that they were in the zenith - the apex - of their history.  The year is now 1000 BC....and over the next thousands of years, they will consistently look back -- to the time of David; -- the rule of David;  -- the reign of David; -- the city of David; -- the place of David.


Solomon becomes king.  The fractures in the foundation are there and evident.  And upon his death, north vs. south, civil war breaks out and they are divided.  They go through 39 kings and 1 queen.....and a group of prophets - preachers - 17 of them in all appealing to both the north and the south.


And these two sides so decimate each other that, eventually, an army from the north - the Assyrians - come in and take the northern kingdom.  We never hear from them as a kingdom again.  115 years later, an army from the east - the Babylonians - come in and take the southern kingdom.  They are taken away for 70 long years.


And a small paltry group makes its way back just before we come to the end of the Old Testament period --- and we move to the period of the intertestimental 400 years of silence.


During that time Babylon will fall.   Persia will rise and it will also fall.  The Greek culture - it will rise, it will fall.


The Roman culture will come to the center stage...and prepare the way for One named Jesus....who arrives on planet Earth.


And then we have a loose collection of individuals who follow this Jesus.  They are an unusual band of people, called the “twelve” -- disciples.


And then, a couple of years later, a small group of people - 120 in number - would meet in an upper room.  It was a day called Pentecost - an annual event that had been celebrated for more than 1,500 years before.  But on this particular Day of Pentecost, - it was different....and the Church of Jesus Christ, it is born.


The years is now 38 - Stephen is stoned -- the first time that someone has lost his life for the cause of Jesus Christ.  And the church  - about 20,000 strong at the time -- they scatter to some 200 villages and hamlets.


We now come to John - the last of the original 12 still alive.  Roughly about 90 - 95 AD, he is writing 1st, 2nd and 3rd John.  He has lived long enough to see the 2nd generation of Christians - then the beginning of the 3rd generation...and he is concerned with what he is seeing.


Gnosticism has made inroads - Gnosticism, another word for it is “docetism”, which comes from the Greek word meaning “seems.”  They were saying that Jesus only seemed to have a body - He didn’t literally have one -- and thus they were doing away with the beautiful doctrine of the incarnation....and along with it the meaning of the crucifixion and the resurrection.


John saw the Gnostics making inroads into the church, and 1st John was written to respond to that heresy.


And finally we come to the close of the New Testament era - John being the last of those who walked with Jesus.  And now we come to the timeframe called the “Early Church” period -- from the year 100 to the year 590.


It is a baby church, taking its first few wobbling steps.  There are tremendous attacks from two sources -- External and Internal.


The external attacks were vigorous - persecutions.  Not all of the time - for periods of time the church enjoyed being accepted, living in relative calm in the empire.  But, on occasion, in the year 64, Nero - and the year 100, terrible persecution again - over and over, like a bad dream.  And later on, in the years 250 to 261 - the decade of horror.  During that time tens of thousands were murdered and slaughtered and tortured for the cause of Jesus Christ.


And when the church emerged from that timeframe, they had 3 new classifications for believers.


         •   The martyrs - they didn’t make it. --- they gave their lives.


         •   The lapsees   - they lapsed and recanted their faith in Jesus when the persecution came....and wanted back in when it was over.


         •   The confessors  - these are those that would not recant.


Unlike the martyrs, the confessors were not killed for their faith.  So how did they know they were confessors?  How could you recognize them?  You recognized them because their arms had been cut off - their legs sometimes had been cut off -- tongues cut out -- eyes gouged out.  They bore on their bodies the marks that said they would not turn their backs on this One called Jesus.


It’s not just the physical attacks - there were others.  The intellectual attack upon Christians was severe at this time -- And God raised up a band of people known as “apologists.”  An apologist is not one who says “I’m sorry”, but is a defender of the faith.


God raised up people that for the most part most of us don’t even know - people who would uphold the faith so that you would have it in 2018.


•   Names like Aristides (AD 140, Athens)


•   Justin Martyr (Ad 100-165, foremost apologist of 2nd century)  They didn’t have last names back then, so you know where his name came from.


 •   Tertullian, - born 145 in Carthage


 •    Irenaeus (b. in Smyrna 140 – 202) and others.


And if the external threats weren’t enough, the internal threats were overpowering.  For this baby church, during this timeframe from AD 100 to 590, heresies would come in – Gnosticism being a major one - and shake the very foundation of truth, and people would lay down their very lives defending the truth that you and I hold to.


If that wasn’t bad enough, there were schisms within the church.  One movement called Montanism - 2nd & 3rd centuries - began to creep in.  For the most part, it had many good things - things with which you and I would identify.


At it beginnings, it was a very good version of the Charismatic movement, having an impact then, like the Charismatic movement has today.  They believed in the gifts of the Spirit – healing, tongues, prophecy, etc…..But many good things began to go slowly awry, because they hadn’t yet developed a way to evaluate the prophecies that were sometimes uttered.


And God raised up guiding lights - “apostolic fathers” they are called.


         -- “fathers” because they oversaw things.


         -- “apostolic” because they maintained what the apostles had learned at the feet of Jesus.


These were men whose names will silently slip into the woodwork of history, for most of us, but men who stood firm so that we would have what we have today.


Clemente - his writings still exist - 1st & 2nd Clement, written to the church in Rome.


         Ignatius, Polycarp (a disciple of the apostle John).  [Ignatius (35-107); Polycarp (69-155)]


Now we move to about the year 150The church begins to develop things that it did not have before.  They began to develop a bona fide “pastoral ministry” - along the line of the way we know it now.


Then there was the development of a “creed”, which was needed because of the various perversions of heresy.  You and I, looking back from our vantage point, might say:  “well, the creeds were a kind of liturgical invention that might stifle the freedom of the spirit.”  Oh no, not to these people.  They were trying to sustain the very essence of the truth.  These were a people without a complete Bible as yet.  The creeds were established so that people would have an understanding of fundamental theology, which was certainly required if they were going to protect the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Many of these people were illiterate and had no way to sustain the truth, unless it was taught using simple statements that could be memorized.  The very first creed was extremely simple.  “Christos Curios” -- Jesus is Lord.


And it would have stayed that simple, if it had not been for wave after wave of heresy coming in so they had to expand the creeds to really embrace what they believed the Bible to be teaching.  So, the creeds became longer - but primarily they were devices to teach truth.


What you have just heard is about ten minutes of a 70 minute talk I have, on occasion, given on the History of the Church of Christ.  In part, it emphasizes that the church has rarely existed without trouble and persecution.  However, in the 242 years of our country, this has not often been the case.  For generations it has been relatively easy to live as a genuine Christian in America.  We have lived in a culture that, over the years, largely assumed and supported Christianity or at least Christian moral principles.


Even the deists among our country’s founding fathers operated within the structural framework and assumptions that undergird Christianity.  But, over the last couple decades, we have seen those assumptions questioned, even derided and mocked.  Nearly daily we can see this in pop culture, media, and even our courts.  During our era, some of the faithful have paid unexpected prices for their beliefs lately.


•  A teacher in New Jersey was suspended for giving a student a Bible.


•  A football coach in the state of Washington was placed on leave for saying a prayer on the field at the end of a game.


•  A fire chief in Atlanta, GA, was fired for self-publishing a book defending Christian moral teaching.


•  A Marine was court-martialed for pasting a Bible verse above her desk.


•  Flagship evangelical schools, like Gordon College in Massachusetts and Kings College in New York have had their accreditations questioned.  Some secular activists argue that Christian schools don’t deserve accreditation, period.


•  Activists have targeted home schooling for being, to a large extent, a Christian thing.  Atheist Richard Dawkins and others have even called it tantamount to child abuse.


•  Student groups like InterVarsity have been kicked off campuses.


•  Christian charities, including adoption agencies, Catholic hospitals and Crisis pregnancy centers have become objects of attack and ridicule.


•  Brendon Eich was CEO of web browser Mozilla.  He was forced to resign when it was discovered that he had donated $1,000 five years earlier to a campaign seeking to ban same-sex marriage in California.


•  Martin Gaskell was an astronomy professor at the University of Kentucky.  He applied to be director of the new MacAdam Student Observatory.  The search committee reviewed his extensive credentials but denied him the job because of his evangelical Christian beliefs.  He file suit and the University agreed to pay him $125,000.


•  A valedictorian at a school in Victor, Iowa was told he had to give a “secular” speech after he wanted to attribute his success to his faith in Christ.


•  A Cisco employee was fired for expressing his views on traditional marriage in a book he wrote, though he never voiced those opinions at work.


•  An 8-year-old was barred from singing “Kum-Ba-Ya” at a Boys and Girls Club in Port Charlotte, Florida, because the song included the words, “Oh, Lord.”


What’s next for America?  While American culture is increasingly hostile towards traditional Christians, it is not quite correct to say America is currently a totally Post-Christian society.  The vast majority of Americans consider themselves at least nominally (in name) Christian.  But it is safe to say that America, as a whole, has largely abandoned traditional, genuine, Christianity.


Now, I am aware that for one to say they are a Christian isn’t, by itself, proof of being a Christian.  A genuine Christian is one who continually pursues the example of Jesus Christ.  To be a Christian is to hold to a biblical world-view.


According to a recent Pew Research Report, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as religiously affiliated has shrunk while the percentage describing themselves as unaffiliated has grown from 2007 to 2014.  The percentage who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists fell to 63% from 71% during the same time period.


There is, today, a new vigorous secularism that has catapulted mockery of Christianity and other forms of religious traditionalism into the mainstream.  They have set a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs.


I see some of the same workings of society as was true when I spoke of the three kinds of Christians in the first and second centuries.  Again, they were called: Martyrs, Lapsees, and Confessors.


Some who have called themselves Christian in our generation, have stopped that identity for themselves as they see the animosity toward Christians occurring.  These are those who were nominal Christians, meaning, in name only.  In effect they are like the Lapsees, who recanted their Christianity when persecution came.  In America, this recanting will most likely increase as more vigorous animosity of Christianity and Christian morality occurs.


There really is no debating it.  We live in an spiritually-deteriorating age.  The evidence is everywhere.  Not only does the media mock and reject Christian morals, but governments are at times legislating against Christian beliefs.  Immoral lifestyles are not only being flaunted, they are being pushed upon the Church with vigor.  One political candidate even suggested that “Christians may just have to change some of their doctrines.”  For Christians to embrace biblical standards is to invite being labeled a bigot or intolerant.


I have an article, written by Douglas MacKinnon, with the title: “How long will I be allowed to remain a Christian?”  In this article, MacKinnon said: “The New Yorker” magazine described the opening of a few Chick-fil-A restaurants in New York city as “pervasive Christian traditionalism,” and a “Creepy infiltration of New York City.”  MacKinnon asks: “Will we soon have to meet with fellow Christians in secret?”


Given the increasing American antagonism towards traditional Christianity, our next twenty years, should the Lord not yet come, will likely see a more obvious separation between the nominally Christian and the convicted creedal Christian.


Nominal Christians will likely become less convicted than ever, ready to dismiss any part of the Bible in order to fall in line with the thinking of the masses.  Genuine Christians, on the other hand, will be forced to embrace more tightly and more publicly their faith in Christ, and do so in the face of the culture that may reject them.  Now, we are nowhere near that today, so I don’t want to instill any fear in you.


So, what are we to do?  Or, as is the title of a book by theologian, Frances Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?  There are dozens of Scriptures that could be used to answer that question.  And we will consider many of them in future lessons.


But today, I want to highlight six Scriptures.  In our first lesson two weeks ago, we noted how the Bible says these conditions of persecution would exist at the time of the coming of Christ.  So, to close our lesson today, I want to look at Passages that tell us how to live in light of His coming.


I titled this lesson, The Challenge of Christians in a non-Christian Society.  Each of these verses challenge us as to what our actions and lives should reflect in light of His coming.


1.  Attend the House of God, stirring up love and good works.


Hebrews 10:24-25 NKJV


24     And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,

25     not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.


2.  Bountifully love each other


1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 NKJV


12     And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you,

13     so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.


3.  Live a life separated from the world


Titus 2:11-13 NKJV


11     For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,

12     teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,

13     looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,


4.  Spread the Gospel


2 Timothy 4:1-2 NKJV


1       I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:

2       Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.


1 Peter 5:2, 4 NKJV


2       Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;


4       and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.


5.  Set your desire on heavenly things


Colossians 3:1-4 NKJV


1       If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

2       Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

3       For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

4       When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.