Persecution and Theology: Discussion Board (Module 3)
While persecution of Christians had been sporadic starting under Domitian in approximately AD 96, an all out assault on the Church as a whole was declared by Rome in the Third Century. Septimius Severus fired the first shot in AD 202 when he made conversion to Judaism or Christianity punishable by death. The godly Perpetua and her friends met their death in the amphitheater of Carthage in AD 303. Her story was an inspiration to many in the Church and continues to bless Believers today who can read the account from her diary, which has been providentially preserved. Her story and those of other Believers who met their death for identifying with Christ inspired Tertullian to reportedly say, “the blood of martyrs is seed for Christians”.
God blessed the Church with a period of peace from AD 211 – 250. Unfortunately, wholesale war was declared on the church beginning at the end of that period ...view middle of the document...
A great many number of professed Christians offered the sacrifice to the gods of the empire or found ways to bribe officials to receive certificates stating that they had performed the sacrifice.
There was great division in the church, after the persecution ended, as to whether those who had sacrificed or gained certificates via other means should be allowed to be received back into full fellowship of the visible Church. There was a belief among the Church that individuals who were not reconciled and received by the Church could not be assured of salvation. The individuals who believed the apostates could never be returned to full fellowship were known as the Rigorists. The individuals who advocated immediate restoration were known as Laxists. The church father Cyprian used his power and authority to champion a middle ground solution in the interest of unity and practical wisdom. Cyprian made a distinction among those who had actually performed the sacrifice and those who had only obtained the certificate under false pretenses. The apostates who sacrificed to the Roman gods were not to be restored to fellowship with the church until the moment of their death. Ferguson states the importance of this measure by writing, “This would teach the gravity of their sin, but would enable them to die in the peace of the church and thus give their conscience an assurance of salvation [emphasis added]”.4 Those who had garnered certificates without actually making sacrifice were disciplined by the Church for an indefinite amount of time until it was determined they were to be received to full restoration.
Interestingly, Cyprian denoted a third type of individual who also had to be dealt with. According to Cyprian any individual who was tempted and even considered offering the sacrifice, but without actually doing so, needed to confess and perform works of penance. Ferguson states, “Cyprian’s policy established discipline as a prerogative of the bishop and clergy (acting in concert with the congregation) and brought the martyrs under the authority of the bishops…”.5
Ferguson, Everett. Church History, Volume One, From Christ to the Pre-Reformation, 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.