Monday, November 21, 2022

Remembering - and Moving Forward


In 1972, our country’s most popular song was “American Pie,” the Living Bible became the most popular nonfiction book, the Waltons premiered on CBS, NASA introduced the Space Shuttle Program, and one Monday evening in September, I took my first breath. This fall I hit the half-century mark, and I’m proudly wearing the “Vintage 1972” accompanying t-shirt and cap.

Turning a milestone age brings reflection. The world has changed tremendously in half a century. In some ways for good and in many ways for bad.

If I could speak to my eighteen-year-old self, here are a few words I’d give:

+Life is seasonal. Many relationships, blessings, and hardships will come and go. Enjoy them while they last. Know the bad things will eventually change. Most friendships are seasonal, not long term.

+Take a deep dive at knowing yourself. You will help the most people, be the most fulfilled, and receive the greatest benefits when you stay true to the gifts, talents, and passions God has given you.

+Spend little time worrying over what other people think. Don’t live by other people’s expectations.

+Discipline and persistence, not talent, are the keys to long-term success.

+Develop multiple streams of income. Don’t put all your financial eggs in one basket.

+Take more risks. Don’t play it safe all the time.

+God is utterly faithful, and His Word is eternally true.

+Get video or tape recordings of your grandparents and other older special people in your life telling their stories. You will miss them tremendously when they are gone.

+Society is going to reject truth, love evil, believe lies, and embrace absurdity. Don’t expect to be at home in Zion, but remember biblical heroes like Jeremiah, Daniel, and Old Testament Joseph.

+The little things will often mean more in the long-run than the things that get the most attention.

+Buy a lot of stock in Dell, Netflix, Redbox, and Amazon when they go public. I know the names are weird, but trust me.

+True love and its rewards are worth the wait. Be patient.

Dan Miller’s writings and podcasts have been great encouragement to me. He shares a helpful framework for every decade of life:

Learning (20s) – trying lots of things and making new decisions

Experimenting (30s) – sorting out your interests and eliminating

Mastering (40s) – focusing on your interest and developing skills and expertise

Reaping (50s) – and creating systems to keep you moving forward

Guiding (60s) – mentoring others and leveraging your life message

Leaving a legacy (70s) – preparing for when you are no longer here

Maximizing your zone of genius (80s): spending 75% of your time doing what you do best

Our society glamorizes youth. Classic wisdom, however, honors age, for with age should come wisdom and understanding.

Grandma Moses finished her first for-sale painting at age 76 years, which ultimately sold for $1.2 million. She spent the next 25 years painting.

Colonel Sanders franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 62.

Laura Ingalls Wilder first published the first Little House book at age 65.

At age 52, Ray Crock purchased McDonald’s.

Ronald Reagan did not hold public office until his 50s.

Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence at age 70.

Peter Roget oversaw every update of Roget’s Thesaurus until his death at age 90.

Miller writes, “If you plant corn, it will mature in 180 days. If you plant bamboo, it will mature in five years. If you plant walnut trees, they will mature in forty years. My recommendation, be doing all three in every stage of life. Be doing things that will give you a return in six months, in five years and in forty years.”

That’s good advice. I wrote the following prayer as a reflection on my 50th birthday. I hope it encourages someone:

Help me hold on to those things that reflect my true self, not driven by other voices, but Yours.

Help me listen to my calling – vocal – vocation – innately from within – congruent with the materials entrusted to me by my Creator.

Help me hold loosely the expectations of others, so I can pursue the best things, expanding on my unique abilities and passions, thus serving the greatest good where my deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.

Help me look back only for wisdom and thanksgiving. Keep my gaze moving forward, letting go of yesterday's losses, building on the strength of the past, embracing today’s limitless opportunities, and expecting a fruitful and prosperous tomorrow.

Help me create legacy, assisting, encouraging, and empowering fellow travelers and friends on life’s journey, embracing the good and walking in the divine Presence of the Unseen One.

Help me take action, thinking deeply, treasuring wisdom, grasping opportunity, making decisions, living creatively, sharing generously, advancing positively, choosing now, embracing love, faith, hope, truth, and joy – and dreams that parallel with God's reality.

Help me to laugh, reflect, rest, and enjoy the most important blessings of life.


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Discipleship Tuesday: Take the Risk Part Two


Continued from Take the Risk Part One . . .

Dick Lincoln shared years ago at my home church that if Moses belonged to most Baptist churches today, this is how the Red Sea crossing would pan out.  When God tells them "forward march," Moses appoints a committee to study the feasibility of crossing the Red Sea.  They meet and meet, gather information, and collaborate to discover the depth of the sea, the probability of harm, and the likelihood of their crossing safely.  Then they bring back a report and decide, "We can't do it."  When God told Moses to move forward, he did not appoint a committee, he obeyed.  Lincoln exclaimed, "Faith is not feeling good about God.  Faith is obedience!"

Michael Catt said, "The last time God put together a committee, it was to discover if the Israelites should go into the promised land.  The result was that they wandered in the wilderness for forty years and did funerals."

Henry Blackaby and Avery Willis describe the risk of obedience this way:

God bore Israel on eagles' wings and again and again demonstrated that He was sufficient when the Hebrews flew by faith.  In all kinds of ways - the miracles in Egypt, at the Red Sea, the manna, the quail, and the water out of the rock - He showed that He wanted them to step out in faith.  If they fell, He picked them up and took them up again and again to teach them to fly.  As you reflect on what happened to Israel, recall a circumstance in which you felt God "pushed you or your church off the cliff" or when God "shook you into the air to cause you to fly by faith."
As with Israel, God brings His people today to a decision point.  He brings you to the place where you must exercise faith - stepping out on a limb that you don't know will hold you up.  When you step out in faith, you find God has provided wings - the wings of faith.  You begin to fly and fulfill the purpose for which God has designed you!  It's glorious!  God's people may be at such a point.  We will either believe God and follow Him, or history will record the story of our bleached bones in the desert..  (On Mission with God)

Jesus challenged Peter (Matthew 14) to leave the safety of the boat in order to walk on the water with the Master.  Today, Jesus still challenges people to take risks.  So, what happens when we step out of the boat?

5.  We choose to not play it safe.

When Jesus invited Peter to get out of the boat, He challenged him to step into a fearful situation.  Taking risks with God always involves some level of fear and uncertainty.

Eleanor Roosevelt shared, "Do one thing every day that scares you."

Some people have a vision of God like He is the eternal Mister Rogers.  Come into his land and everything will be happy and peachy.  I do think that Mister Rogers gave us one facet of the character of God.  However, balance that with C. S. Lewis' view from The Chronicles of Narnia.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Susan asks the Beavers about Aslan, the true king of Narnia, who is a symbol of the Lord Jesus:

"Is he - quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?"  said Mr. Beaver.  "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  'Course he isn't safe.  But he's good."

So it is with following Christ today.  Stepping out of the boat with an incredible storm billowing about, Peter dangerously walks on the water.  His eyes fix on the One who is often unsafe but is incredibly good.

When God challenges us to get out of the boat, it will feel unsafe, unsettled, and unsure. 

Peter Drucker shares, "People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.  People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year."

In other words, playing it safe and not taking risks does not protect us any more from big mistakes than does playing it risky.

6.  We have to get out of the boat.

William Faulkner said, "You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore."

As redundant as it sounds, the fact remains that in order to get out of the boat, we must simply get out of the boat.  There comes a time to stop talking about it, thinking about it, and creating our risk/cost analysis.  There comes a time to leave the boat.

I met my wife in January of 1997 in Louisville, Kentucky.  We met the week she moved to campus.  I immediately thought she was fantastic and knew that she was the kind of woman I wanted to marry.  I could have spent months dreaming about her, thinking about asking her out, and hoping that she would like me.  Instead, seven days after meeting her I called and asked her out on a date. Eleven months later I asked her to marry me. I had to get out of the boat, and I never regretted it. 

When God redirected Paul's journeying through Asia in order to get him to Troas, the apostle learned that God wanted him to leave the continent and go to Europe.  Though Europe was not on Paul's agenda, when the revelation came via the Macedonian vision, the apostle had a choice.  Leave the boat - the expected and familiar aspect of Asia - and go in a whole new direction to a new continent.  Or, stay with his own agenda, play it safe, and keep knocking on doors in familiar territory.  They left Asia, set sail, and began a whole new adventure.

The last couple of years I began submitting articles and devotions to publishers with the hope of being published.  Any writer who submits understands the angst of submitting and waiting.  You write, working hard on a piece until you feel it is ready.  You find a magazine that you think will be a good fit.  Then there comes the big choice.  Do I really mean business?  Do I really want to send this to anyone?  What if they reject it?  What if they won't publish it?

Best-selling author Cecil Murphey shares that when writers tell him, "I sell everything I write," he thinks, "Then you probably don't send out many manuscripts."  (Unleash the Writer Within)

Any published author knows that receiving rejections simply goes with the territory.  It is normal.  Successful authors receive numerous rejections.  But they keep submitting. 

Some writers quit after being rejected one, two, or three times.  If your article gets rejected by one magazine, send it to forty-five others.  So what if you didn't get the job you applied for?  Apply for twenty-five more.  The person you wanted to date is not interested?  God owns the cattle on a thousand hills - and He knows every person in the world.  There are seven billion people on planet earth.  Keep trying. 

Jack Canfield shares excellent advice about rejection in his book The Success Principles.  He challenges readers to remember SWSWSWSW, which stands for "some will, some won't; so what - someone's waiting."  In other words, out "there somewhere, someone is waiting for you and your ideas. . . .  You have to keep asking until you get a yes." 

Colonel Harlan Sanders received over 300 rejections for his special recipe for fried chicken before he found the one "yes."  Because of his persistence, today we have Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Canfield writes, "When someone says no, you say, 'Next!'  Don't get stuck in fear or resentment.  Move on to the next person."

A no simply means that it was not a match for that person, magazine, or company.  It does not mean that you or your idea are failures.

We can sequester ourselves into our safe little worlds, or we can get out of the boat.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

A Cultural Civil War

John Davidson writes in his article, We’re In A Cultural Civil War. It’s Time For Conservatives To Fight Back, “If you think what’s happening in America right now is crazy, you’re not alone. It’s true that something’s changed, that we’re in the middle of a crisis, that a cultural civil war is underway and escalating.

But it’s not true that this is a majoritarian movement. It’s not true that America fundamentally changed overnight. The hordes of protesters, impressive as them seem, don’t represent the country at large.”

Leftists infiltrated many of our American universities decades ago, systematically indoctrinating our culture with deadly ideologies:

(1) The jettison of absolute truth

(2) The “don’t offend anyone” narrative

(3) The “every idea is equally valid” falsity.

(4) The “America is fundamentally flawed” rhetoric.

Lawyer and talk show host Dennis Prager calls our modern battle America’s Second Civil War. He writes that in the Second Civil war, “one side has been doing nearly all the fighting. That is how it has been able to take over schools — from elementary schools, to high schools, to universities — and indoctrinate America’s young people; how it has taken over nearly all the news media; and how it has taken over entertainment media.

The conservative side has lost on every one of these fronts because it has rarely fought back with anything near the ferocity with which the left fights.”

Taking Right Ground

Lawyer turned evangelist Charles Finney wrote in the 1800’s, “The Church must take right ground in regards to politics . . . The time has come for Christians to vote for honest men, and take consistent ground in politics or the Lord will curse them . . . .

God cannot sustain this free and blessed country, which we love and pray for, unless the Church will take right ground. Politics are a part of a religion in such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to their country as a part of their duty to God . . .

God will bless or curse this nation according to the course Christians take in politics.”

Respect for law and order, for policemen, for the Constitution, for God, for the Bible, for people of different races, for the sanctity of human life, and for the people of America is constantly challenged.

Davidson writes, “It’s long past time to fight back. That won’t be easy, in part because the radicals are largely in control of messaging. They have the sympathies—if not the outright allegiance—of the mainstream media, big tech, and corporate America. They also more or less control the Democratic Party and much of the petty bureaucracy, including public schools.”

The Redemption of Culture

Twenty-five years ago, many churches across the nation embraced Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church concepts, promoting that there are five purposes to the church: worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and missions. Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship and The Colson Center for Christian Worldview said at the time he always wanted to tell pastors to add another biblical purpose: the redemption of culture.

Colson wrote in his excellent book, How Now Shall We Live?, “The only task of the church, many fundamentalists and evangelicals have believed, is to save as many lost souls as possible from a world literally going to hell. But this implicit denial of a Christian worldview is unbiblical and is the reason we have lost so much of our influence in the world. Salvation does not consist simply of freedom from sin; salvation also means being restored to the task we were given in the beginning – the job of creating culture.”

The Lord’s Great Commission is linked with His cultural commission!

Colson goes on, “The same command is still binding on us today. Though the fall introduced sin and evil into human history, it did not erase the cultural mandate. . . .  When we are redeemed, we are restored to our original purpose, empowered to do what we were created to do: build societies and create culture – and in doing so, to restore the created order.”

It's past time for people with a biblical worldview of reality to engage the public square and make our voices heard.

Believers must not be silent.  We must speak.

Pray. Love your neighbor. Speak Up. Speak Out.

Pictures courtesy of Pexels and Pixabay


Tuesday, November 1, 2022

An Intellectually-Robust Theology of God and Government


Interpreting and Applying Romans 13

Many Protestants through the years, including the Protestant Reformers, America’s earliest Pilgrims and the founders of the American Revolution had an intellectually-robust theology, based on the entire Bible and not subject to proof-texting, that understands liberty, government, and our response to government as flowing from God and to God. It was their theology in part that led them to resist England and Europe, resist tyrannical leaders and governments, and some to fight a war.

America’s Founders, fueled by a decade of consistent preaching from New England pulpits that liberty came from God and not government, made one of their rallying cries, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” Benjamin Franklin wanted that inscription to be on the official seal of the United States with a picture of Moses at the Red Sea Crossing.

Such thought is grossly lacking in the American church today. Instead, we often hear Christians saying to not get involved in political discussions for fear of hurting our gospel witness. And Romans 13 is sometimes cited as a prooftext for that line of thought.

As Kay Arthur taught for years, context rules in Bible study, interpretation, and application.

Paul wrote Romans somewhere between A.D. 56-58:

·       A.D. 56 or 57 (Larry Richards’ Bible Reader’s Companion)

·       A.D. 57. (Tony Evans Bible Commentary)

·       the spring of A.D. 58 (MacArthur NT Commentary)

Nero reigned as Emperor from A.D. 54 to A.D. 68. The first five years of his reign, he was heavily influenced by his mother, Agrippina, and his tutor, Seneca. During those years he was relatively stable and exhibited the most rational behavior of his reign. His early administration ruled to great acclaim. A generation later those years were seen in retrospect as an exemplar of good and moderate government and described as Quinquennium Neronis by Trajan, meaning the first five years of his reign. One author writes, “The first five years (quinquennium) of Nero’s reign were characterized by good government at home and in the provinces and by the emperor’s popularity with the senate and people.”

These first five years were A.D. 54 to A.D. 59. Paul wrote the book of Romans squarely in the middle of the Quinquennium Neronis. These were the years of relative peace, when Nero governed at his best, and when the Christians experienced relative peace under Rome. These were not the crazy, hostile years that were to come in the 60s.

One author explains,

There was some political unrest in Rome in the late 50s, which made the Christians wonder about what their relationship to the State should be - whether as people who are newly “in Christ” and confessing him as Lord (not Caesar) should pay taxes and honour their city governmental authorities. There is a widespread understanding among the Early Church Fathers who said that there were Christian congregations in Rome who were “overly enthusiastic” about their new life in Christ and the new age inaugurated by Christ that they required rejection of everything to do with “this age” including human government and taxes. Leon Morris notes that “it is conjectured that some of them may have had ideas akin to those of the Palestinian Zealots who recognized no king but God and would pay taxes to no one but God.” (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (PNTC), p. 458.)

An earlier edict by Emperor Claudius in 49 AD had prohibited Jews (and Christians) from holding meetings, and there was lingering resentment against the government. It is also significant to note that in 58AD, the Roman historian - Tacitus (see Annals, 13:50-51) - reports that there was a great outcry by the people in Rome against the city’s taxation system. So, Paul responds by offering a corrective here to these sentiments and his argument in chapter 13 continues without any break from the previous.

In A.D. 59, Nero had his mother killed and from then on began a tyrannical and reign, marked by much suspicion of others. For example, in A.D. 62 he called for the first “treason trial,” had several of his rivals assassinated, and was a turning point in his relationship with the Senate, wanting to rule as a dictator instead. The craziness and lunacy of Nero began showing in these years, after A.D. 59.

The Great Fire of Rome occurred in A.D. 64,[i] which Nero blamed on the Christians. He stirred a great political fervor against them, convincing the public that the Roman gods were punishing the land because of the Christian sect, and thus began the widespread persecution of the Christians. Many Christians were arrested and brutally executed by "being thrown to the beasts, crucified, and being burned alive" (Champlain, Nero). [ii]

Historians call this the “Neronian Persecutions” and date this time as starting about A.D. 65. – seven to nine years after Paul wrote Romans. Doug Wilson writes, “Nero was the first Roman emperor to persecute the saints, and he did so from November 64 to June 68 . . . forty-two months.”[iii]

The website Theotivity explains . . .

Some wrongly argue that because Paul wrote Romans 13 to Christians living under an evil civil government that brutally persecuted and even executed Christians, Christians should always submit in everything, even unjust edicts and laws, to the government since he commanded such submission to Rome’s tyranny. However, this argument is anachronistic. Contextually, Paul writes Romans around 58AD - before the Neronian Persecutions broke out in around 65 AD. In fact, Paul writes Romans

“during the first half of Nero’s fifteen-year reign (54–68) as Roman emperor. For it was during those early years of his reign that Nero was honored by the people of Rome for his clemency and justice—largely because he had restored “the rule of law” in the Roman Senate, had corrected many abuses and inequities among the people, and had provided a time of peace for most of the provinces within the Roman Empire.” (Richard N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary on the Greek Text, p. 964)

I encourage the reader to read Theotivity’s entire article on the subject, which explains in detail that “Paul’s purpose here is not to present a fully developed Christian theology of government. Thus, we should not miss his overall tone and thrust to be in subjection (as previously defined) - Christians are not anarchists. Yet equally, we must therefore not treat this passage as if it is the only word God has given us regarding our relationship to earthly governments.”[iv]

Check out the podcast, What Many Christians Get Wrong About Romans 13:1-7: The Christian’s Relationship to Civil Governmentor read the article, God and Government, Exegetical Considerations of Romans 13:1-7.

It is incorrect, as many do, to assume that Paul was writing his instructions in Romans 13:1-7 during the crazy years of Nero when Christian persecution was rampant. He was not writing to a group enduring insane persecution (as would happen after A.D. 65). Paul was not saying, “I know the Romans are killing your friends and family members, lighting them up at his parties. But God has put Nero in power and you need to submit to Him.”

To say that would be like telling a woman who was being physically abused by her husband that Paul wrote Ephesians 5:22 (submit to your husbands as to the Lord NLT) to tell abused wives they should suck it up and and keep living in abuse.

Or to tell someone who is struggling with pornography or stealing that they should literally gouge out their eye or literally cut off their hand, because “that’s what the Bible says” (if your hand . . . causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away Matthew 5:30 NLT).

Or to quote Hebrews 13:17 or 1 Chronicles 16:22 to someone in a church under a narcissistic, abusive, unhealthy pastor and tell them that God expects them to blindly submit. Those two verses are often used to support toxic church systems.

Such teaching comes from a very weak hermeneutic that becomes simplistic. One of the great problems with that, as with all 3 of the above illustrations, is that it leads well-meaning hearers into bondage and legalism.

As John Piper says, “Citizens to governments, children to parents, wives to husbands, church members to elders, all of these are called to have an appropriate submissive spirit and to follow leadership. None of these is considered to be absolute. All of them have the lordship of Jesus riding over the lordship of the superior and, thus, defining the limits of the lordship of the superior.”

Bible teachers are wise to know the difference between simple and simplistic. We need to do the heavy-lifting of study and prayer, wading through the complexities and applications, so that we can take very complicated matters and, as much as possible, explain them to our people in as simple a manner as possible. Taking the meat and giving it to them where they can eat it – without dumbing it down. And doing it in such a way that is clear. (The old saying says, “If there’s a fog in the pulpit, there will be a mist in the pew!) However, we cannot be simplistic, which means “treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are.”

In the illustration of government, it is the very line of thinking that will lead nations into tyranny and in subjection to tyrannical rulers. Many Protestants through the years, including America’s earliest Pilgrims and the founders of the American Revolution had an intellectually-robust theology, based on the entire Bible and not subject to proof-texting, that understands liberty, government, and our response to government as flowing from God and to God. It was their theology in part that led them to resist England and Europe, resist tyrannical leaders and governments, and fight a war.[v]

As Joel McDurmon writes in the foreward of Alice Baldwin’s book/doctoral dissertation,

We have a terrible problem in our land today. The problem is that our pulpits have abandoned the fullness of what Christ commanded: to disciple nations. That Great Commission includes the call, which our forefathers ably demonstrated, to speak truth to the public realm: to call our rulers, governments, laws, abuse, and to demand liberty and justice. In all our preaching today about iniquity and sin, we neglect to address inequity and tyranny.

And worse: should one dare to mention that broader social and political scope of the Great Commission today they are likely to be harangued not only by humanists and leftists, but by the vast majority of Christians and clergy. The response will be almost in perfect chorus: “Christians should not preach politics! We should preach the ‘Gospel’ only!”

Baldwin’s book explains the critical role the New England pulpits played in theologically and practically preparing the colonists to defend their liberty and resist tyranny in the decade leading up to the American Revolution: the preachers “had been working constantly in teaching and training their flocks, and the broader public, in the biblical message of freedom and political liberty. It was through steady and purposeful labor over time that their influence pervaded the populace and laid the foundations for resilience in the midst of crisis.”[vi]

As our nation moves closer to tyranny and the abuse of power, how pastors and Bible teachers present Bible passages like Romans 13:1-7 to our flocks will set the course for how the church responds to governmental tyranny. Will we willingly submit, like most of the German church did to the Nazi regime? Or will we take a different course, as did our American forefathers and people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

The first course takes a very simplistic, elementary approach, in part grounded in fear and compliance, to applying the Bible to such social, moral, and spiritual challenges. The second comes from a long line of deep, intellectual thought. And through church history, many early Protestants were thoroughly biblically literate, steeped in the Scriptures, which led them to embrace resistance theories in opposition to tyrannical governments.

As our nation goes down this path, Romans 13 will be a passage the church must know, interpret, and apply correctly. It will be used by many as a means to try and control the church and move her into submission.

The same Bible that contains Romans 13:5 also affirms David for not submitting to the law when he was an outlaw, the Jewish midwives resisting Pharaoh’s direct order by sparing the Hebrew babies, Daniel from disobeying Babylonian law, the early apostles refusing to obey the magistrates who ordered them to stop speaking about Jesus, and others.

We can, like many of our Protestant and American forefathers, embrace an intellectually-robust theology, based on the entire Bible and not subject to proof-texting, that understands liberty, government, and our response to government as flowing from God and to God.


See the following resources:

[i] (Historian Tacitus describes Nero extensively torturing and executing Christians after the fire of 64 AD.)


[ii] Persecution of Christians. Since such public calamities were generally attributed to the wrath of the gods, everything was done to appease the offended deity. Tacitus recounted Nero’s scheme to avert suspicion from himself. “He put forward as guilty [subdidit reos], and afflicted with the most exquisite punishments, those who were hated for their abominations [flagitia] and called ‘Christians’ by the populace. Christus, from whom the name was derived, was punished by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. The noxious form of religion [exitiabilis superstitio], checked for a time, broke out again not only in Judea its original home, but also throughout the city [Rome], where all the abominations meet and find devotees. Therefore first of all those who confessed [i.e., to being Christians] were arrested, and then as a result of their information a large number were implicated [reading coniuncti, not convicti], not so much on the charge of incendiarism as for hatred of the human race. They died by methods of mockery; some were covered with the skins of wild beasts and then torn by dogs, some were crucified, some were burned as torches to light at night … . Whence [after scenes of extreme cruelty] commiseration was stirred for them, although guilty of deserving the worse penalties, for men felt that their destruction was not on account of the public welfare but to gratify the cruelty of one [Nero]” (Ann. xv. 44).

Such is the earliest account of the first gentile persecution (as well as the first gentile record of the crucifixion of Jesus). Tacitus clearly implied that the Christians were innocent (subdidit reos) and that Nero used them simply as scapegoats. Some regard the conclusion of the paragraph as a contradiction of this — “though guilty and deserving the severest punishment” (adversus sontes et novissima exempla meritos). But Tacitus meant by sontes that the Christians were “guilty” from the point of view of the populace and that from his own standpoint, too, they merited extreme punishment, but not for arson. Fatebantur does not mean that they confessed to incendiarism, but to being Christians; qui fatebantur means that some boldly confessed, but others tried to conceal or perhaps even denied their faith. 




[v] See The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution: When American Pastors Preached Politics, Resisted Tyranny, and Founded a Nation on the Bible by Alice Baldwin.

[vi] Ibid, xvii