I read a book on early church history a year or two ago, so in a generally sense much of what I’ve been reading has been familiar. A couple things stand out for me so far, but I’ll mention two:
1. It seems that the early church was pacifistic. Even if they didn’t have a worked-out theology about, in practice the early Christians did not become involved with the ruling Roman military. I’m not sure if soldiers were required to make some kind of sacrifice to the emperor or something else which may have precluded Christians from participating, or if it was simply a matter of “Do not kill”.
In fact—and this one has had me thinking since the first book I read—the Christians of the time didn’t seem to participate in much of anything (such as gladiator events [too violent perhaps] and other Roman games). Makes me think again about how fully participatory most Christians tend to be in our culture. There’s probably more to the early church’s abstaining than is explained in the course work—especially considering that for the Romans religion and culture and the state where tightly enmeshed (Caesar was considered divine). But in some respects, religion and culture and state are enmeshed in our day, too (consumerism, materialism, etc.)
2. At points during the 200 years or so persecution the church faced under the Romans, Roman soldiers had the right to accost Christians as they were leaving their places of worship, place a sword against a Christian’s neck and ask “Is Christ Lord?”. The “right” answer (for the soldier) would be, “Caeasar is lord.” Answer incorrectly, and the soldier was within his rights to thrust the sword and kill that person.
Scary. I’m honestly not sure how I’d answer in a similar situation. I’d like to think I’d answer the soldier “incorrectly” (but correctly as a confessing Christian), but modern Western Christians like myself don’t have the foggiest idea what persecution is like. The early Church was illegal in the Roman world pretty much from the get-go and anyone who became a follower of the Christ at the time was doing so during a time of persecution. So for many of them, being confronted by a sword-weilding soldier was expected (though still a difficult situation). But we in the modern west have lived our lives of faith in comfort and general acceptance. What would happen to the church if the situation changed?