Guests: and

Key Texts: Dan. 7:23–25; Rev. 12:6, 14; Jude 3, 4; Rev. 2:10; Acts 5:28–32; Ps. 19:7–11; 1 John 5:11–13.

Opening Question: “How is it that some people will stand for their beliefs even in the face of death while others won’t?”

The lesson this week covers some challenging ground. It invites us to reflect on those who were willing to pay even with their lives, the cost of following God and orienting their lives by His word.

It is a thing of strange fascination to read about the centuries that followed the acceptance of the Christian faith by so many in the Roman Empire. History tells how, as the Roman Empire fell apart, the Christian church that was headquartered in the city of Rome, came to be the stabilizing force in society. But, as if often the case, the church of Rome adopted a model for itself that was patterned after the way the Roman Empire was structured, namely it established itself over time as a hierarchy that had many levels.

There are several things about hierarchies that we should never forget. The first is that they grow to use up all the resources available to them. In doing this, they become more and more complex, and they take over supervision of more and more of society. As they grow, they begin to take advantage of a new power that comes to them, what might be called managerial power. As organizations grow, they develop policies, and they develop protocols for dealing with those who dissent from their policies. They shift from having to use persuasion in order to gain the involvement of their citizens, to using coercion. It is right here that a significant and fundamental change takes place that is of note when dealing with churches. Religion, but its very nature, is voluntary. The love of God and adherence to His commandments cannot be forced. But when a church becomes a hierarchy that is well-defined, it gains the power to require certain things lest its adherents face discipline or punishment of some kind.

Add to this the well-known fact that power easily corrupts those who hold it in their hands. And the more power a person has, the more likely they are to use it for selfish or even nefarious purposes. And if you add God to the equation by claiming His endorsement of the hierarchy at hand, there emerges a dynamic that can easily lead to the idea that dissenters have to be eliminated and that by doing so, a person is serving God. This was precisely the dynamic that led the Apostle Paul in his early, pre-Christian days, to go about rounding up Christians an arranging for them to be put to death.

This is also the dynamic that played out once the Christian Church in Rome became very powerful. Over time, it established itself as supreme, and it set out to control what could be counted as Christian and what could not. And it even gained enough power to persecute and destroy those who dissented.

The big question that arises from all this has to do with the question, “What if what the church believes and endorses does not comport with Scripture?” What are the faithful to do then?

The answer from history is that some there were who decided to follow the word of God no matter the cost. They stood for what they understood to be truth even if it meant persecution, loss, and death.

This eventuality is predicted in the Bible. For example, in Daniel 7:23-25, in symbolic language, a prediction is laid out that there is coming a day when war would be made against God people, that the church would have to flee to the wilderness where it would be preserved and nurtured by God. Protestants have linked this prophecy to the period between 538 BC and 1798 AD, a time when the church of Rome held nearly absolute sway over the Western world. It was a time when dissent proved to be very costly. And in Jude 1, believers were urged to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, . . who turn the grace of our God into lewdness” (Jude 1:3, 4, NKJV).

There are, of course, may examples in the Bible of people standing for what they understood to be truth. One of the most dramatic and engaging is found in Acts 5:28-32 where Peter and some other apostles where arrested and put in prison because of their preaching. In the night, an angel came and freed them so that the next day, they were out preaching again. When confronted by the religious leaders, they refused to be cowed famously saying, “We must obey God rather than men.”

There are also many examples of people dissenting from the status quo and doing so out of a sense of loyalty God. The Waldenses are a group that is often cited for their refusal to go along with the status quo preferring to link their lives to the direct words of Scripture. They are credited with preserving the word of God during the ages preceding the Reformation. They adhered to and propagated the Bible at risk to their lives sometimes.

When we look toward the Reformation, other people stand out like John Hus and Juhn Wycliffe. Wycliffe in particular was a well-educated man who set himself to the task of translating the Bible into the language of the common people. This was highly illegal, but he persisted and succeeded in getting his work done before his death. But his work was deemed to be so offensive by the religious powers of the time that they had his body exhumed and dragged through the streets, then burned, his ashes thrown into a river.

John Hus is another man who has come down in history as a man who determined to be faithful to God at any cost. He was, for a long time, imprisoned in a dank dungeon where he suffered but not without hope. Some of the letters he wrote from that prison reveal a great hope that burned in his heart, a hope that buoyed him up in times of difficulty. He was, very famously, burned at the stake singing all the while. Like the other faithful people, they lived out the admonition found in the Book of Hebrews, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23, NKJV).

The point of this study is to raise the question about believer’s today. Do we have the same determination, the same willingness, the tenacity to hold to the word of God in spite of the flow of history around us.

  • What has to happen in a person’s life to make their convictions about truth so powerful they will rather face death than give in?

Comments are closed.