Here’s one question I heard over the radio on my way to work recently: “If we were to be tried for being Christians, would there be enough evidence to convict us?”
The honest answer to that question is, “probably not.”
Sad but true, as most of us believers do not have clear-cut understanding of the essence of the Christian faith. All we know is that we grow up in a family that goes to Church every Sunday. We make the sign of the cross and we have gone through some required sacraments.
But wait, didn’t we come from Los Angeles where there are a lot of Christian mega churches, and the city hosts the biggest Christian evangelical TV station in the world, and that over 80% of people have not known any religion but Christianity? Sure. That is the evidence that will verify that we are Christians.
The court will say, “Nope. You are not Christians. The evidence presented to the court is all circumstantial. They have nothing to do with Christianity.”
In E. Peterson’s The New Testament In Contemporary Language, our Lord warns Christians: “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is full flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even crowds of people do. The way to life – to God – is vigorous and requires total attention.”
And then in Matt. 7:21: “Knowing the correct password – saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance – isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience – doing what my Father wills. I can see it now – at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You are out of here.”
Not enough evidence, that’s why.
Backup to 168 A.D. Polycarp, the well-known Bishop of Smyrna (now Izmar, Turkey) was under trial for his Christian faith. Polycarp studied under the Apostle John and he was the last living link to the twelve Apostles. The Roman proconsul tried to get Polycarp to deny Jesus Christ: “Bow to the throne of Caesar. Curse Christ and I will release you.”
The old bishop stood his ground. He replied: “Eighty six years I have served the Lord Jesus Christ, and He never once wronged me. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
The proconsul threatened Polycarp with hungry wild beasts and burning fire, but Polycarp remained unafraid. He told the proconsul: “You threaten me with fire that will burn for an hour and then will go out, but you are ignorant of the fire of the future judgment of God reserved for the everlasting torment for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Bring on the beasts and the fire, or whatever you choose; you shall not move me to deny Christ, my Lord and Savior.
Before he was burned, Polycarp prayed: “O Father, I thank you, that you have called me to this day and hour and have counted me worthy to receive my place among the number of the holy martyrs. Amen.”
The story had it that Polycarp was engulfed by the fire, but did not burn. Those who watched the execution said, “He was in the midst of the fire, not as burning flesh but as gold and silver refined in a furnace. And we smelled such a sweet aroma of incense and some other precious spice.”
The fire did not burn Polycarp, so the executioner had to stab him with a sword. A great amount of blood flowed from the bishop’s body that it put out the fire.
Polycarp was a genuine Christian, a martyr of the faith.
There are still Christian executioners in non-Christian countries around the world, but in America religions, even the funky ones, are protected by the law. Too bad, nowadays our faith cannot be tested by fire.