In my last post I introduced an idea that, no doubt, seemed alarming, and possibly heretical to a number of readers. (If you have not read it, I strongly suggest that you do so now, by clicking this link: The Enemy Within; Why Christian allegiance Matters.) In it I made the claim that being a committed follower of King Jesus in some way makes one unfit to serve in the national governments of this world. Conversely, I claim that participation in this world’s systems, almost always, requires a betrayal of our king, and subsequent loss of spiritual authority.
If you were raised thinking Christians in politics are the norm, and have never heard such things before, I know it is going to take more than a few blog posts to convince you otherwise. If for no other reason than curiosity, I hope you will continue reading cautiously, with your mind (and Bible) open, and your heart sensitive to your Lord’s leading.
I closed the last post by telling you that I would present evidence to support the fact that for the first three centuries of her existence, the view I am presenting was the norm. Even more astounding I will show you that the view commonly held by Christians in the United States today (maybe even your view), is almost identical to that of the enemies of the early church. In order to do so, I am honored to present today’s guest blogger, Origen of Alexandria (c.185 AD-.254 AD).
By way of introduction I will just point out that while later theologians looked askance at some of his ideas – during his life, and for almost 100 years after, he was considered the preeminent mind of the early church, and her foremost defender. It was therefore natural that he should set his mind to refuting the most expansive criticism of Christianity, written by the Richard Dawkins of the day – the philosopher Celsus.
Celsus wrote a lengthy treatise (c. 160 AD) called A True Discourse, in it he attacks Christianity on three main grounds: general philosophy, recognition that Christians were primarily poor and uneducated, and finally, that they were a threat to the Roman Empire due to their refusal to participate in either government, or the military. It is on this third point that we now invite Origen to present his views.
Since what follows is lengthy and speaks for itself, I will reserve comment for a future post. But I hope that as you read, you will consider who it is you agree with more – The defender of the Faith, Origen, or his pagan opponent, Celsus. You might also want to review our earlier blog post – Why did Rome persecute the primitive Church?
Against Celsus, Book Eight. Chapter One
Having completed seven books, I now propose to begin the eighth. And may God and His Only-begotten Son the Word be with us, to enable us effectively to refute the falsehoods which Celsus has published under the delusive title of A True Discourse, and at the same time to unfold the truths of Christianity with such fulness as our purpose requires. And as Paul said, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us,”‘ so would we in the same spirit and language earnestly desire to be ambassadors for Christ to men, even as the Word of God beseeches them to the love of Himself, seeking to win over to righteousness truth, and the other virtues, those who, until they receive the doctrines of Jesus Christ, live in darkness about God and in ignorance of their Creator. Again, then, I would say, may God bestow upon us His pure and true Word, even “the Lord strong and mighty in battle” against sin. We must now proceed to state the next objection of Celsus, and afterwards to answer it….
Chapter 73 In the next place, Celsus urges us “to help the king with all our might, and to labour with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.” To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help, “putting on the whole armour of God.” And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;” and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply: “Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!” And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army–an army of piety–by offering our prayers to God….
Chapter 75 Celsus also urges us to “take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.” But we recognise in each state the existence of another national organization (another organized government of a country) founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches. Those who are ambitious of ruling we reject; but we constrain those who, through excess of modesty, are not easily induced to take a public charge in the Church of God. And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word. And if those who govern in the Church, and are called rulers of the divine nation–that is, the Church–rule well, they rule in accordance with the divine commands, and never suffer themselves to be led astray by worldly policy. And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the Church of God–for the salvation of men. And this service is at once necessary and right. They take charge of all–of those that are within, that they may day by day lead better lives, and of those that are without, that they may come to abound in holy words and in deeds of piety; and that, while thus worshiping God truly, and training up as many as they can in the same way, they may be filled with the word of God and the law of God, and thus be united with the Supreme God through His Son the Word, Wisdom, Truth, and Righteousness, who unites to God all who are resolved to conform their lives in all things to the law of God.
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