In light of what we shared on idol sacrifices in ancient societies, I thought we should show the influence Christianity had on the Gentile pagans that were offering these sacrifices.
Our source for this information is Pliny, The Younger. He was the Roman governor from 111-113 AD in Pontus and Bithynia. Both of these areas are north of the seven Revelation churches in what is modern day Turkey. We will quote from his correspondence with Emperor Trajan concerning Christian persecution.
“I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that THE TEMPLES, WHICH HAD BEEN ALMOST DESERTED, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, LONG NEGLECTED, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now VERY FEW PURCHASERS could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.” (Emphasis mine)
As you can read, so many people had accepted the Lord as their Savior, the pagan temples were almost deserted and revenue from the purchase of animals for pagan sacrifices was way off. Idol worship was no match for the power of the Gospel. It is only when the government starts killing the Christians that some deny Him. Let me share part of what preceeds the above quote. After telling Trajan how he had dealt with the Christians up to that time, he says the following:
Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
God has blessed our brothers and sisters who did not deny Him in the face of death. They are with Him. Pliny on the other hand, if never came to Christ, has spent the last 1900 plus years in the place of torment. I wonder what he thinks of Christ now?
In closing, we heard Pliny’s testimony that so many people believed the gospel that hardly anyone was going to the temples. Such is the power of the Gospel!
Through Roman government eyes we can see how Christians were viewed and, in times of persecution, were murdered. The persecution usually stopped for a while when an emperor died and a new one assumed office or for some other reason. It was during these times after persecution that the church had to decide on what to do with all the people who denied Christ and now wanted to come back to the church. It was a big dilemma for the church leaders who, if they survived the persecution, normally bore the scars of persecution.
Paul shared this saying with Timothy and I think it deserves our reflection:
“It is a trustworthy statement:
For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
If we endure, we shall also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.” (II Tim 2:11-13 NASB)
May you and I be faithful unto death, whether due to old age or persecution for Christ’s sake.