You can’t hide from the culture wars

Consider why the early church was persecuted by Rome. They weren’t subjected to persecution because they were intolerant or because the Romans were especially mean. The first Christians were persecuted because of the message they proclaimed: there is another King and another kingdom. Caesar may be in power, but he’s not worthy of worship or adoration or sacrifice. Christ triumphs over Caesar and every other worldly ruler. This view offended the citizens who participated in emperor cult worship. What’s more, the early Christians refused to make sacrifices to gods they didn’t believe in. This resistance led to marginalization, separation, and eventually martyrdom for many.

The gospel message itself—this message of love, redemption, grace, and mercy—was the main reason the church was disliked. Christians did find favor in some parts of the empire and modeled both courage and civility. But even Christianity at its best could not escape the scorn and punishment of the larger world. Then, as now, genuine faith in Christ was seen as strange and dangerous.

Christians today shouldn’t seek martyrdom, nor should we go out of our way to offend. There is much we can learn from Jesus about living in the tension of grace and truth. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we can avoid the cost of discipleship. The gospel itself is, at many points, at war with a fallen humanity.