I combined two articles for this post: one from Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, the other from the One Year Book of Christian History.
On February 23, 303, the day before the Roman feast Terminalia, an edict was posted that ordered all copies of Scripture to be burned, all churches destroyed, their property confiscated, and Christian worship forbidden. Additional measures were decreed the next day: Christians who resisted no longer had legal recourse. Christians were deprived of any honors and public office, and Christians in the royal household would be enslaved if they did not recant. Thus the Great Persecution began, although it was not uniformly enforced. Many Christians first learned of the edicts as they watched their churches go up in smoke.
A third edict, ordering Christian clergy arrested, resulted in a state crisis when the prisons filled, crowding out real criminals. To deal with this problem, the next edict stated that Christian prisoners would be released if they sacrificed to Roman gods. The prison guards could compel them by any means possible to make these sacrifices. But the proclamations didn’t stop there. In early 304 another edict insisted that everyone in the Roman empire—clergy and laity alike— sacrifice to Roman gods. Every Christian was now in jeopardy.
Flash forward several hundred years…
Youcef Nadarkhani is an Iranian Christian pastor. He was arrested back in 2009 for protesting compulsory Islamic religious instruction in the public school system. Although initially charged with protesting, an illegal act, the charges were amended to apostasy and evangelizing Muslims.
When asked by a judge to “repent” of his behavior, Pastor Nadarkhani’s response was blunt:
“Repent means to return. What should I return to?” he asked. “To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?”
The judge replied, “To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.”
To which the imprisoned Christian replied, “I cannot.”
What courage! What boldness!
To most Americans, this story seems to be half a world away, and not only geographically speaking. And although we’re saddened and startled by it, we’re not necessarily shocked. After all, it’s Iran. Religious freedom is a foreign concept in a nation where government oppression is the standing order of the day.
But I wonder if the news of Pastor Nadarkhani’s arrest isn’t closer to home than you think? All throughout America secularists are committed to controlling Christian speech and even criminalizing behavior.
How is the state of religious freedom faring in America today? (more…)