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1/22/2006

CELSUS (OR ROBERTSON) ON CHURCH AND STATE

I found this interesting in a nerdy sort of way. Excerpts from Wikipedia's entry for Celsus, a voice against Christianity under the Roman Empire. I stumbled onto Celsus while studying why it was that Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 that Christianity was rejected by the Greeks. You can tell a lot about a thing by it's enemies' taunts can't you? As you read, remember this is the era Christ was born into and in which the early Church was raised:

Celsus was a 2nd century opponent of Christianity, known to us mainly through the reputation of his literary work, The True Word (or Account), almost entirely reproduced in excerpts by Origen in his counter-polemic Contra Celsum of 248, seventy years after Celsus wrote. In that year...the atmosphere was full of conflict. Rome was celebrating the 1000th anniversary of its founding...Over against the state and the worship of the Caesar stood as usual the Christian ideal of A RULE AND A CITIZENSHIP NOT OF THIS WORLD (emphasis mine), to which a thousand years were but as a day. A supernatural pride was blended with a natural anxiety, and it was at this juncture that Origen brought to light again a book written in the days of Marcus Aurelius. Sometimes quoting, sometimes paraphrasing, sometimes merely referring, Origen reproduces and replies to all Celsus' arguments.

Celsus opens the way for his own attack by rehearsing the taunts levelled at the Christians by the Jews. Jesus was born in adultery, and nurtured on the wisdom of Egypt. His assertion of divine dignity is disproved by his poverty and his miserable end. Christians have no standing in the Old Testament prophecies, and their talk of a resurrection that was only revealed to some of their own adherents is foolishness. Celsus indeed says that the Jews are almost as ridiculous as the foes they attack; the latter said the saviour from Heaven had come, the former still looked for his coming. However, the Jews have the advantage of being an ancient nation with an ancient faith. The idea of an Incarnation of God is absurd; why should the human race think itself so superior to bees, ants and elephants as to be put in this unique relation to its maker? And why should God choose to come to men as a Jew? The Christian idea of a special providence is nonsense, an insult to the deity. Christians are like a council of frogs in a marsh or a synod of worms on a dunghill, croaking and squeaking, "For our sakes was the world created".

[In the end Celsus makes a final appeal to Christians in Rome] Come, he says, don't hold aloof from the common regime. Take your place by the emperor's side. Don't claim for yourselves another empire, or any special position. It is an overture for peace. If all were to follow your example and abstain from politics, the affairs of the world would fall into the hands of wild and lawless barbarians (viii.68). [Where've I heard that argument before?] Conceding that Christians are not without success in business (infructuosi in negotiis), he wants them to be good citizens, to retain their own belief but conform to the state religion. It is an earnest and striking appeal on behalf of the Empire, which was clearly in great danger, and it shows the terms offered to the Church, as well as the importance of the Church at the time.

WHAT STRUCK ME: It's interesting - not proof of any wrong thinking on it's own but just interesting for now - how similar the modern American evangelical view of proper church and state relations is to Celsus' view (his final plea for Christian involvement) and how dissimilar that view is to the early church's. To put it more bluntly, Pat Robertson and many Christian friends of mine sound more like Roman atheists serving Caesar 2000 years ago than early Christians following a Christ crucified for sedition against the Empire. Why is that? Is it a bad thing? What do you think?

14 Comments:

Blogger Kathryn said...

that line about Christians being a council of frogs, or a synod of worms! that's some line, eh? don't know what i think of what this guy said? that the church became what it did and spread the way it did. . is amazing. Persecution seems to produce strength. . . almost like pressure treating lumber makes it much more able to withstand what? more pressure!!!

1/22/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Good analogy.

It's still that way in fact. I'll try to gather the facts sometime and post them for the other stat geeks around here, but basically countries today that have liberty (physical freedom) have churches that are not growing at the rate of churches in countries without liberty. Odd. The very thing we fight for most as a nation, noble as it seems, as enjoyable as it is to me personally, is somehow a determinant or catalyst of some kind for church shrinkage. So is liberty a bad thing then? What do you think?

SG

1/22/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about Christian involvement in politics. I haven't come to any definite conclusions, but this quote by Helen Keller really struck me:

"It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.”

I wonder how different our nation would be if all of the energy Christians spend on fighting the gay/pro-choice/atheist/fill-in-the-blank movements were instead spent loving them like Jesus has commanded.

After all, the great commission doesn't say,"Go into all the world and defend the Good News."

Truth needs no defense - just a voice.

-kat

1/22/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Kat did you know there was a post a while back about fighting with that quote bigger than life on it?

"This week at icon: Fighting" ==>

1/22/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

That must be where I saw it. I've been wondering where I encountered it. It sure has stuck with me. I feel as thought it has applied to almost every topic I've pondered lately.

Here's another quote by her that may be applicable to the liberty question:

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

Maybe this is true of the church as well? Maybe that's why the church in America doesn't grow as much as in countries where the church is oppressed.

1/22/2006  
Blogger laughterforjesus said...

I stumbled upon this and although i can not give you what i think, i am going to read up on it, this peaks my interest, whenever history is involved...

1/22/2006  
Blogger Amy said...

perhaps for spiritual growth, liberty is a bad thing. when we experience something on a physical level it's much more difficult to grasp it on a spiritual level. does freedom in Christ have the same significance? does hunger and thirst for righteousness mean as much when you don't know physical hunger?
or is liberty not really the problem, but something else? I know the quote, the blood of the martyr is the seed of the church, but I know of at least two countries where the intense persecution of the past has left the church practically nonexistant in those countries today.

1/23/2006  
Blogger Bill said...

Most of Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth can be summed up by this verse...1 Corinthians 9:12b, "But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ."

Paul's point is that though we as Christians have rights, freedom, liberty, or spiritual gifts...we should be willing to surrender all of that for the sake of the Gospel, and for the sake of God's glory, (1 Cor. 10:31-33). Paul did (1 Corinthians 9:12b) and we should follow Paul's example as he followed the example (of surrendered rights) of Jesus Christ(1 Cor. 11:1)

1/23/2006  
Blogger Dave Haupert said...

Take your place by the emperor's side.

and your journey to the dark side will be complete!

Sorry, guess I really am a Star Wars nerd, but I just couldn't help myself!!

1/23/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

their is this atheist blog that i read on a regular basis and one of his blog titles was "Christians, gather your nuts." i know this is not what you are talking about in your entrie here but sometimes i wish that there was a way, as a Christian community stop people like Pat Robertson from misrepresenting the ENTIRE Christian faith. I heard the head of the Christian coalition damage control appear on CNN and play off Robertson's idiotic comments as "He's kinda like an old grandpa that will say anything that comes to his mind" that may work for a few angry Chrisitans, but it is downplaying very serious and embarassing rhetoric that Robertson and people like him are spewing out, while intentionally appearing to be the spokesman for Christianity. If their anything that will arouse the non-pacifist in me it is a man such as this.

Seth

Brant has a great blog on robertson (jan. 6 2006) if you have not read it. pretty dang funny.

1/23/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

love the Star Wars line!!!

is liberty a bad thing? what do i think? i think. . . well, yes its bad and no its not. nothing ever seems to mean so much to us, as when its denied, taken away or in danger of being taken away. . . liberty is a beautiful thing, but i think that we don't know what to do with it!!!!

1/23/2006  
Anonymous ScW said...

We also need to be careful though because your logic sounds a little too much like "guilt by association". And I fall into this trap sometimes too. For example, many of the Hollywood leftists advocate that war is never the answer. Using similar logic -- athiestic (or anti-Christian) left is against the war (all wars). Christian pacifists are against the wars. Therefore the pacifists are wrong because they are in alignment with the anti-Christians. Guilt by association. That cuts both ways.

I think our freedoms and rights in this country are a gift from God. He has allowed us to be born or to live in this country. If we are going to simply ignore what He has given us, and throw it away, I think that's wrong. That freedom can be abused (and I think it has in Robertson's case in many of things he has said). But it's like being handed a million dollars and then saying "'money is the root of all sorts of evil' therefore I'll just bury it in the ground.

No time for the research at this moment... but Paul never totally tossed his Roman citizenship away. Yes, there were many times he didn't exercise his full rights for the furtherance of the Gospel. And yet it seems like other times, he kept it in his back pocket... allowing high government officials to know he was a citizen. And perhaps that's an example yet again of him giving up rights... but rather than just throwing it away he allowed them to see that the gospel was more important than his citizenship.

We just need to know what we are trying to do with our rights. It's a great reminder that we can't make people into Christians by granting them freedom or by convincing them Republican politics are right. But we can save lives and accomplish practical things through government. And I do feel God has called us to do that. I know I feel that way. And until I am convinced otherwise, I won't rule out running for a government office someday. Because I think you're getting mighty close to saying "let the persecution begin so that the Gospel may increase" and that in my mind is also close to saying "keep on sinning so that Grace may increase".

1/25/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Great thoughts, scw.

1/25/2006  
Blogger Bill said...

Paul was very clear that he had rights, liberties and freedom (as a believer) and that there was nothing wrong with him (or us) exercising those rights. His point was that for the sake of the Gospel and for the benefit of other believers within the local body, sometimes it was better for the mature believers to surrender their rights.

He was speaking on an individual level. “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ”. I’m no Bible scholar, but I don’t think that we can extrapolate from the teaching to the individual out to policies of national governance.

1/25/2006  

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