Why were Christians persecuted? Of Sovereignty

The stoning of Stephen

The stoning of Stephen, 1435, Paolo Uccelo (1395-1475). Click image to link to the post.

Over the last few months I’ve been reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It’s not the kind of read that can be completed in one sitting. Much of the content is so graphic that it made me balk. At times I was filled with such emotion that I could not hold back tears. And in truth I found it so convicting that I’ve been indelibly scarred by the rock solid faith of those that have gone before.

As I’ve been reading through the content I’ve considered the following two questions which over the next few days I’ll attempt to answer: “Why were Christians persecuted? How did they handle persecution?”

That bad things happen to bad people is something which doesn’t trouble most minds – this is mainly because folk don’t think of themselves as all that bad and believe that bad people get what’s coming to them – but ever since the fall of man bad things have also happened to good people; which leaves most folk hopping mad.

Mad mostly at God because while they’d rather not admit it everyone knows inside that God is sovereign and so when bad things happen they reckon He’d have to be the one to blame.

When a theologian says God is sovereign he means that “Because of Who He is, God has both the authority, right and power to rule over and control all things in accordance with His perfect will” (Mock 1989:56).

That’s an easy pill to swallow on a Sunday during a church service but it’s a little harder to stomach when you’re at the bedside of a dying infant, trying to console a grieving spouse or considering the question “Why were Christians persecuted?”

And it’s not just that God is merely in control – the captain at the helm of a ship in the midst of a great storm – no, God is revealed as the author “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11, Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the King James Version). Nothing ever happens outside of His control; as our sovereign king He is always seated on His throne.

“Why were Christians persecuted?” We must answer: because their sacrifice was part of God’s sovereign plan.


9 thoughts on “Why were Christians persecuted? Of Sovereignty

  1. Mmhm? I think that a far more fundamental and challenging question for me is not “Why were Christians persecuted?” but “Why did Christians persecute?” After all, Christ Himself warned us that “in this world you will have persecutions.” But when Christians have been engaged in persecuting others … that’s far more serious. I am reminded of St Isaac the Syrian (I think, it may be someone else) saying that one should not desire persecution because that is desiring that others should sin.

    • Hey there, very good question. What is your answer? In three days time (something to look forward to :) ) I do consider a little of the persecution by the hands of the “church” although I only had 1500 words for the entire paper so unfortunately it’s not going to be enough to satisfy anyone looking for a meaty answer. Maybe it’ll solicit more questions :)

      I agree that one should not desire persecution (and I’m thinking of 1 Tim 2:2) however that they happened raises a number of questions in my mind.

      • Short answer: sin. The long answer would include a consideration of historical circumstances and influences, human tendencies to identify God’s will with their own wills, and various other things that I don’t have time or internet access to think through properly at the moment. But ultimately it boils down to human fallenness. But then it’s easy to say that as twenty-first century westerners – who knows what blind spots we don’t have?

        • Yes, that’s the answer I think that the person that solicited the response was looking for however I’ve always wanted to take a broader view of Acts 7 – 8 and following. I posted a follow on this morning which looks at Providence.

  2. Hi Mark

    Thanks for sharing :-) I am currently reading this on my Kindle. One thing that is very clear to me so far, is we have no, but not idea of what persecution is at all. Living in a country where we can freely serve our Lord Jesus should make us so so thankful and humble for His mercy.

  3. Pingback: Why were Christians persecuted? Of Providence « Because He Lives

  4. Pingback: Why were Christians persecuted? Of Concurrence « Because He Lives

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