Accusations of an early Christian

The record of Minucius Felix

Posted on September 26, 2016

There are crosses everywhere in Britain. On war memorials, flags, and now that churches are being repurposed you're just as likely to see one in your hipster coffee bar or at your zumba class. It must be an atheist's nightmare! All that religious symbolism all up in your grill?

In Britain, where Christianity is old and its tired traditions are soaked into the very bones of our culture, its hard to imagine a time when following Jesus was a bizarre new thing. We have the word Christ in our festive holidays, we have a parliament that always opens with a word of prayer. Regardless of whether many people in Britain believe all this stuff about virgin births and Jesus dying, you usually can't get through a British childhood without at least a basic understanding of 'Christianity'. But there was a time when 'Jesus followers' were an unusual new phenomenon. In the first 200 years after Jesus was raised, people didn't quite know what to do with them. They weren't Jews and they weren't Pagans. Their beliefs seemed weird, but their communities were thriving, despite regular hostility.

And this is where we find Minucius Felix. A man who, in the 2nd century, wrote down an argument between an ordinary Roman and a Christian. No one knows if it's based on a real conversation or not but, regardless, it still conveys the typical attitudes and arguments of the time.

The accusations that are thrown at the Christians shed some light on how the Church was perceived and what rumours surrounded this relatively new religion. It is noted, for example, that the followers of this bizarre religion call each other brother and sister as if they're part of one big family. This seems ridiculous to the average guy in 2nd century. Ridiculous and a little suspicious:

"They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another. Everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous"

And the comments on resurrection are interesting too. It is a truly bizarre thought to this Roman in the 2nd century that anyone would believe that they will live again after they die, or even that this earth has an endpoint ( I added the brackets in the quote to try and help the passage scan better):

"It is a double evil and a twofold madness to denounce destruction to the heaven and the stars, (I  know we will leave them just as we find them), and to promise eternity to our bodies, (which, we know, are already as good as dead: as we are born, so also perish!)... Deceived by this error, they promise to themselves, through being good, a blessed and perpetual life after their death; and to others, through them being unrighteous, eternal punishment."

Resurrection and the 'end of the world' was a laughable joke to the 2nd century Roman world. And the close knit family-style communities of the Christian Church were weird and suspicious. What a change from a current scenario in the west.

We've done a good job over the past 1800 years at making christianity palatable and I don't think it's helped much. I'm sure there are many factors that have contributed to that, but I can't help but think that perhaps, if we were a little more vocal about our bizzarre beliefs in resurrection, and a little more committed to close knit family-style communities, then we would find ourselves a lot more 'in the face' of people in our neighbourhoods. Standing out for the right reasons can only be a good thing. 

[Luke 8:16],  [1 Peter 2:12]