Church pressure

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Have you ever experienced "church pressure?"

Church pressure can come in a few shapes and sizes, like a startling Sunday morning shout of "It's time to get up and get ready!" Or when a spouse puts the squeeze on, like "OK, I'll go to the monster truck demolition if you join me Sunday morning." Maybe you have experienced church pressure when a harping invite of a co-worker or neighbor was way over the top.

Even though church pressure is normally applied with a sincere and earnest motive, it usually doesn't produce the desired outcome -- a willing church participant.

Back in 100 A.D., there was a different type of church pressure that was much more severe. In the start of the second century, the following of Jesus was rapidly growing, going viral. At the same time of the phenomenal growth, pressure was being applied to the progress. Trajan, the emperor of the Roman Empire following a long line of imperial leaders, issued edicts forbidding Christianity. The irony is that one of the main reasons Christianity was prohibited was the view that the Christians were atheists, as they advocated worshiping only one God, and therefore, violated emperor worship.

A significant group of extant letters from an imperial magistrate named Pliny the Younger, corresponding with the Emperor Trajan from this era, give us some insight to the type of strain put upon the first followers of Jesus.

First of all, Pliny writes about the Christians, "They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of a meal -- but ordinary and innocent food." These early church participants worshiped Jesus, took vows to avoid morally corrupt behavior and spent time together in smaller groups eating a meal.

This all sounds good and positive for the society in which they lived, but Pliny had a problem: "However, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations." The Christians were gathering together to worship Jesus despite the prohibition.

Pliny shares with Trajan his actions against the Christians: "In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome." Here is what we learn from Pliny: Early Christians were pressured to denounce Jesus, but if they confessed Jesus, they could be executed! What would you do? Would your confession stand up to this type of pressure? Do you have a strong confession?

A strong confession -- the Apostle Paul shares his confession in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." This confession is what Paul believed, what he stood on and what he would die for (and did die for).

There are at least three parts of a strong confession. First, there is the content or "the beef." It is the substance of what you believe. "The gospel" is the "beef" of Paul's confession. The gospel is the good news. In order for there to be good news, there needs to be an understanding of the deplorable situation that each person finds themselves in. This understanding occurs when one has a true understanding of one's self. At the same time, one needs to understand the greatness of God's power and compassion. David Ruis has written a great song, "Sweet Mercies," that sums up the basic content of the gospel: "It's my confession Lord that we are weak, so very weak and yet you are strong."

A strong confession must be conveyed, and so the second part is a willingness to share the "beef" in public even in the face of persecution. Courage and bravery are a huge part of any strong confession. Our culture values "holding your cards close to your chest" when it comes to faith, but when appropriate, followers of Christ need to be willing to share their faith with gentleness and love.

The last part of a strong confession is the undeniable fruit that gives evidence to the said confession. A strong confession will never be just about words, but there will be evidence or something concrete that others can observe. Therefore, a confession dictates how one lives his or her life.

A strong confession leads us to another C word, one that is hard for people in our culture to dive into: commitment. Only those seriously committed to Jesus will be able to stand the pressure that is to come up against their faith. I urge you to open your heart to the gospel of Jesus, and courageously get ready to stand up to the pressure!

Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church, which meets 9:30 a.m. Sundays at the Petoskey Cinema and 11 a.m. Sundays at Boyne City elementary. For more information, visit www.genesiswired.com. Comments and insights are welcomed on Twitter @NormByers.
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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

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