They Refused to Compromise
TRUE Christianity has never been popular with the majority. To the clergy of the first century Jesus was an unwanted intruder in the religious field. His uncompromising declaration of the truth exposed as disapproved by God their hypocritical self-righteousness and traditions of men. (Matt. 15:1-9; 23:1-39) Jesus taught the worship of the only true God and without hesitation said that His Word is the truth. (John 17:3, 17) That meant that the gods of the nations and even contrary teachings wrongly preached by the clergy in the name of God were false and misleading. Since Jesus was right, they were wrong! That hard truth hurt.
Even the political realm was not pleased at the appearance of one they were told was destined to be “king of the Jews,” and when Herod learned of his birth from the “wise men” he launched a demon-inspired campaign to have him killed. It failed. But years later Governor Pilate yielded to the demands of the religious Pharisees and had Christ put to death as if he were a seditious lawbreaker.—John 19:12-16.
Real Christians have followed the exemplary course of the Son of God, and just as Jesus gave his exclusive devotion to Jehovah and without hesitation advocated such worship as the only right religion, so his followers have firmly followed in his steps. The apostle John echoed that same surety when he said: “We know we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19, NW) But just as the world did not like that attitude on the part of Christ, they did not smile with approval on the course of John. He was exiled to the island of Patmos by Emperor Domitian.
Especially were the leaders of the Jewish religious hierarchy and their adherents enraged against the Christians. They had already entered into an abominable alliance with pagan Rome to put Christ to death. Thereafter as the number of followers of Christ became even more prominent from Pentecost on and more left behind the religion of Judaism to embrace the teachings of Christ, their hatred continued unabated.
Stephen was murdered. “Saul, still breathing threat and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, in order that he might bring bound to Jerusalem all those he found who belonged to the Way, both men and women.” (Acts 9:1, 2, NW) He gives us the reason why he persecuted the Christians, saying: “I kept on persecuting the congregation of God and devastating it, and I was making greater progress in Judaism than many of my own age in my race, as I was far more zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Gal. 1:13, 14, NW) Then when Saul himself became a Christian, the one-time persecutor became the one persecuted.
So not only the pagans of Rome, but also the very religious Jews, joined hands in common hatred of the Christians. The thought is even set forth by some historians that Poppaea, wife of infamous Nero, was at least a convert to Judaism and so was responsible in some measure for egging him on in his demonized persecution of the Christians.
As expressed in one book: “To the pagans Christianity was but a religious extravagance—contemptible, indeed, but otherwise insignificant. To the Jews, on the other hand, it was an object of hatred, . . . Christianity was hateful to the Jews on every ground. It nullified their law. It liberated all Gentiles from the heavy yoke of that law, without thereby putting them on a lower level. . . . It was, as it were, a fatal revolt and schism from within, more dangerous than any assault from without. And, worse than all, it was by the Gentiles confounded with Judaism which was its bitterest antagonist.”1
Another history adds: “The true cause of this hostility was undoubtedly the envy of the Jewish priests and doctors, and their fear of losing their personal advantages if Christianity prevailed. No less cruelty was shown to the innocent disciples of Christ by those Jews who lived out of Palestine, in the Roman provinces. It appears from the Acts of the Apostles and from other credible records that they spared no pains to instigate the magistrates and the populace to destroy the Christians. To cloak this base procedure under an honourable garb, they gave out that the Christians had treasonable designs against the Roman government; that they acknowledged as their king one Jesus a malefactor, whom Pilate had most justly punished with death.”2
PERSECUTED BY ROMANS
Are we now to conclude that the persecution of Christians in the early centuries of the Christian era was solely opposition by the Jews? To do so would be to consider only part of the picture that the facts present. A “principal cause of the Roman hostility to Christianity was, that the Christian worship had nothing of what was common to other religions. For the Christians had no sacrifices, no temples, no statues, no oracles, no order of priests; and the inconsiderate multitude deemed those who were without these, to be destitute of all religion; and by the Roman laws, those who seemed to deny the Deity or the national gods were regarded as the pests of human society.”3
To the Romans, whose religion included offering of incense to the emperor, worship was closely associated with government. For that reason, refusal on the part of the Christians to participate in these pagan ceremonies was interpreted as unpatriotic. The unchanging determination on the part of the Christians to maintain their worship exclusively for God drew the fire of the Roman world. The claim by the Christians that their course was right branded the Roman world as wrong before God as much as it did Judaism, and they did not like it.
Consequently it became a special objective of the judges, not to put them to death, but to force them to renounce the Christian faith. “If they consented to cast a few grains of incense upon the altar, they were dismissed from the tribunal in safety and with applause.”4 If they refused to recant, even though no fault could be found except as regards their faith, they were often punished with death. “Whatever,” says Pliny, “may be the principle of their conduct, their inflexible obstinacy, appeared deserving of punishment.”5
The Roman world pursued pleasure with unusual eagerness. Not only were they lavish in their religious ceremonies, but they constructed vast arenas for recreation, featuring prominently gory gladiatorial combat. Christians found such wanton violation of God’s law regarding the sanctity of blood repugnant and so refused to attend. “Because they hated the wickedness of the world, with its ruthless games and hideous idolatries, they were accused of hatred of the whole human race.”6 And this brought increased persecution, not only from the official world, but from the populace as well.
Modern-day witnesses of Jehovah have found themselves in a similar position. Although they do good to their neighbors and spread a message of love, persecution and hatred are heaped upon them in all parts of the world. While they are neutral as to the affairs of the world, the world interprets it as hatred of mankind. When they quote the Word of God as authoritative and setting the only valid standard for acceptable worship, they are considered narrow. Since they will not set aside Christian standards for worldly pleasure, they are labeled kill-joys. And when they will not prostitute Christian principle in the name of expediency when the world demands it, they are considered obstinate even as early Christians were.
The course of faithfulness on the part of these witnesses stands as a condemnation of the professing Christians who fail to live up to the high standards of God’s Word, and they do not like it any more than did the ancient Jews or Romans. By every means, subtle inducement and, when it fails, violent coercion, they seek to force a compromise. But can a Christian compromise?
To those unstable in their faith Jesus says: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15, 16, NW) In his sermon on the mount Jesus warned against the broad road of compromise for those who want life in the new world when he said: “Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.”—Matt. 7:13, 14, NW.
So if you know the way that God’s Word shows to be right, be wise, do not compromise. “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone. But take your stand against him, solid in the faith.”—1 Pet. 5:8, 9, NW.
1 Great Events by Famous Historians, pp. 139, 140.
2 Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, p. 23.
3 Ibid., p. 24.
4 History of Christianity, by Edward Gibbon, pp. 234, 235.
5 Ibid., p. 213.
6 Great Events by Famous Historians, p. 141.