by Michael Kruger
In the midst of the high-octane cultural wars of the last five years–particularly the debate over homosexual marriage–evangelical Christians have been slapped with all sorts of pejorative labels. Words such as “bigoted,” “arrogant,” “exclusive,” “dogmatic,” and “homophobic” are just a few.
But, there are probably two labels that stand out the most. First, Christians are regularly regarded as intolerant. Christians are not only regarded as intolerant religiously–because they affirm the words of Jesus that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)–but they are regarded as intolerant ethically, because they refuse to approve any and all behaviors as morally good.
Second, Christians are regularly (and ironically) regarded as haters. Apparently, our modern world regards the act of telling someone they’re wrong as a form of hatred–it is a slight against mankind (of course, it is never explained how the charge does not apply equally in the other direction since those who make this charge are telling Christians they are wrong!; but we shall leave that issue unaddressed for the time being).
Needless to say, such a situation can be very discouraging to Christians in the modern day. We might be tempted to despair and think that the church is entering into dark days. But, a little historical perspective might be useful here. Truth be told, this is not the first time Christians have received such labels. Indeed, they were given to Christians from the very beginning.
Pliny the Younger: Christians are Intolerant
It is well known that in the Greco-Roman world there was a pantheon of gods. Every group had their own deities, and they were easily and naturally placed alongside other deities. For the most part, no one objected to the existence of other gods. It was a polytheistic world.
Of course, the earliest Christians were as monotheistic as their Jewish predecessors and quite unwilling to play along with the standard religious practices of Greco-Roman culture. For Roman rulers trying to keep the peace, the Christian intolerance of other gods was a perennial frustration.
Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Bythinia (writing c.111-113), expressed his own frustration over the fact that Christians would not “invoke the gods.” In a letter to emperor Trajan, he lamented their…
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