My 2023 Bible Reading Plan

I believe a major part of Christian discipleship is regular time spent in God’s word. I have also learned about myself that I do best when I have a plan to follow and a schedule to keep. So, each year, I select a plan to follow. I also find that I do best when I read along with others in a group. So, I try to share my reading plan with others who may join me in a discipleship group so that we can write about and talk about the same passages each week.

This coming year, I intend to combine two Bible reading plans for my daily reading schedule. Why two? I want to have an open door for some who are not convinced they can handle a full Bible-in-a-year plan to join me.

For New Testament reading, I’ll use the Navigators 5x5x5 reading plan. This is a plan that reads through the New Testament 5 days per week, one chapter per day. It’s short and simple—a great place to start for anybody who has never tried a reading plan before, or for someone who has struggled to stay on a schedule in the past.

For Old Testament reading, I intend to use an Old Testament in 2 years plan that I put together on my own. This plan allows for you to read on weekdays only covering one or two chapters each day. Alternatively, you can read a single chapter each weekday and two chapters daily on weekends if that better fits your needs. I’m hoping I’ll enjoy a two-year plan which will allow me to give a little more studied focus on the Old Testament instead of requiring as many daily chapters as other plans.

The New Testament plan is available in the YouVersion Bible app, which is how I will track my progress. I’ll start both plans on January 2.

Here is the link to our OT reading plan:
PRC Old Testament in Two years

Here is a link to our OT and NT reading plan in portrait layout:
Old Testament Reading Plan
NT Bible Reading Plan

Why My Kids Do Not Believe in Santa (2022 Version)

My children do not believe in Santa Claus. They never did. To some, this is an obvious move. To others, this is a shock. What’s the deal? Am I some sort of anti-holiday Scrooge? Am I some sort of overzealous fundamentalist? Why in the world would I not have my little ones believe in Santa?

People have asked many times about what our family decided to do about Santa at Christmas time when our kids were little. And, every year, I share a version of this post to try to explain the process that my wife and I went through in deciding our answer to the big question: To Santa or not to Santa.

Since you know the answer already, let me very briefly tell you the reasoning that made the no Santa policy in my home. Then, I will share with you a bit of how we dealt with Santa.

Christmas is a holiday that has been highly over-commercialized in the US for years. People focus on winter, on trees, on lights, on gifts, and not on Jesus. And you know what, none of those are the reasons why my family did not tell my children that Santa was real.

Here is my bottom line reasoning: If I tell my children to believe in a figure that they cannot see, that he watches them from afar, that he judges their motives and actions, that he has supernatural powers, and that he will visit them with gifts every Christmas, they will eventually find out that I have intentionally told them to believe in something that is not true. This fact will not do much for my credibility in telling them true things about God, who is invisible to them, who watches over them though they cannot sense it, who judges their thoughts and actions, and who will bless them with eternal blessings if they will trust in Christ. So, simply put, my wife and I determined that we will never tell our children that something is true when we know that it is not, because it is far too important that they be able to believe us when we tell them some things are true that they cannot see.

How did we deal with Santa and Santa stuff? It’s quite simple. Ever since Abigail was tiny, we worked to distinguish the difference between true stories and pretend ones. In our house, if a story began with “A long time ago…,” it was a true story. If a story began with, “Once upon a time…,” it was a pretend story. The kids did surprisingly well making those distinctions. They still enjoyed the stories that they knew were not real just as any children do—just as I still do.

Since my children had no trouble enjoying that which they knew not to be real, my wife and I never got all crabby when a family member wrapped a Christmas gift and put “From: Santa” on the label. We did not find ourselves upset when they wanted a musical Rudolph toy from Wal-Mart (well, no more upset than when they wanted any obnoxious, noise-making toy). We did not get bent out of shape when a Santa ornament made its way onto a tree near us. We didn’t even mind taking snapshots of them sitting on the knee of a portly, bearded guy in a red, fuzzy suit, though that really was never a big thing for them.

I think that you can tell from what I’ve already written, but just in case it is not clear, Mitzi and I do not look at our decision about Santa as the only possible one. This is a matter of conscience and preference. There is not Scripture that states, “Thou shalt not ho, ho, ho.” I grew up believing in Santa, and it really didn’t harm my worldview that much (so far as I can tell). But, for me and my house, we simply made a decision that we wanted our children to know that Mommy and Daddy would always tell them the truth, and that trumped our desires to have beaming little people listening for sleigh bells on Christmas Eve.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, we also tried our best to keep our children from being the ones who spoil it for others. All three were both told in no uncertain terms that they were not to make it their mission to correct the Santaology of other children. They answered truthfully when asked by other little ones, but they, to my knowledge, never tried to be anti-Santa evangelists.

Hear my heart as I wrap up this post. I am not here attempting to change any family’s plans for how to handle Christmas. Nor am I asking any person to take down Santa décor if we’re coming over. Nor am I suggesting that, if you have just watched a Claymation special with your kids that you have ruined their spiritual chances for the future. So, you do not need to send me cranky comments defending your traditions. Santa stuff is a lot of fun. I love fun stories and the joy of imagination. (We even watch Harry Potter nearly every year around the Christmas season simply because the music feels Christmassy to us; so obviously we are not the strict, non-fiction parents that you might be imagining.) But, since many ask, here is the answer: we made a choice to be able to tell our children that, when mom and dad say something is real, we fully believe it to be real.

5 Solas

When many think of the reformation, they think of the things recovered. The reformers called on the church to remember 5 “alones,” the solas in Latin.

  • Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura) – The Bible is our final authority, not the opinions of councils or the tradition of those who have gone before us. While we can learn much from our forefathers, the word of God is where God speaks authoritatively.
  • Grace Alone (Sola Gratia) – We are saved by an act of God’s grace alone, not in any way combined with our own goodness.
  • Faith alone (Sola Fide) – We receive God’s grace through faith alone. We do not take part in religious rituals or ceremonies or do good deeds to gain grace.
  • Christ Alone (Solus Christus) – Jesus is the only Savior and only source of our forgiveness. No other person’s merit has anything to do with our salvation.
  • Glory to God Alone (Soli Deo Gloria) – The purpose of our salvation is for the glory of the Lord who made us. We are to live to the glory of Almighty God in all we are and all we do.

Never Forget that Governments Use Crises to Seize Freedoms

President Ronald Reagan was known for clever humor. At least once he quipped that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I wonder how much more that joke rings in our ears today.

While reading through the book of Genesis in my newest Bible reading plan, I found myself thinking about government. No, I do not believe that the narrative at the end of Genesis is there for the purpose of teaching us about politics. But, I think, as we observe the narrative, we can at least see something of human nature and political nature holding true-to-form.

In Genesis, God moves to relocate the family and future nation of Israel to their own land in Egypt. God prepares the way for Israel to move to Egypt through the way that Joseph helps the government of Egypt deal with the disaster of seven years of famine. Over a period of four centuries between Genesis 50 and Exodus 1, the family of Israel will grow into a nation. Then, in Exodus, God will bring this new nation out of its incubator and into the promised land.

Now, let’s ponder government. With the point already made that this is not the message of Genesis, let’s catch some truth anyhow. What is the nature of a government when its people face a crisis? In historical human experience, when the government helps a people out of a time of crisis, the government will also use that time of crisis to increase its own power over the people. Particularly, in Genesis, Joseph puts together a food-storage program that saves the lives of many. However, when the people need to come to him, a government official, for their food, he gives it to the people in exchange for their property and eventually their freedom.

Genesis 47:20-21 – 20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other.

Understand, dear friends, that any government not bound by the standards of the Lord and his holy word will move to grant itself greater and greater power over its people. Government will happily use times of crisis to take freedoms from its people. And even when freedoms are returned, they are never as many as were taken. A government that takes five freedoms from you and returns to you three has not left you as free as you were before it reached into your world.

Joseph was used by God to save lives. But Joseph was also used by the government of Egypt to create a new world in which the people and the land were under the thumb of Pharaoh. Eventually, this same power became the power that enslaved the people of Israel. And let’s not take time to ponder much about the fact that the oppressive taxation of Pharaoh was a 20% flat tax, which, all the sudden does not sound as bad as some other systems with which you may be familiar.

It will be for you to figure out your own views on politics and government. But, dear friends, be very careful tolerating the taking of your freedom by leaders in power. The powerful have a very hard time giving freedoms back to the people. And if we let these things pass unnoticed, we put ourselves in a very vulnerable position.

Dave Chappelle and Canceling Context

Before you allow yourself to develop too much of an opinion of the Dave Chappelle and Netflix kerfuffle, consider that all things people do have a purpose. No, Chappelle was not merely trying to be funny. No, he was not only making a boatload of cash. No, he was not simply offensive, foul, and generally inappropriate. The comedian was making a deeply felt emotional argument.

If one notes the full content of the special and not merely the sound bites, one will learn that Chappelle had previously befriended a trans comedian. This comic had defended Dave on Twitter after the trans community came after Chappelle for what he said in a previous special. The trans community on Twitter then attacked Chappelle’s trans comic friend for days on social media. According to his words in his special, Chappelle’s friend then committed suicide.

Chappelle mocked every group he could manage to mock in his Netflix special in order to point out the ridiculousness and evil of cancel culture. Chappelle insulted white people, black people, people from Detroit, people from Ohio, racists, hippies, Christians, Jews, and, yes, the trans community. And, you know what, anybody who watched that special knew exactly what they would see in Chappelle’s comedy. After all, his humor has not changed. He has always made his money with this same sort of content and style.

As a Christian and a pastor, I surely do not recommend you watch Chappelle or endorse his humor. Neither do I recommend that you develop any of your understanding of morality from Netflix, be it from comedy or documentary. But as a thinking human being, I do not recommend that you condemn Chappelle for doing harm to the trans community without first knowing what he said in its context and not from sound bites alone. Neither do I believe that we do society any good when we attempt to destroy any person’s reputation or livelihood simply because they say things that hurt our feelings.

No, I’m not recommending you watch the special. No, I do not think Chappelle needs my help. No, I do not fear for Netflix. No, my stance on sexuality and gender has not ever departed from that of Scripture. But it is a bit ridiculous that the entire point this foul-mouthed comic was making was to point out the folly and harm of the cancel culture in the life of a trans friend of his, and that , to my knowledge, none in the media have mentioned it. Chappelle tells a sad story of a person who was beaten down by their own community on social media perhaps resulting in that person’s suicide, and the result is that the left ignores that point to stir up another tempest in a virtual teapot. Ironic, isn’t it?

Friends, when Big Brother runs the news, you will only hear what the Ministry of Truth wants you to hear.

The Reverend Doctor Mudge Printing Mishap

Just a little story to brighten your day –

…A little over a hundred years ago the editor of an English newspaper opened a copy of his paper—after it was already for sale—only to find in it a most embarrassing, unintentional typographical conflation of two stories, one about a patented pig-killing and sausage-making machine, and the other about a gathering in honor of a local clergyman, the Reverend Doctor Mudge, at which he was presented with a gold-headed cane. A portion of it read as follows:

Several of Rev. Dr. Mudge’s friends called upon him yesterday, and after a conversation the unsuspecting pig was seized by the hind leg, and slid along a beam until he reached the hot-water tank. . . . Thereupon he came forward and said that there were times when the feelings overpowered one, and for that reason he would not attempt to do more than thank those around him for the manner in which such a huge animal was cut into fragments was simply astonishing. The doctor concluded his remarks, when the machine seized him and, in less time than it takes to write it, the pig was cut into fragments and worked up into a delicious sausage. The occasion will be long remembered by the doctor’s friends as one of the most delightful of their lives. The best pieces can be procured for tenpence a pound, and we are sure that those who have sat so long under his ministry will rejoice that he has been treated so handsomely.*

*Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 31-32.

Gather for More Than Your Good

Hebrews 10:24-25 – 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Why gather? Why gather when some find it risky? Why gather when some would prefer we not? What if I do not feel like gathering or do not feel like I’m getting anything out of gathering?

By this time, I think every Christian will have heard someone speak to the verses highlighted above. In a season where gathering together has been avoided by some and clung to by others, this passage certainly should be on our minds. And what I want to mention in a quick brush of these verses is that your call to gather with other believers is not solely about you. It surely is about you, but not about you alone.

After setting for the church how great is the New Covenant in Christ, the author of Hebrews gives three significant commands to us regarding maintaining our faith and confidence. He tells us to draw near (22), to hold fast (23), and to encourage one another while not neglecting meeting together (24-25). These are all significant elements in clinging to our faith and resting in the grace of Christ in the face of a world that would turn us away from God and toward works-based faiths of one type or another.

When I read this, I am reminded of the deep significance of meeting together with believers. It is an essential element in our faith just as is drawing near and holding fast the faith. If a Christian wishes to maintain stability, he must continue to gather. But we ought not see this as merely personal—I draw near for my good. Certainly, it is true that my drawing near does me good. But we should also see that our continuing to assemble is part of how each of us invests in the lives of others. Continuing to gather together is how we spur one another toward love and good deeds. Seeing one another, smiling at one another, weeping with one another, singing with one another, sitting under the word with one another, praying with one another, rejoicing with one another, receiving Lord’s Supper with one another, all these are essential tools in our strengthening and being strengthened. Your attendance or mine is both for my soul and for the souls of the church as well as an act of obedient worship of our God.

May the Lord strengthen his church as we draw near to him, hold fast the faith, and continue to gather for his glory and our spiritual good.

Do What is Good–A Simple Thought about Romans 13 and Christian Submission to Government

How does a Christian respond to government? Do we always, unquestioningly do what the government says? How do we know when it is time to respectfully refuse an order? There was a time when it seemed like those questions were merely theoretical, at least for the most part. But in our present situation, questions about how to react when the government and the church appear at odds are very much a part of living in the here and now.

If you know your Bible, you know that Romans 13 is a primary place to look to see how to respond to authorities over you. And a simple reading of that chapter tells us that Christians are supposed to submit to the government. At the same time, we know that there must be limits, nuances to that command. And I think we can see one such limit embedded in the command as God gives it to us.

Romans 13:3 – For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,

In this section of Scripture, Paul is calling on the church to be submissive to the governmental leaders over them. This command is perfectly in keeping with the pattern of New Testament teaching that believers should pray for their leaders particularly so that the Christian might be free to live a peaceful and quiet life in obedience to the Lord (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2). Paul emphasizes the sovereignty of God over all kings and authorities. The Lord places leaders in seats of power, and Christians should be appropriately subject to those in authority.

What does subjection to a leader look like? What does Christian living look like? We see it in verse 3 with the simple call for a Christian to do what is good. That little phrase appropriately lays a boundary for the Christian to know what is righteous and what is ungodly submission to a leader. We submit to our earthly leaders so long as that submission is in keeping with what is good. And what is good is determined by the infallible word of Almighty God.

Thus, as we attempt to live as Christians in a difficult age, we obey our governmental leaders as far as the word of God and goodness will allow. We do what is good. When doing what is good in accord with Scripture is not violated by the expression of governmental authority, we happily follow and do not make waves. WE want, after all, to live peacefully in the land and to honor the Lord. Part of honoring the Lord is to show that we know how to follow one in authority over us.

However, when the commands of a leader call us not to do what is good, when the leader commands us to disobey the word of God, we cannot in biblical conscience obey. We must instead obey God rather than man (cf. Acts 5:29).

As believers, we have to be careful. It is easy for us to assume that every opinion we have about what is right and wrong is something to elevate to a level of civil disobedience. We do not see such a call in the word of God here. The call to obey must include the call to submit to things to which we would prefer not to submit. Otherwise, what is the purpose of using the term submit? Submission is not simply doing what somebody says when we like it. Submission necessarily includes obedience when that obedience is at times difficult.

What then is the standard? The standard is faithful obedience to the word of God. We follow governmental leaders by doing what is good. If doing what is good in accord with Scripture is not in accord with the law of the land or the impulse of the leader, then we must obey God rather than man. Thus, when doing what is good is sharing the gospel when it is banned, we share. When doing what is good is speaking truth about justice, we speak. When doing what is good includes telling only the truth about gender, we tell the truth. When doing what is good includes gathering for worship, we gather. When doing what is good includes protecting human life, even the lives of the unborn, we protect life.

Doing what is good must include following the commands of God. So, if the government commands us not to do that which God commands, we must disobey. Following God also includes not doing what the Lord forbids. Thus, if the government commands us to do that which God forbids, we must disobey. And the word of God lets us know that there are areas of our lives where the government has no right to speak. Thus, when the government seeks to assert authority into areas of life where clearly the Lord asserts another authority—e.g. the ordering of the family, the ordering of the church, the shaping of our beliefs or prayer lives, etc.—we must not allow this usurpation of power.

Christians, may we be faithful enough to the Lord to do what is good. Let us pray that doing good will not oppose our government. Instead, let us pray that our government will, as the word proclaims, punish evil. But let us know that, even as the Romans to whom Paul wrote would have understood, sometimes doing good, sometimes obeying the word, will bring down upon us the wrath of evil people in power. And when that occurs, may we choose to still do good, still be faithful to the Lord, still obey Scripture regardless of the physical and civil consequences.

My Sadness Over the Grace To You Review of Gentle and Lowly

I don’t like commenting on current, Internet controversies in the Christian community. But, because I will be asked, I was deeply disappointed in the GTY review Of Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly. I love GTY and the ministry of John MacArthur. I’m grateful to God for what I have learned from this ministry. And I wish no ill on GTY at all.

Why then am I disappointed in the review? I’ll share a few things that come to my mind right away. And, I have no intention of this being any sort of point-by-point refutation. Who knows, maybe I’ll reread G&L and find that I missed a lot my first time through.

First, when we criticize another’s position, we should not argue against a position that our opponent would not agree is his own. Having read Gentle and Lowly, I do not believe that Ortlund would agree that his position or doctrine was at all fairly represented in the GTY review. The review faulted Ortlund with his lack of emphasis on the wrath and judgment of Christ. However, the intent of the book was in no way to say that there is no wrath or judgment in Christ. Instead, the book was intended to display for many Christians who do not see it the sweetness of the love of Jesus for those he has redeemed. To say that G&L does not paint a complete picture of Jesus is of course accurate. The book was never intended to do so. The book intended to focus on a vital aspect of who Jesus is that is often missed by believers.

As a similar comparison, take any Christian hymn you love. I will argue that it does not paint a complete and fully orbed depiction of Christian theology. “In Christ Alone” does not talk about election or Christ’s existence from eternity past. “Holy, Holy, Holy” does not speak of the fact that holiness of God is expressed with grate wrath in the fires of hell for those who persist in their bent against the Lord. Should we do away with these hymns because they do not fully depict our theology? No, we understand that there is only so much time in any song, and every song focuses us on a set of thoughts to the necessary exclusion of others. Similarly, every good book focuses us on certain points of fact about the Lord to the necessary exclusion of others.

Do not skip over the fact that Ortlund is abundantly clear in this book that he is writing about the heart of God for the redeemed. It makes little sense to then repeatedly temper that discussion with the wrath of God for those who are not forgiven. A genuine understanding of propitiation would declare to us that the wrath of God for the sins of believers was fully satisfied in the death of Christ on the cross. Thus, God now looks at his chosen with a deep and abiding love that is beyond what many Christians have ever imagined. This is not cheap grace but glorious propitiation.

Second, I do not find the review at all charitable. In the GTY review, there are far too many pithy, gotcha phrases that seem to me to be aimed more at scoring points or garnering tweets: “taming the lion of Judah?” Eventually the review even drops the word blasphemy, though only as a hint rather than as a full accusation.

Reading the review, I was saddened by the ugliness of the tone. Not only did I feel the tone was harsh toward the book itself, but also it seemed ugly toward those who have found good in the book. The GTY review offers a set of reasons as to why they believe that someone might have found G&L appealing. For the most part, these reasons are belittling at best.

Thirdly, I do not believe that the review fairly addresses that much of how Ortlund chooses to describe the Lord is in keeping with exactly how God describes himself. God uses anthropomorphic imagery so that we might, in our finitude, understand him. Thus, God speaks of being moved, of regret, of his arm, of his heart, and so much more. Yes, a solid systematic theology helps us to understand that these images are images, and they require more thought to understand how they work as we truly grasp the holiness of the Lord. But I fully disagree that there is a problem with letting yourself focus on a single description God gives of himself even if that focus is not, in the moment, balanced by other biblical truths. Sometimes you need to focus on the mercy of God without taking time out to remind yourself that Jesus turned over the tables at the temple. And sometimes you need to focus on the genuine anger of Jesus turning over the tables without tempering it with Psalm 23.

I’m sad, because, had this review been written differently, I believe that the folks at GTY could have raised very helpful cautions for Christians to consider in their reading of G&L. Perhaps those concerns could have even helped others decide not to read G&L, that would be fine. But I fear that the harshness of the review will only serve to convince those who are already negative toward what they see in G&L as wishy-washy or sentimental while pushing those who are most likely to be influenced by G&L away from future helpful teaching from GTY.

I would have loved to see this review as a caution. I would have loved to see this review raising questions. I would have loved to see this review suggest that, if a reader is not careful, he or she could draw theologically incorrect conclusions. After all, any book that focuses us on a single aspect of the heart or character of God could lead a reader to believe that the attributes of God are parts, thus denying divine simplicity, the oneness of God. All that God is, God is. There is not part of God that is love and part of God that is wrath. God is God, fully, all the way through. And God does not change so that emotions are stirred in him the way that ours stir in us.

I would have loved to see this review remind believers not to allow an emphasis on the love and mercy of Christ to confuse one regarding Christ’s attitude toward sin. God hates sin. We should too. And we do not want to allow our embracing of the depth of Christ’s grace to allow us to think that Christ has ever loved sin. This caution could have been raised without mocking or out-of-context quotation.

I love GTY and the ministry of John MacArthur. I believe that the church would be far better were we to learn far more from him. And I will certainly not let this review prevent me from continuing to learn from and grow from that ministry at GTY. But I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed because the review is just not even-handed, not gracious, not honest in its depiction of G&L. I found G&L, a book I was given at the Shepherds’ Conference in 2020, a lovely read, something I intend to read again, because it helped me to love the mercy of Christ. I’ll certainly reread G&L with the cautions in mind. But I know already that my first reading of G&L did not even begin to make me think false things about the Lord or his nature.

Persecution Comes when the State Demands Supremacy

Thoughtful Christian friends, take a look at these few paragraphs on the persecution of the church in the Roman Empire. See the reasoning behind Roman persecution as it parallels the reasoning stripping Christians of religious freedom in the US and Canada today.

From: Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), chapter 7.

The church endured little persecution as long as it was looked upon by the authorities as a part of Judaism, which was a religio licita, or legal sect. But as soon as Christianity was distinguished from Judaism as a separate sect and might be classed as a secret society, it came under the ban of the Roman state, which would brook no rival for the allegiance of its subjects. It then became an illegal religion and as such was considered a threat to the safety of the Roman state. The state was the highest good in a union of the state and religion. There could be no private religion.

Religion could be tolerated only as it contributed to the stability of the state. Since the rapidly growing Christian religion was exclusive in its claims on the moral and spiritual loyalty of those who accepted Christ, when a choice had to be made between loyalty to Christ and loyalty to Caesar, Caesar was bound to take second place. This was conceived by the Roman leaders, bent on preserving classical culture within the framework of the Roman imperial state, as disloyalty to the state; and they saw Christians as those who were trying to set up a state within a state. Either the universal state or the universal church, the body of Christ, must give way. The exclusive sovereignty of Christ clashed with Caesar’s proud claims to exclusive sovereignty.

Social problems also made their contribution to the cause of Roman persecution of the church. The Christians, who had great appeal for the lower classes and slaves, were hated by the influential aristocratic leaders of society. These leaders looked down on them with contempt but were fearful of their influence on the lower class. The Christians upheld the equality of all people (Col. 3:11); paganism insisted on an aristocratic structure for society in which the privileged few were served by the lower class and slaves. Christians separated themselves from pagan gatherings at temples, theaters, and places of recreation. This nonconformity to accepted social patterns brought down on them the dislike that the nonconformist always faces in any period of history. The purity of their lives was a silent rebuke to the scandalous lives that people of the upper class were leading. The Christians’ nonconformity to existing social patterns led the pagans to believe that they were a danger to society and to characterize them as “haters of mankind” who might incite the masses to revolt.

All these considerations combined to justify the persecution of the Christians in the minds of the authorities. Not all were present in each case, but the exclusiveness of the claims of the Christian religion on the life of the Christian conflicted with pagan syncretism and the demand for exclusive loyalty to the Roman state in most instances. Persecution followed naturally as a part of imperial policy to preserve the integrity of the Roman state. Christianity was not a licensed religion with a legal right to existence. Martyrs and apologists were its answer to mobs, the state, and pagan writers.

In our day, this same issue of church and state has again been revived, and in many countries Christians are tolerated only under law. In other countries they face persecution from a state that will brook no rival. The early struggle of the church with persecution helps to point up the importance of the modern concept of the separation of the church and state. Only where people are permitted to have private interests apart from public interests can there be religious freedom.