In this post lets revisit one of the quotes from Robin Myers’ book entitled The Underground Church – Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.
Empires seldom worry about religious beliefs that have no real effect on the loyalty of their subjects. But when that loyalty is subverted or replaced, those beliefs must be investigated and the believers crushed…
It would take time before People of the Way came up on the Roman radar screen. I think the Roman emperors thought that when the executed to primary leader of this rag-tag group that would drive them into oblivion but of course the opposite was actually true. As reported in the Book of Acts and elsewhere when people heard of this man Jesus Christ who was a great rabbi and was executed by the Romans but then raised from the dead they anxiously wanted to know more.
One thing that was basically different about common people in those days and people today was that most in those days were completely convinced that they were bound by the circumstances in which they were born. There was little or no hope that they could advance in their circumstances. If you were a slave you were a slave for life; there was no way to change that. So, when they heard of this carpenter’s son who defied the Roman empire and in a symbolic way defeated them they saw a glimmer of hope that things can actually change.
And Change they did. As these small groups continued to grow they unsettled some of the leaders of their day. The most outrageous thing they did was refused to bow down to the Roman emperor as their lord. That was considered treasonous in those days. The People of the Way said they had a different lord and would not bow to the Roman emperor. By not proclaiming the emperor as lord they were, as the quote above says, the beliefs in a different lord had to be investigated and the believers crushed.
Since the People of the Way were just common people the Romans targeted their leaders. This included people like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Origen and others. Almost all of them were eventually hunted down and sent to the coliseum. But more on that later. Some argue in addition to their loyalty to a man called Jesus that one of the main reasons for the success of Early Christianity was the Christian emphasis on caring for the sick. During the late Roman period there were a number of devastating plagues: the Antonine Plague (165-180 AD), the Plague of Cyprian (251-270 AD). The followers of the Way were front and center in helping others during these trying times. So they were, as we say today, “walking the walk”. That is they were very adamant in doing what their spiritual leader told them to do rather than just being in awe of him. If only we could return to actually doing what Jesus said instead of just believing things about him maybe Christianity would also see the tremendous surge of membership today. Who knows….