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Are you envious because I am generous?

September 10, 2010

This is part of what I preached last Sunday:

Let’s take an example from church history. You are probably aware that in the early centuries of the church there was quite of lot of persecution of Christians. Not all of the persecution lead to martyrdom. One particular emperor only wanted to discredit Christians and not make them into heroes. So he arrested them, sent them into exile, confiscated their property, threatened them, tortured them and generally made their lives very uncomfortable.

Many Christians refused to deny Christ even under severe torture but some did deny him. These Christians were excommunicated from the church and considered to be lapsed Christians. During the persecution church membership had become very rigid because they didn’t want people joining the church to spy on them and then reporting them to the authorities.

In about 260AD a new emperor came to power and under his reign the church enjoyed freedom from persecution. Now many of these lapsed Christians wanted to be readmitted into the church.

This created a major problem. Should these lapsed Christians who had denied Christ be readmitted or not? Should they be allowed to participate in communion? Should they have to prove their commitment to Christ in some way? Should they be re-baptized? How would you feel? Supposing you had held out under torture and you were at a church meeting in 260AD Would you vote for them to be to be readmitted and be on equal standing? These people were not wanting to be leaders or anything they just wanted to come to church and take communion. So would you welcome them back with open arms?

Many of the bishops at the time felt these people could only be readmitted into the church and receive communion after performing a series of acts of penance. So the church created a graded system of penance. So depending of how easily you gave in while being tortured depend how long you were excluded from communion. Then the lapsed Christians also would have to prove their sorrow by coming before the congregation in sackcloth with ashes on their head. This practice pretty much continued in various forms until 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the church door.

Do we see Jesus treating Peter this way? Peter denied Jesus three times and although death was a possibility, he wasn’t actually being tortured at the time. I wonder how long the bishops would have made Peter wait until they allowed him to take communion again? Are we envious because God is generous with his grace, with his forgiveness, with his favour? God doesn’t make us wait until we have shown ourselves to be sufficiently sorrowful. God says, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

by Susan Barnes
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Susan Barnes

~ writer of insightful posts about God and faith