What Persecution Really Looks Like
Before about 250 AD, there was persecution of Christians, but it was mostly local and pretty sporadic. However, a new emperor came to power in 251 named Decius, and he hated Christians. The next 10 years became known as the Decade of Horror as Decius established a systematic empirewide program for eliminating Christianity. But no matter how harsh Decius was, nothing could compare with Diocletian (284-305). By his era, Christianity had spread so powerfully that it was in his own house -- literally. Many of his slaves and servants -- even his own wife and daughters had become followers of Christ. It seemed that the more vigorously you opposed them, the more they spread!
In 303, Diocletian issued four edicts meant to stifle the growth of Christianity.
First, all church buildings were to be destroyed. These were a relatively new invention (the first being built in approximately 250).
Second, all Christian books would be destroyed.
Third, all Christians would be banned from serving in the government and the military.
Fourth, all Christian clergy were imprisoned.
The following year, Diocletian issued another order requiring all Christians to offer sacrifices to pagan deities.
Again, the purpose of all of this was to keep Christianity from spreading any further. And the irony is that here we sit more than 1,700 years later. Church buildings ubiquitously dot our landscape. I have a new Christian book being published. Christians proliferate our government and military institutions. And I, as a member of the Christian clergy, enjoy an unprecedented level of freedom.
Christianity now claims one-third of the planet, while the Roman Empire is ancient history.
In other words, it didn't work. The more we were persecuted, the quicker and farther we spread.
So, let's remember our history. And let's think about what real persecution looks like. I know there are spots in the world today where some of the things Diocletian tried are being enforced. I know there are Christians imprisoned and books being seized and burned. I read the reports of church buildings being burned down. I know all of that.
I also know that none of it is happening in the USA. Far from it.
Call me naive, but I also believe that if any of that stuff ever did happen here in America, it wouldn't stamp us out. It would only throw more fuel on the fire.