The earliest Christians followed a Jewish tradition of pausing to pray, preferably together, first thing in the morning, about mid morning, at noon, about mid afternoon, and in the evening. “Just a Note” posts are brief observations made from Scripture readings not related to a lectionary. If I have one to post, it normally appears about 9:00 in the morning, at “the hour of prayer.”
There’s a misconception that American Christians often have about the apostolic period. It’s easy to see why we would reach this conclusion, but it’s a wrong conclusion. Here’s what happens. We know that the Romans were officially polytheists. They believed in many gods. They specifically didn’t accept the claims of Jesus. He said he was the only God. That wasn’t acceptable to a Roman. We know that there were periods of persecution, that Christians were killed for their faith. So we often reach the conclusion that Christians were persecuted by the Romans from the very start. We know that Peter and Paul were both killed while in Roman prisons, so it seems quite clear.
Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened. Or maybe it is fortunate. Acts 22:30 picks up the action involving Paul in Jerusalem. He had been arrested because of a violent riot in the city. People were protesting Paul’s presence, saying he had defiled the temple. Paul was maintaining his innocence, but was claiming that Jesus was the Messiah. The tensions erupted when Paul said the Gospel was to go to the Gentiles.
What did Paul do? He turned to the Romans for protection. Although he was in custody, it was protective custody. The commander was keeping him chained up in order to prevent the crowd from tearing Paul to pieces. This was the protection a Roman citizen could expect from his government. Since Paul was a citizen he had protections against assault, against interrogation using torture, and against some types of execution.
The Roman commander didn’t only lock Paul up in prison. He also arranged for representatives of both sides of the conflict to present themselves in court. What does this tell us about Christianity and Rome? It tells us that the early Christians, if they were citizens, had some level of protection from the Roman government. They were not allowed to act as schismatics or revolutionaries. However, their basic rights were protected. Paul was not afraid to turn to his civil government for protection.
When we see government rightly we can easily imagine times when governmental protection would be valuable. As Romans 13 stresses, the government is there to protect the people. That includes the Christians. Paul requested and obtained the exact same protections that would be afforded to any citizen. This is a good and fair use of government.
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