Believing in biblical principles is risky business. Articulating those beliefs might get your business wrecked. You might lose your job or not even be able to get certain jobs. You may be ostracized by family and friends.
Having come of age during the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, today’s vicious reaction to biblical Christianity is unfamiliar to me. This hostility may seem new to us but it’s actually part of a continuum of hate going back 2,000 years.
The Bible we’re familiar with did not exist in the 1st century but a new religion called Christianity was a problem for Roman Emperor Nero so he imprisoned, tortured and killed believers. It wasn’t until the 4th century that the biblical canons we recognize today were established. Ever since, people who embrace them have routinely faced intimidation and persecution. Ironically, much of this was spawned by the Holy Roman Empire.
So controversial was the Bible, the laity was prohibited from having one for hundreds of years in medieval Europe. It was to be printed only in Latin, a language few understood. It was to be kept by priests in churches. Owning one and professing its words might get you and your Bible burned at the stake, as might translating it into a language other than Latin.
The obvious question is ‘why?’ After all, biblical beliefs are about behaving well and worshiping properly. How could possessing and reading such a book be criminalized by an institution claiming to believe it?
The Bible is not just a book on how to live and worship. It also proclaims individual liberty and fidelity to God above all. But to those who are part of the civic power structure, it is a serious threat. This is why biblical beliefs were so vociferously and savagely opposed a thousand years ago, and that opposition continues to this day.
Consider the matter of salvation, a core tenet of Christianity. The European theocracy held that salvation came only through labor and intermediaries – the church hierarchy, priestly absolution, acts of contrition and so forth. It was the governing structure that determined who could have eternal life and who could not.
The problem is, that’s not what the Bible says and it wasn’t until the early 16th century when this occurred to Martin Luther, who started what became the Reformation. Luther, a devout Roman Catholic monk, started promoting the biblical truth that salvation is a gift from God. It requires neither intermediaries nor penance but merely faith, and is given freely by grace.
The concept of salvation by grace through faith introduced the idea of a personal God. It was extraordinarily liberating and spread like wildfire. People were no longer beholden to a theocracy in order to enter Heaven and freed from the false burdens imposed on them. To say this was a substantial threat to Europe’s ruling establishment is an understatement.
Armed only with a Bible, Luther articulated other fundamental liberties. He championed radical ideas like freedom of conscience, maintaining separate church and civic institutions, freedom to gather and disagree with the civil authorities, freedom to defend oneself and family, even freedom of the press. Never before had the world seen anything like it.
Luther’s promotion of liberty was popular and unprecedented. The more it spread, the more threatening it was to the theocracy, which responded with great violence. Nobody knows how many people were killed for the crimes of having and reading a Bible; estimates vary widely from tens of thousands to tens of millions. Regardless of which data point you prefer, the power structure felt it necessary to kill very large numbers of people.
The Bible is the first and finest book of liberty ever written. To believers it is a joy; to totalitarians who demand fealty to man instead of God, it remains an impediment. This is why biblical principles and the people who believe in them are still under attack today. While the means of pursuing this maltreatment have changed, the motivation behind these attacks is as old as Rome’s Colosseum.
In retrospect, the Jesus Movement of my adolescence was a cultural blip that has sadly subsided, and the American Left is dead set on making sure it is not reprised. But there are signs of a nascent faith revival in America. Actors like Rainn Wilson, Candace Cameron Bure and Chris Pratt are standing up for their faith and that of others. Streaming services like Netflix and Prime are hosting more faith-based films. Mainstream musicians are increasingly recording songs on faith.
These are small steps but they are welcomed because they matter. The best defense against attacks on biblical beliefs is to continue to profess them without fear. The only thing authoritarians fear more than individual liberty is when we unapologetically promote it.