Christian Atheists, Daily Reform, Day 32

polycarp

Galatians 1:6-9 & Ephesians 6:10-18

From the Reformer

When the devil sees that he cannot hurt the cause of the Gospel by destructive methods, he does it under the guise of correcting and advancing the cause of the Gospel. He would like best of all to persecute us with fire and sword, but this method has availed him little because through the blood of martyrs the church has been watered. Unable to prevail by force, he engages wicked and ungodly teachers who at first make common cause with us, then claim that they are particularly called to teach the hidden mysteries of the Scriptures to superimpose upon the first principles of Christian doctrine that we teach. This sort of thing brings the Gospel into trouble. May we all cling to the Word of Christ against the wiles of the devil, “for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

Polycarp was not put to death because he did not pay his taxes or had murdered or stolen property. The Roman government condemned the Bishop of Smyrna because he was an atheist. It considered all Christians atheists because they did not confess the Roman pantheon of gods. They gave the famed teacher of the Christian Faith three opportunities to reproach Christ but he would not do so. The devil would have loved to skip to the bishop’s burning but if he could turn him into a heretic instead, the better for the cause of evil. If he could just threaten him with wild beasts and fire and get him to recant the truth he taught, the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9) would be advanced.

Luther faced this same threat at Worms. There he was told to recant his teachings against the errors of the Church in his day. If they could get him to say he was wrong, that we are not saved by faith in God’s grace alone, that Christ is not the only way to the Father (John 14:6), then they would have turned Luther into a heretic. But he, like Polycarp, would not deny his Lord.

The devil employs subtle coercion too, as he does today. In some places in the world, his ancient practices are still used. In other parts, he just wants the believer to be quiet. Do not speak the words of Christ except in your churches. But to not teach Christ is to teach him wrongly. To not speak the truth is heresy as much as teaching a false doctrine is heresy. If Polycarp had recanted, he would be as much a heretic as Marcion whom he taught was a heretic. Better for Polycarp to be thought an atheist than to be a heretic.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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