This is an older post I’m moving over here now. This stems from a story that occurred about two and a half years ago.
The two FOX News journalists kidnapped in Gaza on 14 August were released and spoke with their media brethren about their ordeal. During the interview they revealed the strong arm tactics their captors used to grant their release. From the FOX News article,
Both of the men were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint, Centanni said.
“We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint,” Centanni told FOX News. “Don’t get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it, but it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns, and we didn’t know what the hell was going on.”
The men were under great duress and decided to give their captors what they wanted in order to walk away with their lives. I have no clue what their religious persuasion or confession is. They could be Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist; unknown to me. But their actions are a wonderful example of what has played out in Christian history for as long as the Church has been stepping out into the hostile world.
In the early centuries of the Church, the body of Christ was badly beaten and bruised in persecution. We usually think of the ten major persecutions highlighted in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, from Nero through Diocletian; but their were far more than that, and actually began with Saul of Tarsus. Throughout Christian Persecution History are stories of Christians faced with the choice of denying Christ and praying, giving tribute, or offering a sacrifice, to some false gods or the genius of the emperor. The persecutors and executioners would press for them to convert or face death. Probably 99% of the time, a recantation or conversion garnered them freedom.
Then you have quite the dilemma that I have to work through almost on a daily basis in my studies on Christian martyrdom and persecution. What do you do with the lapsi? See, historically there are three categories a persecuted Christian fell under: martyr, confessor, or lapsed. The martyr was obviously the one who died for their confession of Christ. The confessor was someone who would not recant or offer a sacrifice but not be killed for it. They would usually be given a physical warning (e.g. eye taken out, hand cut off, beaten, etc) to also show everyone what happens to traitors and atheists (typical charges against Christians back then). But, still, they lived. The lapsed were people who (a) did something to give the impression they recanted, or (b) actually recanted or offered a sacrifice (many times, you did not have to deny Christ, only offer a sacrifice to a god or pray to the genius of the emperor; Christ could just be another one of the gods).
Before Arianism and Nicea, how you handled the lapsed coming back to the Church caused greater turmoil than any other issue in Christianity. Did you accept them back with open arms? Did you keep them out of fellowship because they denied and were ashamed of Christ? Did you give them some sort of probation? This was an intense dilemma that has to be dealt with even today. People vary on their attitude towards lapsed believers.
People also vary on on their attitude towards garnering freedom by any means in order to live on and preach the gospel of Christ versus denying Christ knowing death was an inevitable consequence. Some whole heartedly believe in doing everything you can to live. Living on and preaching the gospel or living the gospel is the most important thing to do. Saying words like “I deny Christ as God” or ” Jesus is not God or my Savior” or “Yes I will embrace Allah and his prophet Muhammed” is nothing but words. As long as it is only a ruse then you are alright. Others will call such an act disgraceful and shameful towards Christ. How strong is your faith? Do you really believe Christ is God and able to take care of you? Is your life more important than the name of Christ?
Consider this situation which undoubtedly happened more than you might initially think. Johnny was captured for being a Christian. When pressed and threatened, he lied about denying Christ and was set free. He went back to his hometown, and the next Sunday joined up with his fellow believers at Henry’s house. He goes on about how he got out of being punished by telling a little lie. He didn’t mean it when he denied the name and work of Christ. Now he is ready to do some underground mission work. You and everyone else is ready to accept him with open arms, except for someone you notice on the other side of the room: Helen. She is sitting there staring. Then you remember. She and her husband, Charles, were captured for being Christians. They were pressed and tortured and threatened. Charles did not recant or deny Christ, and he was killed. The authorities then turned to Helen, and though she would not recant either (ready and willing to die for her Savior), she was given her freedom. They slashed her eye as a sign to everyone of her being a criminal, and make her think a little more about this “Christ” life. There they both are: one happy to be alive, the other wondering why she still was. And you have a decision to make. That decision could be personal, but remember you are part of a community, a family. I am not trying to pull on heart strings to make you side a certain way, but to grasp the conundrum the Church has been in for centuries.
I wish I go go into this historic dilemma more, but it would take a work the size of a thesis to get into all sides and the implications. I tried to give you a quick summary (I hope it was not too confusing) and present something thought provoking. What would you do if you as a Christian were in the place of those journalists? Also, what would you do if someone from your local body was one of those journalists and came back to your church? Would they be lovingly accepted back with open arms, or would their be discipline of some kind? Or, would they be kept out of fellowship?