Why is the Western world growing increasingly hostile toward Christianity? To answer this question, let’s think back to the 1st and 2nd centuries.
True Christians have always stood in sharp contrast to their unbelieving contemporaries. In the church’s earliest days, they refused to engage in many of Roman society’s Pagan behaviors. They avoided most public entertainment because it glorified sexual immorality and violence. They would not visit hospitals because Pagan priests prayed over patients. They would not send their children to public schools where Paganism was taught. They abstained from many careers, such as politics, the military, teaching, and art, because Pagan worship, rituals, and symbolism were involved. They also opposed divorce, abortion, and the murder of unwanted already-born children—all acceptable practices among the Romans.
While these differences were enough to create contrast between the Lord’s disciples and the rest of society, they don’t explain the Romans’ animosity toward and subsequent persecution of the church. In his book, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Volume 1, Nick Needham explains why the Empire perceived Christians as a threat this way:
The answer lies in the exclusive truth-claims that Christians made for their faith. The other religions of the Empire were syncretistic (Greek for “federated,” “joined in alliance”)—that is, they did not make any claim to be the one and only truth. A person could “mix” his religions and follow more than one. Christianity, and of course, Judaism, stood out against this pattern. The Christians and the Jews insisted that they alone had the true faith and the only way of salvation. The Roman world could tolerate such a view in the Jews, because Jews were simply following the traditional religion of their nation and ancestors, and did not go around trying to make everyone else into Jews. The Christians had no such excuses; their religion was new, unheard-of, and burning with a passion to convert all Pagans. So the Church’s exclusive, intolerant, missionary attitude to other religions marked Christians out and made them very unpopular. To their Pagan neighbors, this evangelistic devotion to Christ as the only Savior seemed highly arrogant and dangerously anti-social.
The Preacher of Ecclesiastes was correct when he said:
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us. (Ecclesiastes 1:9, 10)
Christ and his apostles warned us about the world’s hatred, but only recently have Christians in the West begun to feel resentment and hostility. Jesus told his disciples, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mk 13:13).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, resist the pressure to conform to this world. Stand firm in the faith. Continue to preach the way, and the truth, and the life to the unconverted because no one comes to the Father except through him (Jn 14:6). There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Ac 4:12). And do not lose heart (2Co 5:16).
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18)