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April 11: The World is Not Devoid of Meaning

The World is Not Devoid of Meaning: Vision ViewpointVision Viewpoint looks this week at the triumph of Christianity in the ancient world, and how the reasons for this as described by a secular historian still ring true. Vision Viewpoint is a Christian radio program and ministry of Reformation Hope Church in Hartford, WI.

Edward Gibbon, the classical historian who wrote the famous The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, made this statement in that same work, in the famous fifteenth chapter: "A candid, but rational inquiry into the progress and the establishment of Christianity may be considered as a very essential part of the history of the Roman Empire."

Gibbon goes on to write about the Christian faith as a necessary study of the Roman Empire by saying that it was the Christian faith that defeated that empire. It wasn’t with guns, bombs, and bullets, or, for that day, chariots, cavalry, and siege engines. Rather, it was a different kind of confrontation, a different kind of defeat. St. Paul tells us that if the Romans had known what they were doing, they would have never killed Jesus Christ. His kingdom confronts the kingdoms of this world in a much different manner – not with siege engines, bombs, or guns. Gibbon recognized that, and in fact, made the point that the Christian faith did indeed "erect the triumphant banner of the cross on the ruins of the capitol."

There were five major reasons Gibbon believed the Christian faith was triumphant; the first reason is discussed here today. The first reason that Gibbon gave was that there was a zeal and a devotion to Christianity, the new faith of that day. He knew it was rooted in the Old Testament and the accounts of the Jews of Israel within it – and even further back to the Semitic peoples of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Gibbon understood this, and continued by saying Christianity was a powerful religion in that it brought hope to people. The Bible tells us that hope is an anchor to the soul. People saw the mission work of Christianity (not missionary work, though that is included) and recognized that every Christian is given a calling by God to invest meaning and purpose in life, and that every Christian has a mission to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is indeed the Lord of all things. Christians are to bring that faith in Christ to all men, and the early Christians did that with a singular devotion, even to the point of martyrdom. As the great Christian theologian Tertullian made the point, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."

The point is that there was a zeal and devotion in Christianity that couldn’t be accounted for. The Roman emperor Trajan and his governor, Pliny the Younger, both attested, having already made a powerful impact on the world themselves, testified that there was something different about the Christians that they couldn’t account for, and that they had never seen, even in their enemies – in fact, they had never seen it in mankind.

Of these five major reasons Gibbon gave as to why the Christian faith prevailed, one of them was the singular devotion and zeal – this mission of the Christians, whereby they understood and continue to understand that there is meaning in life. The world, contrary to the implications of popular philosophies and sciences today, is not void of meaning. The Bible teaches us that the world will look at its environment and come to the conclusion that it is empty of meaning, and the apostle Paul mentions this very scenario in chapter eight of Romans verse 20 where he states that the creation was made subject to an apparent, emptiness, purposelessness, meaninglessness.  

The fact of the matter is that the world is not meaningless or without purpose. Gibbon noted the Christian brought a zeal and a devotion because the Christian understands that life does have purpose, that there is invested meaning, and that the Word of God is necessary to show this to individuals. The results throughout the Roman Empire emptied the temples of hundreds of competing religions. That was the complaint of the emperor, Julian the Apostate, an enemy of the Christian faith. He knew that the worldview of the Christians was so powerful that the temples of the state and of competing religions were emptied by the Christians.

We’re told in Scripture, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." The early Christians understood this and preached their singular devotion to Christ, even to the point of the very lives, because they knew that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord.

Vision Viewpoint will continue this week’s series on Gibbon’s five reasons for the triumph of Christianity. As a Christian radio program, Vision Viewpoint is a ministry of Reformation Hope Church in Hartford, WI.

 

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