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April 13: 5 Key Principles of the Christian Faith

An Anchored Faith and Justin Martyr

Secular historian Edward Gibbon lists in his great historical work five reasons for the triumph of Christianity despite great opposition in the ancient world, and the Christian radio program Vision Viewpoint looks at those five reasons in this week’s broadcasts. Vision Viewpoint is a ministry of Reformation Hope Church in Hartford, WI.

In his classic work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the great historian Edward Gibbon noted there were five essential principles that enabled and ennobled the Christian faith as it marched across the pages of history, and as it emptied the temples of the Roman Empire and the hundreds of different deities that dotted the horizon and the cultural landscape of the Roman provinces.

Among Gibbon’s five reasons for the prevailing of the Christian faith against the might Roman Empire was the fact that there was a singular devotion and zeal in the Christian life – there was a mission for the Christian because there was first, and foremost, purpose. Not moral relativism and meaninglessness that we find taught in our schools today, but a purposeful worldview that gave hope that anchors the soul, making the soul sure and steadfast. It is this hope that reorients it out of despondency, despair, and guilt – all the "uglies" that we find in our society, laden with teaching today that leads to nothing but hopelessness and despair or, worse, wanton cruelty, and even degradation and destruction.

The Christian faith taught a zeal and mission for life because there was meaning in life, and more especially, it wasn’t just a philosophical meaning. In fact, Gibbon noted that Christianity did not conform to so-called "philosophical norms." He also noted that those philosophies of Athens and other philosophical centers were more like cardboard – more like chewing on straw: sure, they might have some insights, but they were hardly life-changing.

This was the testimony of one such man named Justin Martyr, who was martyred for his faith in Christ. Before he was a Christian, he was a scholar as a young man – a person who, today, might have a Ph.D. in philosophy; in fact, Justin was likely schooled in several schools of philosophy. But he found all the philosophies of the ancient world to be "cardboard": it had done nothing for him, chewing on those philosophies gave him nothing.

In despair one day, he walked along a beach, hopeless and helpless. He was met by an old man, whose name does not come down to us from the ancient world. That old man – a sort of grandfatherly figure – began to walk with Justin, and they began to question one another. The old man began to teach Justin, and the more Justin listened, the more he heard of a vital faith in Jesus Christ. The old man recognized in that walk with Justin the pensiveness and despair of a man who needed hope, and he walked with Justin for hours. At the end of their walk, Justin bowed the knee to Jesus Christ, and called upon the very Savior that the old man had known for years. Justin Martyr would go on to teach that powerful worldview called the Christian faith – the very worldview that Gibbon observed.

In fact, Gibbon noted one other aspect of Christianity that can be illustrated by this same account from history of Justin Martyr: Justin Martyr was changed by a  "new birth." This "change of heart" is more technically called "regeneration" in the Bible – a work of God in the soul that changes the soul, contrary to itself and to its nature, doing so as an act of persuasiveness. God regards the heart as clean and good, and gives purpose and mission to the Christian’s life. Justin’s new faith would be a faith he would later die for one day, as a martyr for Christ.

Gibbon, the writer and great historian, noted one of the most powerful things about the Christian faith was the presence of miracles that are documented historically. Remember, Gibbon was an agnostic, not a Christian. But he knew the history well enough to know that the Christian faith has always advanced, and is, in fact, founded on the new birth and the supernatural work of God. It comes as a result of believing that simple Gospel: "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ," Paul wrote. "It is the power of God unto those who believe, unto the Jew first, and also unto the Gentile."

Vision Viewpoint’s series this week focuses on the five reasons given by historian Edward Gibbon for the prevail of Christianity, and the Christian radio program will continue this week as it broadcasts as a ministry of Reformation Hope Church in Hartford, WI.

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