Guts and Perversity

The earliest Church, from the days of the apostles and into the first centuries, had an abundant share of guts and what everyone else regarded as perversity.  Its claims were so outrageous that it was hard for the average Jew or Greek or Roman to take them seriously.

Those claims began immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus.  A small group of His followers—about 120 in number, hardly enough to show up in the Jerusalem stats—began to claim that Jesus was the Messiah, and that, as Messiah, He was now doing what every Jew expected the Messiah to do—that is, Jesus was now ruling the world.

We Christians, familiar with the Ascension and the dogmas of our theology, can easily miss how perverse this claim seemed to everyone.  The Messiah was expected to gather an army, defeat the Romans, overthrow Gentile power throughout the world, and establish Jerusalem as the new capital of the earth and rule from Zion.  Jesus had clearly done none of these things.  Far from overthrowing the might of Rome, He had been put to death by Roman power, and that in the worst and most humiliating way imaginable.  Rome was still in control and Jerusalem was still under the Roman boot.  How could any sane Jew say that He was the Messiah?  (Spoiler hint:  the answer is, “because of His Resurrection”.)

Despite this, the Christians, few in number, despised as heretics and written off as lunatics, continued to assert that Jesus was now ruling the world from the Father’s throne in heaven, and that one day He would return to consummate that reign.

Part and parcel of this new Christian perversity was the Christian assertion that the cross on which Jesus had died was not the instrument of His defeat, but of His victory, and that it was not Him who had been humiliated on it, but the evil principalities and powers of the world (compare Colossians 2:15).  It was through His death that death had been trampled down and salvation and new life had come into the world.  This assertion was, to say the least, historically counter-intuitive, and the pagans mocked us at every turn for insisting upon it and for worshipping a crucified criminal.

The perversity of our claims was increased by the tininess of our numbers.  For a long time now the Church has lived beneath the shadow of the eagle’s wings (after 330 or so, a double-headed eagle), and since then we have been living on Constantinian capital (now pretty much used up here in the darkened West).  This long history can obscure from our vision how tiny and powerless we actually were for the longest time—and therefore how outrageous our claims seemed to everyone else.

Jews were established and powerful throughout the Roman world.  Every large city had its synagogue and the Jews were a wealthy and influential force to be reckoned with.  In a militarized Rome, they had exacted an immunity from service in the Roman army, and in a polytheistic world with its Emperor cult they had exacted an exemption from participating in the worship of the Emperor.  A long and lamentable history of anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews can sometimes blind us to the fact that in those early days, the shoe of helplessness was on the other foot.  In those days the Jews were the powerful ones, and the Christians were the persecuted and hated minority.

This was all the more apparent while the Temple was still standing, with all its wealth, pomp, and prestige.  It shone in the sun in all its Herodian splendour, staffed by hundreds of priests, funded by Jews the world over, its altar smoking with sacrifices all the day long.  The Temple was the powerful beating heart of Judaism, a potent symbol of the Chosen People now dispersed throughout the world.

It was against this background that the Christians, few in number and without any power, made their extraordinary claims.  Despite the fact that in Paul’s day there were only a few dozen Christians in cities like Corinth, the Christians claimed that they were the true Israel, not the Jews, and that the signs of belonging to the Chosen People were no longer circumcision and Sabbath, but baptism and Eucharist.  The disparity of numbers—thousands of Jews with property and influence and only a few dozen Christians without property or influence—made the claim breath-takingly audacious.

More than that, the Christians claimed that their gatherings, their ekklesias, constituted the true Temple where God now dwelt, and that their little ceremony with bread and wine constituted the true sacrifices of that Temple.  The Temple in Jerusalem, an architectural world wonder with its hundreds of priests and sacrifices, was only a foreshadowing of what the Christians were now doing.  Like I said:  counter-intuitive.  Surely the reality was the Jerusalem Temple with its many sacrificed animals, and a private ceremony with bread and wine was the imitation and symbol?  Nope:  the Christians insisted it was the other way around:  the Temple was the symbol, and they had the reality.

With Constantine and especially Justinian, all this began to change, and now we cannot easily conceive of Christianity as “a little flock” (compare Luke 12:32), statistically insignificant, without cultural influence, and persecuted.  But the times they are a-changin’, and we here in the West are rapidly becoming again what we once were.  That does not mean, of course, that here in a liberal democracy we should not protest the insanity of our times or the measures used to persecute us (some of which are more subtle than others in our “cancel culture”).  But it does mean that Christendom has fallen, and that the catacombs beckon.

It also means that we need to retain or recover the guts which once characterized us.  Like our earliest Christian ancestors, we stand together to defy the world.  We insist that Jesus rules the world, that He hates much of what is going on down here, and that He will correct and judge when He returns.  (If you wish, you may call the coming Kingdom “the Great Reset”.)  We insist that much of what is culturally normative and ascendent is sinful and wrong and eschatologically doomed, and that we will therefore live differently than the world lives.

The world will of course regard us again as perverse and dangerous and will treat us accordingly.  Our numbers will flag with our fortunes, and will be much reduced.  The little flock will again begin to look little.  But that’s okay.  We have been here before, and we know how to do this.  The time is upon us for guts and contentment with what the world will regard as perversity.




  1. Fr. Lawrence…you say as Christians “We insist that Jesus rules the world…
    and you could be right when you say…”He hates much of what is going on down here, and that He will correct and judge when He returns. (If you wish, you may call the coming Kingdom “the Great Reset”.) We insist that much of what is culturally normative and ascendent is sinful and wrong and eschatologically doomed, and that we will therefore live differently than the world lives.”

    We in the Church must also realize we too are at fault. We have lacked the guts to show our Faith in the Trinity. We have let the authorities insist that the Trinity is a mystery we are not able to truly understand. So we have lacked the confidence and the guts to look deeply into the Scriptures to see the LOVE STORY buried there

    1. Linda,
      I wonder what you mean by “We have lacked the guts to show our Faith in the Trinity. We have let the authorities insist that the Trinity is a mystery we are not able to truly understand.”
      Which “authority” are you talking about?

      God, Is a Mystery!!!
      We can experience His Presence, but He can not be Known in His Essence.

      To know about God, is not the way of knowing Him. You are right that we need to repent, however, we need the guidance of the Church Fathers to look deeper into Holy Scripture, because the Book of Life is closed to those who are unworthy. Humility is the Way, as Our Lord Himself showed us, if we think we know better than the Church Fathers we are deceiving ourselves.

  2. “…Christendom has fallen…the catacombs beckon…We have been here before, and we know how to do this.”
    I agree with you Fr Lawrence this is quickly becoming our frightening reality, and we have little choice now but to embrace it. The modern world provides us with systems which can both hasten our destruction and aid in our survival. I am thinking of the internet which undoubtedly has made it easier for the authorities to track down Christians, yet still, for the time being at least, provides a platform for Christian voices like yours. The task at hand is to learn how to wisely use these systems for our benefit without being harmed by them. We can learn from modern saints who show us the way to live in a hostile culture. I was just reading about the Glinsk elders whose Hermitage was closed by the Soviet government: those elders fled to Georgia where they not only survived as practicing Christians, but helped rebuild the Georgian Church! Their story and others like theirs not only make inspiring reading for our times but give us a practical path to follow. By learning from them, it’s possible to imitate their strategies for keeping Christianity alive within a society which opposes it.

  3. What a most timely and important message Father; thank-you.

    When I first began reading the Church Fathers I was struck by their courage in the face of danger (the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp as an example). I wondered what kind of faith could produce such fearlessness of death? I did not understand it, but I knew I wanted it!

    As our world descends into a new (re:old) pagan “Roman” era, I thank God that we do not need to reinvent would courage in the face of persecution looks like; we have two thousand years of beautiful examples to draw from.

    St. Ignatius, St. Polycarp, St. Justin the Martyr and the rest of the Saints; intercede for us!

  4. On the cult of hardness.
    I read the article 3/17/2023 and have no questions on Catholic views on the great way Catholic worship is conducted. I’m a Baptist. In Alabama. Attend my church regularly, usually when the doors open. Lol. But I also visit the the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. My daughter and grand children are Methodist. And I have Jewish ancestry, 3 enervations back. I want to say this; God uses and speaks thru all forms of true worship. Moses father in law, the priest king Melchizedek, and other persons and processes. Only the individual (and Jesus) knows what is in the heart. You see, I love my church worship bareness but I love your churches rich worship style and heritage. I love my men’s Bible study on Monday nights which takes place in a nursery smelling of fertilizer and peat and plants. It has many denominations but we only read and discuss bible verse by verse. Catholics attend also. God uses whatever tools He can to reach and speak to us. I pray you continued in the good works Christ has blessed you with and thank you for your great article.

  5. Father Lawrence:

    I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and sits (not stands or kneels) at the right hand of the Father. AND that all authority in heaven and earth is His
    But…”We insist the Jesus rules the world”. ? How can that be? The world is an utter mess And always has been. The Saracens, Moors and Turks took half of Christian lands. Modern cults and false Christs still steal those who might have found the Church. Marxism destroyed Holy Russia. Communism crushes a major hunk of the Orient. Mohammedism spreads in Africa. Modernity and media and entertainment eviscerates what’s left of Western Civ. And Putin…!!! Enlighten me, for it appears He is watching, not ruling. Watching is fine if it accomplishes His goals and tarrying gives sinners time to repent. But to call it ruling…well I can’t say what i would say if just you and i were talking.

    1. To say that one sits on a throne (i.e. at the Father’s right hand) is to say that one rules.

  6. Simnika,
    One can say “God is a mystery” and in saying that write Him off as a fantasy. Alternatively, one can say it with awe and joy and repentance and, by His Grace, He is made manifest even as we realize how much more is unseen and seemingly unknowable but nearer than hands and feet.

  7. Shannon, two points:
    1. Consider the difference between having dominion over a land and people as their king;
    2 Imagine dominating that same /land and people…

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