Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Church History 101: Justin Martyr

Read the introduction to this series – 50 people you need to know: Church History 101

Justin (100-165) was born to pagan parents, but never felt satisfied with any of the irreligious philosophies he learned. It was not until he heard a humble, older Christian man teach about Christ, that Justin knew he had found truth.

In his new found faith, not only did he find truth, but Justin found a truth worth living and dying for –– as he was beheaded for his refusal to denounce Jesus. In his life, Justin sought to demonstrate how the Christian faith was consistent with reason and logic. In his death, he earned the surname Martyr.

Justin Martyr is someone you must know.

Stained glass window of Justin Martyr

Who was Justin Martyr?

Born at the turn of the second century, Justin grew up under two pagan parents and early on began to seek after knowledge. According to Justin himself, he studied under several of the most important philosophical systems of the day, but found them all wanting.

Around the age of 30, however, he went out into a field near the sea to be be alone with his thoughts and had an encounter that would change his life. An older man began to follow him at a distance. Justin turned to speak to him and before he really knew what was happening, the man was presenting the gospel.

Finally, Justin had found the true philosophy for which he had been searching. Of that moment, he wrote:
"A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do."
Justin spent the rest of his life defending this true and profitable philosophy. He even went to Rome itself to found a school at which he taught Christian philosophy. He wrote several defenses of the Christian faith, even writing apologetic works directed to the Roman emperor and the Roman senate.

After contending for Christianity with a cynic philosopher, he was turned in to the government as a heretic and false teacher. They arrested him and six of his disciples. When asked to reject Christ and make a sacrifice to the Roman gods, Justin boldly replied:
"No one who is rightly minded turns from true belief to false."
He was then led away to be beheaded, thus garnering the surname of Martyr.

Why do you need to know Justin Martyr?

Before there was William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, Norman Geisler, John Lennox and any other of the large number of Christian apologists and philosophers today, there was Justin Martyr.

He recognized that Christianity was the true philosophy. It wasn't simply a religious system for some. It is a life changing philosophy that is, above anything else, true for everyone at all times.

Along many other Christian leaders of his day, Justin countered the false teaching of the Gnostics and Marcions. He also sought to present a clear defense and explanation of Christianity to the government officials of his day.

Living under an oppressive government that often sought, and occasionally took, the lives of Christian leaders, Justin boldly defended the faith to the highest officials in the land. He did not, however, do so with a threat or in an insulting manner. He sought to use reason to convince the leaders of their mistake.

Justin wanted to explain how Christians should make the best citizens of Rome. He did not threaten the emperor or the senate with an armed rebellion. He did not insult them, but rather played to their best interests in defending Christianity.

In confronting the lies of those defaming the Church, he used the best weapon he could – the truth. In his First Apology, he explained the worship practices of local Christians to dispel vicious rumors circulating about what went on during church services. This gives us a glimpse at the worship practices of early Christians.
On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.

When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the 'Amen.' A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.

Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.
From very early on, Christian worship services consisted of reading from the Bible, having a preacher expound on the reading, singing songs, taking communion, collecting offerings, which would then be used, in part, to care for those in need.

Justin left us a record of what services were like in his day, but he left us an example of how we can live out our faith regardless of what governments or popular opinion may say in our day.

Trivia Fact: Justin was a prolific writer, with his works being mentioned by numerous other early Church leaders. We have at least pieces of eight works, while three of his major works (First Apology, Second Apology, Dialogue with Trypho) remain intact.

Would you like to write a guest blog for the Church History 101 series? Check out the list of 50 people, find one you would like to work on, then contact me via emailTwitter or Facebook.

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