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In part 2 of The Life of the Church we travel to the French city of Lyon. Throughout the 2nd Century the officials in Lyon persecuted the church. Christians would be taken and imprisoned. This official persecution led the populous of Lyon taking matters into their own hands and go after their neighbours who were Christians. The problem for Lyon was that this was against the current practice of the Empire. By AD170 persecution was limited to small pockets and wasn’t sustained for any length of time. But in Lyon the Roman official went after the church in what can be described as severe persecution.

The Christians stood firm, but a total of 48 were martyred for their faith. The church historian Eusebius records this in his book The History of the Church. In his record he speaks of a young man named Irenaeus who was from Smyrna. He was a disciple of Polycarp and Polycarp ordained him an elder. He took the plight of the persecuted Christians to Rome in the hope of appealing directly to Caesar. We don’t know if he was successful in this hope, but when he returned to Lyon he discovered the 48 Christians had already been martyred.

But Irenaeus wasn’t going to stop. He was appointed Bishop of Lyon and led the church until his martyrdom in AD202. During his ministry he stood firm against gnosticism, those who believed that there was a secret knowledge to becoming a Christian. Irenaeus refuted this and held to the truths of the gospel, that salvation was for everyone. For us today, we stand on this truth knowing the full truth of the gospel and the freedom it brings to everyone.

The Life of the Church – Learning our Church History is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. For videos and handouts visit

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David McCullagh:

So, we're on part two of looking at the life of the church. And I told you last week, I, I particularly enjoy this. I particularly enjoy church history. I, I like the, the history of, of who we are, because as I said last week, it defines us. And we're gonna see similar threads, the se similar, similar threads this evening as we did last week, um, of what it means to be the church in the second century as we get into who we are. Last week we looked at Ignatius and Polycarp. Um, we looked at those two. They were disciples of the Apostle John. That's important for us tonight because throughout this, one of the threads, not, not each night, but, but most nights. We're going to see how it moves from one generation to the next. Ignatius and Polycarp, well they were the disciples of the Apostle John. And tonight we continue to the next generation of disciples as we look at someone who was indeed discipled by Polycarp. In fact Polycarp most likely was his minister. So, that's where we're heading, but before we are introduced to that man, we'll get started with what is really the continuation of persecution, in the early church. So it didn't end with Polycarp. Remember, he was the one last week that we heard of the first persecutions. It's most likely, and of course it was, that others face persecution, but in the martyrdom of Polycarp we get a detailed account of what that persecution looked like and what his martyrdom looked like. So the reason why we look to Polycarp is because it is the first written account that gives us, quite literally, the gruesome and gory details of what happened. And it didn't stop with him. Unfortunately, in fact, as we know, persecution has continued throughout the life of the church. There has never been a moment in the history of the church where there was not persecution. And as we know, thanks to our mission partners Open Doors, we learn of what is soft persecution and hard persecution. Hard persecution of what we see in Polycarp, but soft persecution perhaps of what we see in the Victorian times where The church was free to do whatever it wanted. In fact, it seemed that the church had power and authority. But actually, the church was softly being persecuted to water itself down to meet what society wanted. I wouldn't say that's what's happening now. I don't think it's soft persecution. I think what we're seeing is a middle ground persecution of somewhere between soft and hard where we are being forced to conform quite blatantly with society. And of course, with political shifts this week, we've always wanted to blame Westminster because they were over there, but with the dynamic shift at Stormont, don't be surprised if we begin to see more liberal agendas and more liberal laws that will mean the church's voice is reduced in this society, not in the next decade, but in the very term or the life term of this current assembly. So this is relevant. I don't think any of us will be like Polycarp. I don't think any of us will be chased over the hills to Newry and hiding out in some hay shed. Although, check with Francis before you go home tonight just in case the head roads as far as you get. I don't think we'll be put to the stake at the age of 86 and burned alive. But it will become harder and harder. to be a Christian in this so called Christian society that we've been used to. And so our studies, as we come to look at our questions, they're about helping us get ready for that. Please don't think it's not going to happen to you. It will. The conversations will become more difficult. And don't think Moran will continue to remain a place apart, ten years behind everywhere else. It's already coming, it's already here, and the church is already being challenged by these liberal shifts in society. And it all is summed up in that word, persecution, where the church's voice is desired to be silenced so that society can get on without feeling judged, without feeling they're doing any wrong, without anyone telling them that they're not right, because that's not what they want. But the good news of this is the promise of Jesus. Because be it now or be it at the time of Polycarp, we heard these words from Jesus in Matthew 16 and verse, uh, verse 18. And I tell you, you are Peter. On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Jesus told us he's going to build his church. Yes, persecution may come. Persecution did come to these early believers that we're looking at. But Christ continued to build his church. How do I know that? Because we're still here. The church has never been done away with. As I told you last week, that account of China where there was great concern whenever the missionaries were kicked out of China, where they couldn't go in and now when they've gone back fifty years after the revolution, however long it was, they're now saying that the church exploded. The Church didn't die, the Church will never die, and don't let anyone tell you that it will die. It will never die. Oh, it might need to be pruned, of course, but it will never die because God has promised. That through His Son, Jesus, and on what we call apostolic succession, not that we still have apostles today, but as we've seen through the Apostle John to Ignatius and Polycarp, and we'll see that continue today, through that line, the Church continues to us. We are here because of who was before us, the generation before us, and the Church will be here because of the generation to come. And what we do to proclaim the truths so that the Church will be strong for the next generation. So we're going to read as we begin because we're going to go now to the French city of Lyon. Not that we find Lyon in the Scriptures, but as we go, we're going to focus on this city that really faced quite harsh persecution. in the end of the 1st and the start of the 2nd century. But let's remind ourselves of what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy chapter 3 and verses 10 to 17. Paul writes, You, speaking to Timothy, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness. My persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra, which persecutions I endured, yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. While evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived, but as for you, continue in what you have learned and affirmly believe, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have become acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof. And so we go to Lyon. I don't know if you've ever been to Lyon on your holidays. It's a place that actually comes up again in church history, in Reformation history. Um, but it's a city that has always been at the center of things. It was an important city at the time of the Roman Empire. It continues to be an important city. And in the early 100s, so, yes, we're, we're going back that generation of Ignatius and Polycarp. The church was, uh, established in Lyon, but from day one it faced persecution. In fact, it was quite strong persecution because of the influences of the Roman world. And on the top of page two there, I've given you this picture of what Lyon looked like. And the reason why I show it to you is, just look at Rome. You have everything there that Rome brought with it. Whenever Rome established a place, there would be an amphitheater or a coliseum. There would be great buildings where the, the civil authorities or the civil magistrates would be based. There would be bridges across rivers and roads, because again, all roads lead to Rome. There would be aqueducts. There would be investment in places so that they looked like Rome. So, this shows you just how Lyon was. It was truly a Roman city, and because of that, some would say it became more Roman than Rome itself. But, regardless of the persecution, the church grew. The church was established, and it thrived. And the local leaders there, decided they were going to persecute Christians. This is what happened in the generation before them, and they were going to continue. And so the Christians in the city were harassed. They were taken. They were punished. And by the 170s, the local officials in Lyon had stepped up their, um, their aggression against Christians. They didn't trust them. But the problem for Lyon was that they were truly out of step with Rome. Because by the time that we get to the late 100s, this is the Caesar. This is Marcus Aurelius. Caesar from 161 to 180. He was a different Caesar. He wasn't the Caesar of the time of Polycarp and Ignatius. He wasn't a Caesar of war. He wasn't looking more conflict. The Roman Empire was safe and secure. He didn't need to defend it. He didn't need to expand it. He was a philosopher. He was a thinker. He turned to the arts. And this was really a renaissance, uh, from Greek culture at this point coming into Roman society. And so he wasn't concerned so much. If you want another word for this man, he was liberal. All things. As long as you worship a god, you're fine. Because of course the Romans had a pantheon of gods and you could take your, your choice. And so he wasn't so hard on Christians as his predecessors had been. And so there was no official policy at the time in Rome about persecution. And this is when Leon becomes more Rome, Roman than Rome itself. Because they, rather than following the rest of the empire, they decide they're going to up the ante. They're going to be the ones who are going to really push hard on the Christians. And so that's where we move to, the great persecution in Lyon. And a lot of what we learn about this is from a church historian called Eusebius. And he wrote a book called The History of the Church. And he was very detailed because he wanted to, to really explain to the generation that would come what the church went through to be established. And this is what he wrote about the persecutions in Lyon. It's just there at the bottom of page one. First of all, they endured nobly the injuries heaped upon them by the populace, clamors and blows, and draggings and robberies, and stonings and imprisonments, and all the things which an infuriated mob might mob delight in, flicting on enemies and adversaries. Just think about that for a moment. What does it say about the Christians? It says there they endured nobly. They took their stand for Christ. They suffered well. A word that's going to come up again is recant. They did not recant on what they believed. But look at the people. Neighbors. Friends. Not knowing who to trust. Because they might be the one who grabs you, who clamors with blows and draggings, and robberies and stonings. And interestingly enough, robbery was one of those things that could be more subtle. And it turns out, Eusebius records for us, that whenever the Christians would head off to worship, to meet, then the locals would come and break in and steal from their houses. Soft persecution. It's not a safe area to live. Move out. We don't want you. Just get away. We have the power. We have the authority. We don't want you here. The subtlety of persecution, it's not just being flogged in the street or being arrested. Doesn't even have to come officially. It's simply a case of them and us. And this is what was going on to the Christians in Lyon. And the crucial moment came in one hundred and seventy seven. Because the officials of the city, they rounded up all of the Christians together, and they put them in prison and charged them as criminals. They jailed them one after the other. And after a month or two, they brought them out into the amphitheater, those great places that Rome built. Now this isn't from my holidays, as was last week's. I've never been to Lyon, so I can't go there. I'm told by Google what the amphitheater in Rome looks like, or in Lyon looks like. But this is the very place where those Christians were dragged out. And this is the very place where they were told to recant their faith. Now maybe the word recant is a new word for you, but it's a word that's used in church terms of taking away your confession. Where one minute you said you were a Christian, you recant your faith by saying, I didn't believe that, I was making it up, I was a fool. And what the officials wanted, they would ask each Christian to come forward onto that very stage on that amphitheater, and they would say, Say you're not a Christian. In other words, recant your faith. And this would have done two things. Number one, it would have made a mockery out of the person who was standing there. But secondly, it would have given power and authority to the officials to say this faith that they talk about is nonsense. And so the more people you have recant, then the easier it is to quash this. Because whenever you start saying this is rubbish, then that's when society jumps on board and helps you to clean out the so called rubbish. And one of the things in church history that happens Those who do survive all of this and those who recanted and those who didn't recant, there became a great division in the church, a schism, where those who didn't recant, who stood firm, they pointed the finger and they shunned those who recanted because they couldn't understand why they could. But then those who had recanted said, look, we're mere mortals, we're human, we still love and believe in God, but the pressure was too much. And so actually it was kind of a conquer and divide. Get them to recant, and those that don't recant and live, well they're going to divide themselves anyway, they're going to split, and eventually they're going to die out. So that was the whole idea of recanting publicly, to make a fool of you, so that the officials would look strong. Think about that. Imagine if you were dragged down to Christmas Tree Corner here in Annalong. And imagine if you were put up on the blocks in front of the little hedges. And you were told to recant your faith in front of a crowd. Would you do it? We're gonna, in a moment or two, hear of one particular incident of a girl called Blandina. And there's a description there that's used that we look at, and it's called that they were like wild beasts against the Christians. Imagine being faced with that. Looking to tear you limb from limb because of what you believe and what you practice in that belief. Well, the Christians were brought forward, and they confessed to no great crime. They confessed to no issue with the Roman Empire or the Roman Caesar. All they simply confessed was that they were Christians and that they were followers of Christ. They would not recant, and for this then, they were taken back, and they were put into prison again. The interesting thing about this is, it's all contrary to Roman law. They shouldn't have been tried and treated like this, because Rome was genuinely open to this pantheon, this, this whole collection of gods that you could pick and choose who you worshipped. This went against the very foundation of what Rome was built on, that, that everyone had the right. But here in Lyon, becoming more Roman than Rome itself, well then the Roman law really was secondary to what they wanted to do to ensure their city was safe and secure. And that's the other thing about this period. It's not like Anna Long and Kilkeel and then Town Hall is in Newry and that's where we're governed from. Every town had its own government. They're all like city states almost. Yes, there's one, uh, Roman law, but there was a lot of local law as well, based by a magistrate and civil leaders in these towns, and they really held more sway than Caesar did. And so this is what they had chosen to do. But they were brought out again. They were put in front of the people, given a chance to recant, and a few did, but the vast majority maintained their confession in Christ. And for the entertainment of the mob, they were martyred. And Eusebius tells us that there were 48 Christians in Lyon martyred at this time. And I think we become very sensitized because of what we hear on the news of figures of people being killed in wars daily. One is a large number. Forty eight is a huge number. For what reason? Simply believing in Jesus Christ. One particular martyr that I mentioned there, uh, Bal uh, Blandina, Eusebius refers to her, um, in his writings. He also refers to a few others and, and one other said, This. Even if they had before, um, sorry, even if they had before been moderate on account of friendship, they were now exceedingly furious and gnashed their teeth against us. This is neighbors, supposedly friends. And it was friends who brought Blondina towards that place of having to recant. And Eusebius describes her in terms of how Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 9, 25 27. Where he says every athlete exercises self control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we are imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified. And why this is significant, and why this is important for Eusebius to record is because Blandina did exactly that. She stood, and she stood, and she stood, before that crowd of raging beasts, and she simply said, I am a Christian. She would not fall down. She had strength to take whatever they were going to throw at her. Exactly what Paul had described. She had trained herself. She was ready to stand. And mixed in the middle of all of this is the person that we're going to look at this evening. And his name is Irenaeus. And Irenaeus, uh, was born in Smyrna in 130 A. D. or thereabouts. And that fits in with the time of Polycarp. Polycarp would have been about 60 when, uh, Irenaeus was born, and, uh, he would have taught, or Irenaeus would have sat under Polycarp's ministry. In fact, he was ordained by Polycarp as an elder, uh, to go to Leon, and he would eventually become the Bishop of Leon. So Polycarp is important in Irenaeus life. So do you see? John the Apostle, Polycarp, Irenaeus. This is the living life of the Church that goes from one generation And what is significant about Irenaeus is that he took a defence for the persecution, or for the persecuted Christians of Leon to Rome. He knew his Roman law and he says, much like Paul did a century before, I want to take my defence to Caesar. He knew who Caesar was, he knew he wasn't the military hard nosed Nero. He knew that this Marcus Aurelius And so off he went to Rome, and he met with the Roman Christians there, and he shared with them what was going on in Lyon. We don't know if he ever met Caesar. We don't know if he ever made his defense. But we do know that he went back, and by the time he went back, the 48 had been executed and martyred for their faith. But that didn't stop Arrhenius. He went from strength to strength. He stood up against the civil leaders, but it wasn't just the civil leaders he had to worry about. He had to worry about some other Christians, who we now look back and call the Gnostics. Gnosticism. And what these Christians believed was, now two or three generations beyond the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, two generations beyond the Apostles, They believed that they were the ones that had been given a secret knowledge. That's what Gnosticism is. A secret knowledge, which means I'm better than you. I know more than you, but I'm not going to tell you what that is because you're just going to have to find out how to join our club. So what they were doing is they were restricting Christianity to knowledge. Christianity, how you became a Christian, was through your knowledge. Now we look back and go, well, that's ridiculous. Because it's by faith alone, that's what the Reformation, but the Reformation is 1, 400 years in the future. People were easily swayed. They did not have the theological grounding that we have, that we take for granted. And so he took his stand against the Gnostics. The Gnostics who, who said it's all about a secret knowledge rather than about faith in Jesus Christ. And he took a stand against them. And you know the church in Lyon grew from strength to strength because of his stand. He was facing persecution from the Roman officials. He was, uh, receiving persecution, as you could call it, from Christians, or so called Christians. And he was a man who stood, and he was a man who passed on the faith to the next generation. You see, what Irenaeus did is the foundation on which we worship today. He took a stand for the truth, and the truth of the Gospel. And in fact, many things that that Irenaeus did and said and taught would come out in the Council of Nicaea, where we get the Nicaean Creed, which is a further expansion of the Apostles Creed. And so it is his work deep down that influences the creeds of the church that we still recite today and still believe today. And yet here we are at the end of the 100s into the 200s, where these battles were fought so that we can stand on a heritage of faith. Today, Irans was eventually martyred and it was in 202 AD that he was martyred for his faith. But what he did was he took what Paul said to Timothy in second Timothy chapter three. That's why we began with that passage. Paul says, if you try to do good. If you try to live a life for Christ, good as in the Christian good, well then expect persecution. Not only did Irenaeus expect it, but he took it head on. He survived it many times, but he was eventually martyred, but before he was, he influenced the church for the next generation so that it would continue to take its stand. Leon would appear in church history and will appear in 1400 years because the Reformation is key in Lyon. And in fact it is from there that the Huguenots leave France under the French persecution around the 1500s and settle in South Africa. And where the Gospel then takes hold in the southern part of that country. Or that continent even, never mind the country of South Africa. And so, that's why we started looking at a place and not a person. Because it's actually the place as well as the person that has huge influence. and leanings when it comes to our church history. And what Paul does in 2 Timothy 3, after he says that this is gonna happen, he wants to give us assurance. And he says those wonderful verses, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. You see, this is what Paul points us to, and this is what Irenaeus knew, and this is what our brothers and sisters around the world know today. They know that to survive, we stand on the Word of God. And before Christmas, we had those three weeks looking at why we read the Bible. I wonder how that's going for you. I don't want to assume anything. I don't want to guess. But let me ask you as a check in a month later. How is Bible reading going? Are you reading it? Are you reading a good chunk of it at a time? Maybe you're listening to it. Maybe you've found some way of listening in the car and paying attention. See, the only way we can stand is to take the Word of God, to read it and to know it. I'm gonna say again what I said last week because I think it's wonderful. Something I heard on someone's interview with Derek Thomas where he said, I may not remember every meal, but I know I was fed. We may not remember every bit of teaching we receive, but we need to know. Are you feeding on the Word of God so that when persecution comes we can stand firm and believe? And that's where our questions take us this evening. Because they're on the back of, or just at the bottom of page 3. Three questions for your tables in the next few minutes. Uh, 15 minutes or so. Looking at that passage in 2 Timothy 3, two verses there, have that open. How are we seeing evil people and impostors going from bad to worse in society today? Secondly, we may not have to recant our faith, but how do we shy away from faith in our everyday, and what can we do to ensure we remain faithful? to sharing the gospel. And Irenaeus took a stand against the false teaching of Gnosticism, that is secret knowledge. Do we still have Gnostics today? Do we still have people who proclaim a different gospel? Perhaps a gospel of, of certain knowledge. And if so, how do we identify them? So that we can be aware of them. I'm going to pray to finish this bit off, and then we'll let you get thinking about those questions. So let's pray. Our Father God, we thank you that we can learn from the past. It's probably something that does interest us a little to learn and hear some of these stories of, of our, of our forefathers, of those who have gone before us. People like Blondina, who stood well for Christ, where she would not fall down, but like an athlete, stood firm. Thank you for her training. Thank you for Irenaeus and his training and the discipleship he received, so he too could stand firm and influence the Church for the next generation so that we, the Church, would still be here today. Thank you for that promise that you are building your Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. May we believe that. May we know it to be true. And Father, may that give us a passion to proclaim the good news of the Gospel in this village and around the world so that we will see souls coming to Christ so that the Church can be built for you. So hear us as we pray and be with us in our time of discussion as we seek you in Jesus name. Amen.

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