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Persecution of Christians

WASHINGTON (AP) — A government agency’s annual report on violations of religious rights added Egypt on Thursday to the list of the world’s 14 worst violators. The situation there for religious minorities, especially Coptic Christians, has deteriorated markedly, even since former President Hosni Mubarak resigned in February, the report said. China also is on the list of worst violators, compiled by the Commission on International Religious Freedom, and in his opening remarks as he released the report, commission Chairman Leonard Leo accused China of trying to hack into the commission’s emails.

Today’s passage 1 Peter 2:1-25 shows signs of the persecutions under Domitian‘s reign (89-96) or Trajan‘s (98-117). The author tries hard to make his congregation remain calm even though he knows it is wrong:
“Your conduct among the heathen should be so good that when they accuse you of being evildoers, they will have to recognize your good deeds and so praise God on the Day of his coming. For the sake of the Lord submit yourselves to every human authority: to the Emperor, who is the supreme authority, and to the governors, who have been appointed by him to punish the evildoers and to praise those who do good. For God wants you to silence the ignorant talk of foolish people by the good things you do. Live as free people; do not, however, use your freedom to cover up any evil, but live as God’s slaves. Respect everyone, love other believers, honor God, and respect the Emperor. 18 You servants must submit yourselves to your masters and show them complete respect, not only to those who are kind and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. God will bless you for this, if you endure the pain of undeserved suffering because you are conscious of his will.”

Verse 17 even became the motto for the fifth thesis of the Barmen Declaration, opposing Hitler’s rise to power from an evangelical perspective. Can you sense the difference between “fear” and “honor” when it comes to God and Führer:

5. “Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” 1 Peter 2:17
Scripture tells us that by divine appointment the State, in this still unredeemed world in which also the Church is situated, has the task of maintaining justice and peace, so far as human discernment and human ability make this possible, by means of the threat and use of force. The Church acknowledges with gratitude and reverence toward God the benefit of this, his appointment. It draws attention to God’s Dominion [Reich], God’s commandment and justice, and with these the responsibility of those who rule and those who are ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word, by which God upholds all things.
We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the State should and could become the sole and total order of human life and so fulfill the vocation of the Church as well.
We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the Church should and could take on the nature, tasks and dignity which belong to the State and thus become itself an organ of the State.

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Be holy because I am holy

First of there is no way Peter really wrote this letter. Almost all references to the Hebrew Bible are taken from the Greek Septuagiant translation instead of the Hebrew text which is hard to imagine such a Judaeo-Christian preacher as Peter would have done. Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13 is the traditional code name for persecuted Christians in Rome which points to a way later date. The beginning of the letter is directed to congregations in Asia Minor which were certainly not established prior to the 80s.

So here we are – again – 4 generations and 1 continent away from Peter and Paul with Christians struggling in an anti-Christian environment invoking their heroes of faith. Elegantly they picture Peter to refer to Hebrew Scripture a lot – twice in today’s reading 1 Peter 1:1-25:
Verse 16 The scripture says, “Be holy because I am holy.” refers to the Holiness Code which I’ve already blogged about.
Verses 24-25 quote Psalm 103: As the scripture says, “All human beings are like grass, and all their glory is like wild flowers. The grass withers, and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

Solace to those who are looking for peace!