Christians today must oppose cultural evils, such as the taking of preborn life, the buying and selling of preborn lives, the ideological sexual abuse of children, and the persecution of religious minorities. Though the rapid changes in our society are confusing and distressing, we must understand them if we are to know when, where, and how we must take a stand.
According to Theodoret of Cyrrhus, on January 1, A.D. 404, an ascetic monk named Telemachus jumped to the floor of the arena during a gladiatorial match and begged the competitors to stop. The crowd was so angry at the interruption that they stoned him to death. When Christian Emperor Honorius heard about Telemachus’ act of bravery, he ordered an end to gladiatorial combat.
Telemachus’ stand led to martyrdom, but it changed a culture. Throughout history, similar stands made in Jesus’ name yielded similar results. Though they often came at great cost, and transformation was not instantaneous, in the end, a culture was left better.
Telemachus’ brave act occurred 91 years after Christianity was legalized by Constantine, and 24 years after it was made the state religion of Rome by Emperor Theodosius I. Earlier Christians denounced other evils, such as abusive sexual mores. They insisted that sex be limited to marriage and, following the Jews, rejected abortion and infanticide. They treated women and slaves as the spiritual equals of men. As a result, woman and slaves became leaders in the church. Pliny the Younger, in a letter dated about 111, mentions deaconesses, and a slave was made a bishop of Ephesus in the early second century.
Christians didn’t kill baby girls, a practice common among the pagans. Nor did they pressure girls into early marriage, or Christian widows into remarriage. As a result, Christian churches had a higher percentage of women than did society at large. In fact, Christianity was held in contempt by the Romans as “a religion of women and slaves.”