About a decade ago, archeologists in the ancient city of Hierapolis, in what is now Turkey, made a remarkable discovery.
Ground-penetrating radar revealed the remains of an ancient monument consisting of a “circular central hall . . . surrounded by eight small chapels.” This monument was a shrine to the Apostle Philip and the vital distinction between what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar.
The last time Philip is mentioned in the Bible, he is in the Upper Room after the Ascension of Jesus in Acts 1. But his story doesn’t end there: according to ancient Christian tradition, he traveled throughout Asia Minor preaching the Gospel.
One of the places he visited was Hierapolis. Like most Roman cities, Hierapolis was dedicated to the worship of a particular god — in this case, the emperor Domitian. The simple act of passing through its gates acknowledged the Emperor’s authority and his divinity.
Philip refused to acknowledge the emperor’s divine status, insisting that Jesus alone was lord. He was killed for his refusal. A shrine to his martyrdom was built outside the center of Hierapolis, the same one discovered by the archeologists.
Philip’s story is similar to the stories of other martyrs. Their “crime” was refusing to render to Caesar what was rightfully God’s. As the Apostle Paul instructed, they obeyed the law and paid their taxes. In fact, they often went beyond that: caring for those whom Roman society considered beneath even contempt.
They drew the line at suggesting that Caesar, not Jesus, was Lord: Philip refused to walk through a gate; other Christians refused to burn a pinch of incense. In every case, the message was, to paraphrase Thomas More, “we die the emperor’s good servant but God’s first.”
Thankfully, our situation cannot remotely be compared to that of the early church or that of our brothers and sisters in many parts of the world today. Our opposition to sinful men does not require the shedding of blood.
But it does require that we draw lines and endure criticism. It does require that we rejoice and be glad when people revile us because we insist on rendering God what is due Him.
It also requires that we stand by and support Christians who are making their stand. Several Catholic bishops announced they would
not comply with the Department of Health and Human Services’ requirement to pay for abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives. It’s not yet clear how the President’s announcement on Friday changes the situation.
Prison Fellowship and other Evangelical ministries have rallied to the Bishops’ cause. We know that if the government can compel Catholics to violate their conscience, it can do the same to us.
This resistance to Caesar will no doubt be the occasion of more criticism, almost all of it unfair. But criticism and a lot more has always been the price of faithfulness.
Rejoice, we are in most excellent company.
Editor’s note: Since this was written, the Catholic bishops have rejected the “accommodation” announced by the President.” You can read the bishops’ most recent statement here.