It’s not often that one has the chance to stand on the very spot where a single decision changed the course of human history. That is exactly the privilege I had yesterday when, along with a group of new friends, I stood in the middle of the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater located in North Africa.
The year was 203 A.D. It was a time when persecution against Christians was widespread across the Roman Empire, but which had done little to stem the growing movement of faithful Christ-followers. Among them was Perpetua, a young woman of noble birth from the city of Carthage and her faithful slave, Felicitas. Discovered to belong to an outlawed band of Christians, they were both condemned to face wild beasts in the amphitheater. Despite last-minute pleas from her father to recant, Perpetua, instead decided to be true to her faith and face the beasts. It was a choice whose impact would ripple down through the next several centuries and set the course for the future of Christianity. Boldly nursing her newborn baby one last time, she handed it to her father, and along with Felicitas, climbed the stone steps to the amphitheater’s main floor where they were gored by wild animals and eventually put to the sword by gladiators.
Believed to be among the crowd of spectators that day was an attorney by the name of Tertullian. According to tradition, not only did the experience propel him to Christianity, but ultimately to become a biblical scholar of great reputation. His influence ultimately shaped the training of a protégé by the name of Cyprian who, in turn, became the mentor Augustine, a young Berber from the nearby city of Hippo Regius (Algeria.)
Two hundred years after that fateful day in the amphitheater, Augustine, serving as a leading church bishop, presided over the Council of Carthage during which the historic affirmation of the New Testament canon was made.
|Next to ruins of the basilica where in 397 AD the Council of Carthage |
confirmed the canon of the New Testament
What made my experience of standing in the midst of those famous ruins even more moving was to be accompanied by a small band of young North African men whose life decisions to follow Christ are in many ways as dramatic as those of Perpetua and Felicitas. Having endured life-threatening rejection from their families, some know in no uncertain terms what it may mean to become a minister of the Gospel in this part of the world. Yet they have jumped at the chance to help me and my traveling companions to research how, when and where to facilitate locally-led Bible translation projects so that every language group of North Africa might have God’s Word in its mother tongue. Wow—talk about being privileged and humbled at the same time!
It may not be the context of a Roman coliseum, but without question, the price of living out our Christian faith in our contemporary world is certainly becoming more and more challenging and equally demanding of life-shaping decisions. Thank God for the historic example of these young women that inspire and encourage us to be equally faithful and courageous in our world today.