Christians as Citizens of a Persecuting State: A Theological and Ethical Reflection in an Historical Perspective



This article explores the Christian experience in an environment of persecution. Five case studies throw light on theological and ethical dilemmas and challenges which persecuted Christians in different historical periods have had to face. Early Christians had to learn how to deal with a transition from a persecuted community to a privileged group, and to find forgiveness for compromises and mercy towards traitors. The case of Waldensians raises the issue as to what extent it is possible to conform to outward pressures without losing one’s religious identity. Anabaptists developed a theology of separation from the wider society, and their story can help present-day Christians living in hostile environments to find ways to maintain healthy resistance to external pressures, however, without becoming a closed community. Protestants in Tsarist Russia prompted persecution from the governing church and state structures because their religious identity was interpreted as rejecting ethnic and national identity. The fifth brief case study offers some insights into the questions of Soviet Evangelicals: Can choosing a ‘lesser evil’ in relations with an atheistic state lead to denying one’s identity? Should more attention be paid by persecuted Christians to maintaining an atmosphere of trust among their communities? The article, deriving information from the wider church historical panorama, can serve as an introduction to further and more detailed research on the topic.


Christians as citizens of a persecuting state; anabaptists developed a theology of separation from the wider society; Soviet Evangelicals; Church and State, between Jerusalem and Babylon

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Copyright (c) 2017 Toivo PILLI


ISSN 2521-179X (Online), ISSN 2415-783X (Print)