‘True religion does not compel religion’

Rev David Clarke
Rev David Clarke

Even those with only a passing knowledge of the history of the Christian church know the phrase, ‘The blood of the martyrs is seed’.

The quotation is attributed to Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullian, known simply as Tertullian. He was born in Carthage, (modern Tunisia), about 200 A.D. and trained as a lawyer.

But the courage displayed by persecuted Christians facing lions in the arena, led him to embrace the Christian faith, and he became one of the faith’s most eloquent advocates. The blood of the martyrs in the arena proved the seed which brought him to faith, just as blood of Stephen was the seed which turned Saul the persecutor into Paul the Apostle (Acts 7; 57-60).

Tertullian is famous for another remark which is also relevant in our blood-stained century, when he wrote, ‘It is no religion to compel religion.’

Christian missionaries may have been guilty in the past of exerting undue pressure on primitive tribes to induce them to embrace the faith. But in our age violent devotees of the Islamic faith have confronted the Christian minorities in Iraq, Syria and Egypt with the brutal choice, ‘Convert to Islam, or face death.’

Jeremy Bowen, the respected BBC correspondent in the Middle East has reliably reported on Coptic Christians in Egypt being forced at knifepoint to recite the ‘Shehada’, the Muslim declaration of faith.

I do not use these dreadful events in order to dismiss the Islamic faith. True religion will always have a counterfeit; and we in Ireland have seen enough to know that there is bad Christianity as well as good Christianity.

But Tertullian’s observation that ‘it is no religion to compel religion’, reflects perfectly the attitude of Jesus. On one occasion, Jesus was approached by a young man who would have been a fine addition to his team.

He was young, rich and upright, and already a ruler in the community. but when Jesus touched the one area of his life that was sensitive---his love of wealth--the young man turned and left. T

he significant thing is that Jesus allowed him to go.(Mark 10:17-23).

In the Book of Revelation Christ addressed the church at Laodicea, and said, ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me’(Revelation 3;20). When Christ speaks, the next move is with the one who hears---or reads!