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Friday, August 01, 2008

The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste: Something Johnny Robertson and his cult cannot respond to

This blog is drawing lots of attention lately from local cult leader Johnny Robertson and members of his so-called "Church of Christ". Why? Beats me.

But since I have their attention, I'm gonna have some fun with them.

It has to do with something that I've thought about for the past several weeks...

Robertson, along with James Oldfield and Norm Fields - who all broadcast for four hours each week on the only television station in the area desperate enough to sell them the airtime - teaches that if a person is not a member of their "Church of Christ" (which isn't the Church of Christ that most people know and respect, remember that), and especially if that person is not baptized, then that person is going to Hell when he or she dies.

Which brings us to the subject of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, one of the earliest and best documented accounts of persecution to happen to the early Christians.

There were few contingents of the Roman Empire's army that were as respected or feared as the Legio XII Fulminata: the "Thundering Legion". Founded by Julius Caesar, the Legio XII Fulminata accompanied him on his campaign through Gaul. It was then assigned to the eastern reaches of the Empire during the time of Augustus Caesar, and was active until well into the Fifth Century.

In 320 A.D., Licinius, the Emperor of the Eastern Empire, was engaged in civil war against Constantine, Emperor of the West. Licinius had originally yielded to pressure from Constantine to legalize Christianity in his half of the Empire. But Licinius soon broke broke the peace with Constantine and resumed persecuting the Christians.

Licinius decided that if he was going to full-blown war with Constantine, that his own army had to be "purged" of the undesirables: namely, the followers of Jesus Christ. So Licinius issued an edict: all soldiers of his army had to make sacrifice to the pagan gods. Those who would not bow to the gods of Rome would be made to suffer cruel death.

Then came word from the town of Sebaste, in Armenia. Forty soldiers of the Legion XII Fulminata had declared that they were Christians, and would not pay homage to the Roman gods.

Furious with their contempt, the judge sent by Licinius sentenced the forty Christian soldiers of the Thundering Legion to death. But it would not be quick and merciful. By this time it was in the dead of winter, with a bitter cold wind blowing through the land. The forty Christians were to be stripped naked, and made to stand throughout the night on a frozen pond. Left to the elements, the exposure would no doubt kill them. But if they were willing to renounce Christ, then they could leave the surface of the pond and come to the shore, where shelter, a warm bath, and food awaited them.

One of the centurions who had sacrificed to the gods - many accounts tell us that his name was Sempronius - stood guard on the shore of the pond, and he watched the forty Christians stand shivering. But in the midst of their torture they were also singing hymns and crying aloud to God...

"Oh Lord, forty wrestlers have come forth to fight for Thee. Grant that forty wrestlers may gain the victory!"
One of the forty soldiers standing on the pond gave in to the temptation of comfort and survival, and left the group. He was welcomed back on the shore. And still, the Christian soldiers of the Thundering Legion appealed to Heaven...

"Oh Lord, forty wrestlers have come forth to fight for Thee. Grant that forty wrestlers may gain the victory!"
And the centurion Sempronius, so moved by the faith of those who were determined to stay true to their Lord even unto death, openly declared that he too was a Christian. He had been obedient to the gods of Rome up until that moment, but now he saw something among his thirty-nine comrades that he also chose to have.

Sempronius voluntarily threw down his weapons, stripped off his armor and removed his clothing, and joined the thirty-nine other Christians standing naked on the frozen pool.

By dawn, God had answered their prayer. "Forty wrestlers" indeed, their number unbroken, had fought to the end for His glory. Among them was Sempronius, who had willingly become a believer so that he might die a believer. Most of the forty Christians had frozen to death during the night. Some were barely alive, but immobile. The bodies of all, dead or not, were gathered up to be burned.

The story of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste is one of the most famous in the history of the early church. It is also one of the most thoroughly chronicled. There is no doubt that the story of the Forty Martyrs happened, and that Sempronius (he is also called Aglaios in a few places) did join with the thirty-nine other Christians so that forty might enter Heaven together.

But according to what Johnny Robertson, James Oldfield and Norm Fields would have us believe, it was not enough for Sempronius to declare that he was a follower of Jesus Christ! Sempronius, they must declare by virtue of their doctrine, went to Hell when he died... because Sempronius was never baptized! Sempronius declared that he was a Christian with his mouth, and then promptly went off to die. He didn't have time to be baptized.

Robertson and his minions, who spew their hateful message for four hours a week and have even harassed the worship services of other churches in this area, would have us believe that Sempronius's death for the name of Christ was not enough, because Sempronius did not "obey" and become baptized. Thus Sempronius was always beyond the reach of the grace of God. Which means that his sacrifice on the frozen pond of Sebaste was meaningless!

I have searched for every way that I possibly can think of, about how the story of Sempronius can be reconciled with the "Church of Christ" doctrine of Robertson and Oldfield and Fields, in such a way that Sempronius also might be afforded entry into Heaven. And I can't find any means among their narrow, selective mentality that would have extended such a grace to this noble centurion and follower of Christ.

So, to Johnny Robertson and James Oldfield and Norm Fields and Mitch and anyone else from the "Church of Christ" of Martinsville, Danville and Reidsville (a cult deemed so potentially dangerous that people in some local churches are now taking extraordinary measures to defend themselves, but more about that coming soon)...

Did Sempronius of the Thundering Legion go to Heaven along with the other Forty Martyrs of Sebaste? If he did, where is your scripture to back up that he was able to get into Heaven without baptism? And if it must be admitted that Sempronius did gain admission to Heaven without baptism, then how is it not to be said that this same grace is given to everyone else who follows Christ, also?

Or, Robertson and Oldfield and Fields: Are you prepared to tell us that Sempronius died for nothing, and went to Hell?

More than likely, they won't answer. They probably can't find an answer.

But I'm having fun asking it, all the same.


Anonymous said...

Oldfield will be arrested if he returns.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the story. I had never heard of these dear Martyrs from the Early Church.

If the "Church of Christ" is the only way to salvation, then what about the millions of believers that had gone Home before this "church" was founded????

Anonymous said...

Aren't we all glad that Johnny Robertson & company are not God? While JR would be standing there at the gate to heaven turning people away for not having the right boxes checked, God is a just and merciful God.

Thanks for that story, Chris. It's pretty humbling and inspirational in a "Braveheart" kind of way.

Which makes me think - a film of this has Mel Gibson written all over it.

Chris Knight said...

Last I heard, Gibson was going to produce a film based on the Maccabean Revolt.

Now, that has the potential to be the most violent movie, ever! If he does it, I hope he uses the original Hebrew and Aramaic languages, just like he did with The Passion of the Christ :-)

Seraphim said...

There's a Russian tradition that we keep in our family. The memorial of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste always falls during the Great Fast before Easter. We always bake little cakes shaped like birds, in honor of the forty martyrs who flew away to Heaven on that day. The children always remember it and look forward to it, and are very familiar with their story. Thanks for posting the story here, and also for displaying the icon of these Holy Martyrs.

Anonymous said...

Did Johnny Robertson answer?

Chris Knight said...

Yes, he did respond.

I'll be posting it later. Robertson basically said that he doesn't care that this "death squad" went to Hell. Because they were "Catholic". Never mind that per his estimation, the Catholic Church didn't even exist at the time.

Anonymous said...

I saw his program Sunday, he was talking about this site having something about what happened in Tennessee. Were is it I can not find it.

Nathanael said...

I cannot bear to think of such foolish, ignorant, prideful "men" being allowed the use of airwaves to spread such contemptible lies about my King! Sempronius called upon the Name of the LORD, therefore is his name written forever in the book of life, and therewith does he dwell forever in the House of the LORD! Is it not written plainly enough, in scripture and in the hearts of all men?:

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13.

I'd like to hear what Johnny Robertson and Co. would have to say abut the thief on the cross next to Jesus:

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"

But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:39-43

Jesus has some choice words for people such as Johnny Robertson:

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." Matthew 23:13