The Apostles Paul and Peter were sitting around one day jawboning about the state of the Church. They were exhausted. They had preached their hearts out – been shipwrecked, beaten, stoned – and that was just by the Jews! The Romans – why, they’d watched these heathens kill their fellow Apostles, and numerous times they’d escaped death themselves.
But they had reached a plateau – a lull, if you will – from the early days of the Church, when they had felt the power of God so effectively, so powerfully, sweep into the crowds and just “make everything new.” Now, they were dealing with incest in the church; squabbles that threatened to tear communities apart; the rich believers mistreating the poor. And they were spent. Man, Paul had said, you’d think the Holy Spirit would have just upended these people, but they’re no better than the unbelievers we used to shake our sandals at.
“Right,” Peter agreed. He had had his differences with Paul, but they both, after all, were on the same mission, and he too had felt the leveling effect of a maturing, perhaps lazy, church. They sat in silence for a good while, somewhat saddened by the things they had been battling, the jeers of unbelievers echoing in their ears: “Become a Christian!” – that phrase, remember, being a scornful pejorative, not a badge of acceptance – “Pray to someone you can’t see, follow a leader who only shows up once in a lunar cycle, and keep doing what you’ve always been doing, while telling everybody else to change! Yeah, I’ll risk death for that!” How do you counter that? It seemed that the entire body was going through a change, morphing into a self-satisfied collection who only half-listened to anything that was said in their weekly gatherings.
They needed something to draw new people in: something attractive that Smacked people forcefully as they walked through the door – Snared their attention – and Nailed them to their seats, making them pant for more. Then, with a flourish the service leaders would roll open the scrolls and preach the Gospel of Jesus in a new way that could not help but attract them to the Savior.
“I got it!” cried Peter suddenly, as he straightened in his seat. “Gladiator fights!”
Paul looked at him as if he’d grown a third eye. “No, no,” said Peter. “Just listen. Everybody loves the gladiator games. We’ll have mock gladiator fights – totally faked, you see – and we’ll advertise it far and wide. We’ll tell all of our friends, and spread the word throughout the marketplace: “Gladiator Games! See The Gladiator Games at the Temple, next Sabbath!.” We’ll have people dressed in authentic costume; we’ll pick out some of our young kids who have been acting in the local theater anyway – hey, Festus used to be a real gladiator! He could give lessons!” Peter was gesturing like an allergic man at a beehive now; Paul hadn’t seen him this excited since the last time he’d told some of his Jesus stories. Clearly, he was stoked about a new way to reach people with the Gospel.
Paul closed his slack jaw and looked down for a moment. “Hm,” he finally said, his mouth turning downward in consideration. “Well…we could try it. But…tell me again why we’re doing all this?”
“Why?,” said Peter, a bit defensively now, for he had already begun investing emotion and energy into this idea. “Why? We’re getting slaughtered on the Sabbath – no pun intended. Nobody wants to join the Church. We’re hounded from Dan to Beersheba, our people are fornicating and adulterating with the worst of sinners, the Jews and the Romans hate us – how do you do that, get the two major people groups in your own country to want you dead! I mean, what are we doing wrong?” He was silent for a moment, then said plaintively, “Brother, it’s not what it used to be. I just want it to be like it was.”
Paul put his hand on Peter’s knee and stared at him. “I know. I know. I feel it too, friend. I want that – ” He closed his fist – “that spirit, the Spirit,” his fist gently rapping Peter’s knee. “But…Gladiator Games?”
“Look, it’s a crazy idea, I know. But people are so jaded now. We’re seeing the first generation grow up knowing about Christianity already. It’s no longer new, and different, and revolutionary. People are used to seeing us, even if it’s in chains on the way to the coliseum. They see the martyrs, and they go, ‘Meh – so what? So they die for their faith – big deal. I’d rather live for my non-faith.’ They’re used to being entertained. They won’t even stop to listen anymore. Even healings – people walk on by as a guy stands up who’s been lame for all his life.
“So why not entertain them? Why not lure them in with what they want – tickle their ears a little bit?” – Paul later found this phrase ironic as he thought about it, because he had warned Timothy about that very thing: people who would only hear what they wanted to – “At least they’ll hear the message at the end.”
After a long but hopeful silence, Paul acquiesced. And so it was, that over the next number of years the church at Rome – that once vibrant collection of Spirit-filled believers who received one of the most powerful discourses on the Gospel and the Law ever written – would try to lure non-believers into their services with plays and sketches in an attempt to make the Gospel more “alive” and “relevant” to modern Roman society. But, just like every fad and wisp of insanity that occasionally filters into the minds of even the most dedicated servant, this one too faded into obscurity – not to be seen for two thousand years.