Prison or church?

Picture of alter set up to commemorate Christian martyrs held in the prison.

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The architecture in Rome is magnificent. Although in ruins the ancient city has a glorious mystique. There are also many churches in this city. The artwork is beautiful. The architecture and art capture stories in time. In churches, the artworks often tell a biblical story from the artist’s perspective. The art taught illiterate people religion. The architecture created a sense of the grandeur and greatness of God. However, in most churches there are more monuments and art depicting popes and people who built the church than biblical matters. Most monuments throughout the city and churches clearly display the names of the popes who built or restored them. The power of the church and its leaders veils the power of God. 

St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is an example of this—it has the tombs of the popes, while statues of Peter, Paul and other apostles are scattered among those of the popes. There are pictures of Jesus on the cross and other biblical scenes, but there seems to be more art and space given to the popes than anything else. Tens of thousands visit this site every day. People enjoy seeing the relics of past greatness. 

Christianity was initially spearheaded by Peter and Paul. Peter was the main apostle to the Jews and Paul the apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-9). Both men were imprisoned and thought to be executed in Rome (Acts 12:5, 28:16). In the heart of ancient Rome there are ruins of the Mamertine prison, used by Caesars to hold their prisoners before they were executed. Peter and Paul were likely held there. Christianity was started in persecution and martyrdom. There is a small chapel in honour of these pioneers for Jesus. But only 14 people visited in the 20 minutes we were there. 

When Jesus challenged others with discipleship, He said things like: deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Me (Mark 8:34), narrow is the gate and hard is the road to life—few find it (Matthew 7:13,14) and give up everything and be My disciple (Luke 14:33). Are we interested in living life with Jesus and like His apostles or are we more interested in the pomp of a powerless church?

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