To be in Rome without becoming a Roman


By Ds. Schalk Strauss

At the beginning of the year, Shaun Christie, a senior student at North-West University, made headlines when he was suspended for protesting the LGBTQIA+ content of an orientation session for first-year students. He argues that Christian students do not have a safe space to talk about Christianity, while discussions about gender issues are allowed. This is just one example of Christian students’ increasing isolation and marginalization on university campuses.

The common denominator of the traditionally African universities in Stellenbosch, Pretoria and Potchefstroom is that they all arose around theological schools. A Christian underpinning with a biblical view of life and the world was the “mother foundation” of these institutions. Today, theological faculties at these institutions are being renamed to make room for other religious beliefs as counterparts for the Christian religion.

The tertiary world has changed. Jerusalem now looks like Rome. The temple was destroyed and rose in its place, as prof. Gerrit Smit calls it later in this edition, a “multiversity” of idol temples from which different (and often contradictory) truths are defended and proclaimed with so-called academic integrity. The secularization of society is fed precisely from these institutions.

This is what the present-day tertiary environment looks like. In a sobering way, devoted Christian youth now understand Christ’s intention with: …therefore the world hates you (cf. John 15:18-19). In simple Afrikaans we will simply say: It is a lion’s world out there. The question is: How do we stay standing in such a world? How do you live in Rome without becoming a Roman?

Look for a Christian alternative

On the eve of the commissioning of the then Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education’s main building, Prof. JD du Toit (Totius) the following important statement: “Really, if this institution (the PUK) had to be abolished, what should we start with? Just build one more – that’s all we could do!”(1) These appear to be prophetic words, because we are indeed entering a time in which it is necessary for us to, like Israel of old, destroy the walls of Jerusalem rebuild and rebuild the temple from scratch.

When starting Jerusalem Rome, alternatives must be created that are firmly established on the mother foundations. It requires vision and determination, it requires men who can see beyond the horizon. This requires the foresight of faithful predecessors. For this reason, own theological training at the then Theological School of the AP Church was already started in 1988. Even though this institution often had to endure the mockery of people like Noah, they were indeed busy building an ark. Today this institution is known as the Afrikaans Protestant Academy (APA). When other institutions began to lose track, the APA remained on the old tracks with the aim of paving new paths from those tracks in a changed and hostile world. The foundation of this institution is firmly grounded in the classical Christian tradition.

In 2004, the Academy for Reformatory Training and Studies (Aros) opened its doors with the aim of training teachers on the basis of a Christian-founded curriculum and according to a Christian-Reformation foundation. In 2011, the Solidarity Movement started with Akademia, a classic Christian, Afrikaans and independent higher education institution. Although not fully in the classical Reformation tradition, this institution does identify itself as broadly Christian and Western.

Even though we are currently in Rome, we do not need to be delivered to the emperor. We create alternatives. It is necessary to develop and strengthen these alternatives if we want to ensure that our children and grandchildren are not full-blooded Romans in a generation or two. A Roman idol temple does not have to be their only choice.

What do the foundations look like?

The foundations of these Christian institutions must be scrutinized before we venture into them. Making “Christian” part of an institution’s name or identity is sometimes a handy marketing ploy. Just ask parents who put their children in “Christian” public schools and finally discover with a shock that a sporadic prayer or two during a hall opening is probably the sum total of the school’s Christianity!

It is sometimes easier if you know the institution is secular, because then the enemy is out in the open. However, it is much more difficult when you are dealing with a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Therefore, the foundations of Christian institutions must be thoroughly examined and tested against Scripture. A Christian institution is not supposed to make compromises with Rome. Christian students must select those institutions which, like the believers of old, were prepared to resist a bloodthirsty Roman authority to the point of blood and even to death. Look for that institution whose Christianity is deeply rooted and whose didactics are characterized by a Christian outlook on life and the world. Look for more than just a sauce – look for a complete gourmet meal!

Secular university my only option

Sometimes a secular, non-Christian institution is unfortunately the only option. However, it does not have to be a death sentence, because then you know from the outset what you are dealing with: A strange and hostile environment in which your views are not necessarily given air time. You will be challenged and questioned, but we should also be ready for this. After all, we are called to preach the Word timely and untimely (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2) and to give an account of the hope that is within us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). However, this does mean that you have to be on your guard against the roaring lion who is prowling around looking for someone to devour (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). What can you do to avoid becoming lion food?

Michael Kruger gives the following advice:(2)

Beware of naive and overconfidence

This mindset usually occurs among students who grew up in Christian homes and a stable church environment. They are so confident that wolves in sheep’s clothing elude them. They think they can handle any challenge and temptation. Don’t be naive. The world out there is mentally challenging.

Parents, think carefully about how you prepare your children for student time on a secular university campus. Empower them to be able to answer at least the basic questions and give an account of the core concepts of their faith.

Beware of unbridled suspicion

This is the flip side of the above warning. Many Christian students enter a secular campus with a type of paranoia and even a victim complex – that everyone is out to get them and undermine them. However, this is not necessarily the case. Such an approach can be very counterproductive, because it makes Christians always on the defensive, that they are oversensitive and do not like to listen to other points of view. Such a mindset will make university life very difficult and, moreover, deprive you of valuable opportunities to equip yourself and sharpen yourself with regard to secular viewpoints.

Don’t walk around alone in the dark

When your faith is still in its infancy, be careful walking alone in the dark. Stay in a group and stay in the light. How do you do it? Find a good church where your faith foundation can be strengthened and expanded, where you can ask your questions and be equipped. Surround yourself with Christian friends so that difficult circumstances do not make your testimony waver because you are uncertain, but you can be strengthened by the crowd of witnesses around you.

A plea

Our young people are indeed delivered, but mercifully God does not let his children be torn from his hand: Through the establishment of private Christian institutions we build and offer resistance. However, the danger is great that each of these institutions just wants to wield a scepter over their own empire. The times we live in do not allow us this luxury. We have a unique opportunity to live the victory in Christ so that a better alternative can be established than what the secular state offers – one where Christ is King. We have the opportunity to join hands and strengthen each other, without jealously competing for the favor of the emperor.

The enemy is out there and we are in the same trench. Let us build fortresses inside Rome, bastions that enable us and our children not to become Romans even if we live in Rome.

(1) JD du Toit, Totius Collected Works Volume 4 (Cape Town: Tafelberg Publishers, 1977), 109.


  • Rev. Schalk Strauss is the editor of The Messengera publication of the Afrikaans Protestant Church.

This article is posted courtesy of the AP Church.