Back to our peeps… now in the fourth century. There’s a good deal of stuff going on in this century, so I’ll probably break it down into two posts and then spend some time on the great Augustine (my favorite churchman).
A Snifter of Whisky
Very early in the century our people ran into Roman persecution. Emperor Diocletian (244-311; rg. 284-305) was tolerant of Christianity for the majority of his reign, but was quite vicious at the end of it. Christian property was stolen, Bibles were surrendered (traditores), Christians were enslaved, churches were burned and many of our brothers were tortured because they refused to deny Christ by offering sacrifices to Caesar. Give some thought to that as you sip your Scotch whisky in a free country. Don’t feel ashamed, but glorify God and thank him for your fathers in this country. Also, use that freedom to serve Christ with gusto! Diocletian’s persecutions continued for about 10 years and increased in intensity. It reached a pitch were much of the food in the market was sprinkled with sacrificial wine. The Christians were either to apostatize or starve.
Then came Constantine. Here’s a person that did great things for the church of Jesus Christ, but also damaged and weakened it in significant ways. Briefly, Constantine (272-337) did the absolutely unthinkable, he converted to Christianity. What’s more, he not only made Christianity a legal religion within the Roman Empire, but he made it the official religion of the Empire. Now, sit back and put yourself in the shoes of ancient Christians before Constantine. They were illegal and persecuted by the greatest world power, Rome. The Empire was the great enemy of the church of Jesus Christ. Now, Christianity had overcome that great enemy. This is simply unthinkable, impossible. This is the geo-political equivalent of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (which, itself, was something of a geo-political event!). The world was, again, being turned upside down by Christianity. Jesus Christ, the great King of Kings, was gloriously subduing his enemies.
Statue of Constantine
As I mentioned, this conversion and the politico-ecclesiastical fallout was a mixed blessing. On the positive side, the Christian church assumed a privileged position and Christian scholarship encouraged. The church was largely exempted from taxes and the Roman government ordered copies of Bibles to be made and distributed. Constantine encouraged study of Palestine (many traditional sites were founded at this time). Also, Sunday was instituted as a day of rest throughout the Roman Empire.
On the negative side, the mixture of paganism with Christianity was very problematic. Also, affluence precipitated greed in the church. The church was unfortunately quick to forget the lessons it learned as a persecuted minority religion; it began to used the sword of the state to persecute other religions and especially heretics. The church under Constantine was too this-worldly, seeking too much of the earthly treasure.
So, rather than dismiss Constantine, let’s be wise and emulate that which was good and oppose the errors. Let’s get to work setting up a second Christendom. Let us not, however, make the same mistakes as the first… let’s make new ones. That way the third Christendom will learn from the first two and progress further. After all, Christ will have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. The kings of the earth will bow down to him and bring their increase into his courts. May God’s blessing be upon his people to 1000 generations.
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