Okay, a holy, prophetic stirring of the pot
I’ve long bemoaned that Constantine did not do the church any favors. It took the church from being a people, from being subversive societal change agents, who brought 20% of the Roman Empire into the church …when they were still illegal and being killed, to the state religion, where pagan forms of church were instituted, religious worship services were made to look like pagan temple worship, even creating churches that resembled these temples, churches that looked like state throne rooms, and gave unbelievable power to state rulers, where the church legitimized the state, the state sanctioned, funded and empowered the church.
The challenge is that protestants believe all this was set right at the Reformation, failing to see that almost all of the world view, theological perspective (right belief to narrow set of orthodoxy…”our side is right”), still power structures, buildings, and control tactics to keep people in line… still missing the point of living like Christ is behavior centered…. They did not reject the power structure, but embraced it equally. Ever been to Europe where states are either Catholic or Protestant state church sanctioned? Where taxes are collected for tithes and the government? In the US, the church still operates within a pseudo-marriage relationship with the state, where the state nationalism and faith are intermingled…. indivisible… yet denied. Sounds like an affair, egh?
A blogger I often quote things the same. The Rev says,
How Constantine subverted the Church
This is an introduction. I will be going over this for some time, and I imagine many people will disagree with me, but… that is what makes things fun. You can argue with me, and then we can go have a beer afterwards, and when you least expect it I can slap a choke on you.
I am pretty cynical, but this is the way I see things.
Constantine is struggling to unite Rome. He has already had a fight to consolidate his own leadership, and now he has to unite a fragmented empire, that is facing threats on all sides. He sees one group of people, that are growing like weeds. Even though they are outlawed, killed and persecuted everywhere, their influence grows and grows.
What is even worse, is that most of them are pacifist, and will not fight for the empire.
Now here I am willing to withhold my cynicism a bit, perhaps the emperor had a legitimate encounter with God. But I do not believe that the Father of Jesus would have showed Constantine that putting a symbol on his shields would allow him to militarily conquer the world.
So whether Constantine converts to Christianity because of an encounter with God or out of political expedience (which I seriously suspect), he now has the task of making the Christian religion, the official religion of the Roman Empire. And here things really start to get difficult.
You see this incredibly expanding movement was also incredibly diverse. There were many different autonomous communities, many theologies, many different practices, and even many different accepted scripture texts. It was in truth and anarchic movement. How can you make this the official religion of Rome, when you cannot even define what this is? So Constantine, thinking like a worldly official says, we have got to organize and control this. And calls a conference of all of the “bishops” within the church.
I believe there is some truth to the idea that some people were left out for expedience sake. However, I do believe that a proper cross section of people were there. I also believe that the majority won the day. I believe the scriptures that were chosen were the more correct ones. I do believe that the creed was what most of them believed. However, because of what Constantine initiated, we now have sharp dividing lines between those that “have it right” and those that dont. There are those that are in, and those that are out? In addition, we move from Christianity being largely based on orthopraxy (proper living) to orthodoxy (proper belief). Since we now know what is the proper beliefs we must instil them.
What happens is Christianity then moves into a place of power, and influence. Its meeting places become places of honor, its priesthood people of power and honor. And the state, upholds the rules, and rites of the church. The church then gives moral character and approval of the state. And soon, in only a generation actually, people are being murdered for not believing the right things. In only a generation, St. Augustine pens the Christian version of Cicero’s just war theory and Christians are fighting for the state.
Christianity has never fully recovered from this, and the current church systems are built upon a subverted foundation. Which is why I often say… tear it all down, and lets start from scratch.
We will flesh this out more later, let the fighting begin 🙂
Where I agree with The Rev is almost complete… Some points of concern I have:
1. Emperor Constantine, like Henry VIII, was in a tight political spot. Political convenience was and today is still expedience justified. I fully believe this was something in his mind when he did this. He may have an encounter, but was not spiritually grounded and therefore still thought and acted like a child, and I too find it hard to believe God led him to exercise the power he did the way he did as emperor. Peace through the sword was not from God.
2. I too see the killing for “wrong belief” by some who obtained power (power is from God came from people in power…self legitimizing themselves and their positions). This took place within a generation…. and those in power were not those who were leading the church when this empire legitimization occurred. I wonder what the church fathers thought when the empire suddenly adopted them. Did some cringe!?
3. The Nicene Council focused on “a core set of orthodox beliefs”… creating a forced unified position. While God can and does act through leadership – I am an advocate for proper legitimate spiritual authority – I am concerned that the emperor ordered this council, and given transportation and communication challenges of the day, find it amazing that they convened so fast, and while it took years to hammer it down, that alone is obvious that there was wide disagreement and took time to develop a unified position. This council though, as The Rev notes, did change the foundation, the DNA, the very posture of the faith, from being like Jesus in behavior, to “right belief”. This forced agreement in meetings ordered by the Emperor, created a unified agreement, but was God in it? Did we get the books right? Did we miss something? Did we force and therefore fundamentally change and even ruin what it is to be a Christ follower? A church? The church? Even today, right belief is the core definer and not right behavior, values, virtues.
Now that we’re here, what do we do… As Alan Hirsch said, something is wrong with how we’re doing church… it isn’t working and is rapidly and getting faster in losing ground in the west… the last bastion, the US, is losing ground at an alarming rate, while most denominations play the violin on the deck even as the deck furniture slides. Something is wrong and we need to stop and go back, redefine what it is to be the church. There are lots of orthodox churches, believing right. Lots of churches who “have it figured out” on preaching, worship, prayer, communion, polity, etc… and yet do not look like the 1st Century Church in our behaviors, values, priorities, decision making, money, lifestyle, etc. We went from being focused on the lost world to ordering the church as an organization, an institution… the church was domesticated. A pity.
The church that grows? Who do we model after? Simple – the persecuted church… Take China for example…. less than a million in 1949 when Communism took over. Fifty years later there was 100 million! Some say the figures today are closer to 3oo million. We don’t know, because it is a people, a subversive virus that is infecting the nation, not an organization that administers. So, may be become revolutionaries yet today.
Peace and happy revolution!