Sunday, April 01, 2012

Respectful Christianity
The early church was not altogether organized as the world would define organized. The church would be recognized by the fruits of the Spirit and the word of their testimony rather than a name on a building or a denomination. Throughout the Mediterranean believers were joined in the Spirit rather than organized membership to a local assembly or an ecclesiastical organization held together by some doctrinal adhesive.

Because of persecution some believers met in secret while others met in many different houses and sometimes outside. And when they gathered they observed the Lord’s Supper as well as ate together in love and fellowship. Even the gatherings were very loosely organized and there was always an attempt to allow the Spirit to lead them. In fact sometimes they were so loose the Apostle Paul warned them about allowing a chaotic atmosphere.

And without radio and television, or other avenues of communication, and even without a high rate of literacy, the gospel spread through the Roman Empire and other regions of the civilized world. Yes there were signs and wonders, but the most effective gospel witness came through the humble power of the believers in many communities. When known sinners in these communities began to change, and when they would exhibit love and compassion and grace and humility, and when they showed kindness to their enemies, well, others began to take notice.

And when the idol worshippers and those in political power felt threatened, they persecuted this new sect of religious folk. And then something quite wonderful and quite unexplainable happened. When these believers in Jesus were persecuted and tortured and even put to death, they embraced it with joy. What could this new faith mean? Who sings on their way to the gallows? Who prays while being eaten by lions? Who prays for their executioners and forgives them while they are being murdered? The world understood war and violence, but how do you attack people who use their own death as a vehicle for spreading their faith?

And despite concerted efforts to wipe out this new faith, it only grew. But in the fourth century something happened that would eventually change the direction and even the practice of the faith. The Roman Emperor named Constantine was engaged in a war. And he claimed he saw the sign of the cross in the day sky, and he ordered his men to paint that sign on their shields. Eventually the armies of Constantine prevailed in that war and Constantine believed that the sign of the cross aided him in his victory.

Constantine became a Christian, or at least what he considered a Christian was. He made Christianity the “sort of” official religion of his nation and he began systematic changes that would favor this Christian faith. He began to persecute the pagans, and he made the local Christian assemblies tax free. Constantine even helped finance many Christian church buildings which was a major shift in their focus. Little by little the Christian faith and the secular government became partners in many ways. In fact, Constantine portrayed Christ as a man of war who conquered by the edge of the sword.

Constantine had a much more profound affect on the Christian faith than the faith had on him. He changed the birth date of Christ to December 25th and he also changed the time and place of Christ’s resurrection. Constantine made Rome the center of the Christian faith. He also became the arbiter in doctrinal disputes, and he believed salvation came through baptism. Curiously enough though, Constantine refused to be baptized until at his death bed. Since he believed baptism forgave sins he desired to wait until he had committed all his sins and then none would remain unforgiven. It was very superstitious and self serving. Constantine was hardly a model of a true believer.

The new and dependent relationship between the state and the church was a completely new phenomenon and through the centuries it would have extremely detrimental effects upon the purity of the church. Constantine even appointed bishops and then made them provincial governors. Many deep vestiges of Constantine’s compromising influences upon the church remain today and are practiced as if they had come form the Savior. Pagan holidays such as Christmas and Easter and others were started under a Constantine influence. But the principle that most damaged the church under Constantine was the alliance between secular government and the body of Christ.

That foundation has been quite successful in diluting the gospel and arraigning all sorts of unholy alliances and allegiances throughout the centuries. At one point the Roman Catholic Church actually was the government in some sections of Europe. And today a most grievous example of Constantine’s unbiblical constructs is when believers assert that America was formed as a Christian nation. That is Constantine-ism at its practical zenith.

The Pilgrims came to America to avoid religious persecution, but the founding fathers were entrepreneurs at heart and rebelled against the taxation coming from England. It is both fanciful and disingenuous to suggest that America was formed as a Christian nation. And although the original documents bore some resemblance to Judaeo-Christian ethics, they still were not Christian at all. They were pluralistic, endorsed no religion, and gave protection for every and all religions. That construct is not only unchristian, it is antichrist.

But being willfully ignorant of Constantine’s duplicitous example, evangelicals still insist that America is a Christian nation, and that God honors her wars, and that the church has a God encouraged obligation to participate in its secular government. They do not believe that through years of cultivating an allegiance to this nation that the spiritual character and condition of the church has been and continues to be eroded. They do not see that we are seen as nothing more than religious moralists that live identical to most unbelievers except to speak about abortion and gay rights.

Gone is our distinctiveness, and the church even listens to and embraces the conservative talk shows which spew caustic and self serving rhetoric. Many Christians attend rallies designed to celebrate/worship the nation known as America. These rallies are attended by and even led by believers and unbelievers alike. You see, the church has lost sight of the faith and of the Author of our faith. We have become modern day followers of Constantine.

And the most devastating aspect of our compromise is that the church is not drifting aimlessly. She is energetically following the pattern of Constantine and even inventing new and deeper inroads of poisonous relationships and secular allegiances. And instead of recognizing believers by their love and grace, and humble separation, and by their imitation of the life of Christ, the Christian faith is recognized by their buildings and their denominations and by their moral and political activism.

We have become respectful and benign within a culture of unbridled hedonism, violence, and idolatry. Constantine’s dream has become a reality.


Anonymous said...

This could be one of the craziest posts to date. 1. Untrue to ascribe Constantine's power greater than the power of the Holy Spirit operating in the early church. They just did not all the sudden begin secularization. 2. More than likely Constantine did the same as we do today...the best he could with what he knew. 3. Never seen or heard a political rally held to worship this nation. There are far more personal egos and agendas to worship. 4. Your sweeping generalization also perplexes me. It is impossible to accurately characterize the entire Christian church with such broad criticism. I know and attend some very "distinctive" churches around this city. They are far from aimless...they have vibrant, lively services filled with good teaching and loving fellowship. Their doctrine may differ from your understanding and my understanding...but that may well be God's design also. Yet maybe my glass remains only half full. Enjoyed thinking through all this. Prayers...

Rick Frueh said...

For you this post was obviously a disconnect. But that's Ok.

Steve Lumbley said...

Rick - The comments from anonymous are evidence of the truth in the article. He is a fully assimilated 'Christian' blind to the difference between the visible harlot religious system and the true church of God

Doug and Donna Spencer said...

Gee Rick, why don't you tell us what you really think? LOL. Great article. I agree with you and as a convert from being a previous "patriotic" Christian, the scales have been removed from my eyes and I now see the truth clearly.

Let us remember that the true nature of deception is that those that believe the lie, really believe it to be true. Only God can reveal truth to any man.

Jope said...

Great article .The great apostasy will have more impact on the right ,where in exchange for some cheap morality ,christians are led to adopt philosophies that are blatantly against the teachings of Christ.

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Friend of Muslims said...

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Very helpful comments! Separating soul from spirit