Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Constantine: The Father of Our Faith
Although Constantine was not a church member, or leader, or pastor, or teacher his influence on the Christian church today is equal, if not greater than, that of Paul the Apostle and even Jesus Himself.
As the first Christian Emperor of Rome, Constantine declared himself to be a Christian at the age of 40, although he put his own sons to death and killed his wife because his mother wanted him to. He also beat his own sister for her worship of Jesus.
Constantine hated the crucifix because it showed Jesus in a place of weakness. For him, the cross was a sign of power and he had no understanding of Jesus as a suffering servant, preferring instead to fashion a triumphant, powerful version of Jesus who would bless his bloody escapades as a warrior and a conquerer.
Even though he publicly declared himself to be Christian, Constantine also continued to hold the title of "Pontifex Maximus" which signified his leadership of the pagan priesthood.
Why did the Church allow a man who held the title of High Priest in the Pagan Temple to influence the way they worshipped and practiced their faith?
Maybe it was because he was their largest financial supporter? Or because he ended the brutal persecutions of his predecessors? Or because he gave them non-profit, tax-exempt status in the Empire? Maybe it was because he promoted several of the clergy to high-ranking offices within the Empire? Or because he built large temples for them to worship in?
Whatever the reason, Constantine was allowed to dictate to the Church how and when and where they would worship God. Instead of meeting in the home and sharing a meal together, Constantine mandated that Christians meet in the pagan temples which he had provided for them. Instead of a shared and open dialog of faith, Constantine instituted a liturgy which looked very much like that of the pagan's, and of the Roman Empire itself. Worship services were presided over by the clergy who held power much like a king or an emperor. The members of the church were no longer treated as dearly loved members of a family but were treated as peasants to be taxed (via the tithe) and ruled over like subjects.
To this day the Christian church continues to meet in the same pagan temple system, with a select clergy held in honor as small kings who rule over the people and maintain the building, and their own livelihood, via the taxing of the peasants via the tithe.
Many who are Christians today aren't even aware of the influence that Constantine had on their faith and continue to read the New Testament as if the references to "Church" and "worship" found there corresponds to the sort of church life they experience.
I've only realized these things myself in the last few years, having been a Christian now for over 30 years and even licensed and ordained as a minister of the Gospel, this news unsettles me.
Many, like me, who have come to realize these facts can only stand back and ask, "What now?"
Honestly, I am not exactly sure what to do, other than what I've already done which is step outside the traditional church and to begin to re-discover the family-based, Jesus-inspired, shared Koinonia of House Church.
I don't do this to condemn my family and friends who are still part of traditonal church. I do not write this to smear the Bride of Christ. I simply write this to share what I have learned and to communicate my personal response.
Those who remain in the traditional church are as loved by God as anyone else is. I have nothing but love and respect for the pastors and members of traditional denominational churches around the world. Without them I wouldn't have come this far. None of us would.
But, if you knew there was a way to facilitate community and encourage participation and inspire followers of Jesus to live out their faith in brand new, exciting ways, why would you oppose it? Especially if this was something supported by the New Testament and proven by the exponential growth of the Church throughout the world via the simple, organic model of house church?
I acknowledge that, thus far, Constantine has had a fantastic amount of influence over the Church. But my hope is that we would allow Jesus to lead us once again. My hope is that we would humble ourselves before Jesus and daily die to ourselves to follow Him and to love Him and to love others as He commanded us.
It's time for a Church that is more like Jesus than it is like Constantine.