Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Still Embracing Constantine?

I have a little more grace for Christians who are still part of the Traditional Church when it comes to mixing politics and faith. I mean, they already accept the Constantinian model of Church with its hierarchy and professional clergy, so it’s not a mystery to me why they also embrace the idea of a Church that is aligned with the State.

But when Christians in the Organic (or House) Church movement affirm an entangled Christianity, I have to wonder what’s really going on?

Historically, the Christian church viewed the State as an adversary – at best as a necessary evil – and something that was to be “called out” from, not something to be embraced or to become entangled with.

Paul affirmed that the State served a purpose – to wield the sword and maintain civil authority – but that the Church served a higher purpose – to carry the cross and proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom. (See Romans 13)

The early Christian church took all of that to heart. From the earliest writings of the Apostles, through the Second and Third centuries, the Church resisted military involvement and refused engagement at the political level – even requiring new disciples to the faith who already served in public office to resign or be turned away at the Lord’s Table and disqualified from Baptism.

Of course, all of that changed when the Emperor Constantine allegedly converted to Christianity. But the form of Christianity that Constantine offered the Church was one that was fused with the State.

In exchange for a place of honor and acceptability within the public square, the Christian Church sold Her birthright and bowed her knees to the State.

Ironically enough, the Church compromised Her values so that the sword would no longer come against Her –and yet once Constantine and the Empire become entangled with the Church there were even more Christians put to death than ever before. Only now, sadly, it would be the Church Herself who would imprison and torture and put to death any Christian that opposed Her – or the State.

When the Anabaptists stood up and defied the State Church – even the Reformed State Church of Calvin and Luther – they were arrested, beaten, tortured, and put to death for seeking to turn back the clock to a time when the Church wasn’t aligned with the State.

Because of all this, Christians who today embrace the Organic or House Church model should automatically understand the importance of untangling their faith from their politics. If they truly understand that the Church went off the rails by aligning Herself with Constantine, then it shouldn’t be too hard to see that any Christian who maintains political entanglements is still enslaved to that Constantinian form of Church.

Yet this is not the case. Perhaps part of the problem is that Christians who have left the Traditional Church are still carrying some of the baggage they brought with them from the Constantinian form of Church? Maybe they have yet to fully grasp all that the Constantinian model stands for?

I do know that many within the House Church movement do not automatically reject Constantine’s Sword, for example. They still hold fast to a form of Christianity that embraces violence rather than returning to the words of Jesus for instruction on how to respond to those who want to harm us. They haven’t yet understood the power of Christ that is at work in our weakness or fully trusted in the transformational power of the love of Christ to disarm our enemies.

So, many House Church practitioners only disavow the Hierarchy model that Constantine introduced into the Church, but do not yet feel comfortable letting go of the Church/State political entanglements that he infused at the same time.

Until we completely turn away from every perversion of the Christian faith that Constantine introduced into the Church, we will never be completely free to experience the Koinonia of the Ekklesia, and we’ll never be empowered to really “Be the Church” that Jesus designed in the first place.


the alternative1 said...

I am with you all the way--get rid of constentinian thinking and think with Christs mind.

Ross Rohde said...

I'd personally like to go back to the way the Church behaved before Constantine; including disqualifying "Christian" politicians from baptism. We have so strongly mixed politics with faith in the US currently that we are letting political thinking overpower our biblical values. That's the cart driving the horse. I think we need to do something pretty radical to disentangle ourselves.

Dean Lusk said...

My brother, I haven't intentionally been a lurker, but I don't know if I've ever encouraged you here. I'm grateful for your fervor and love for Jesus. I spoke passionately about these things several years ago but I think I've become a bit soft as I've tried to avoid being a follower of Apollos or Paul, so to speak. Unity and genuine love for one another in the Church are of paramount importance, and I've found that many believers will not listen to these truths, but they do love Christ and desire to follow Him. It's frustrating. I feel I've lost some passion in trying to bridge that gap. Hard to explain. I've been branded a "liberal" in many cases. :-)

Elchicko said...

I feel your pain Dean, some people are just not interested in understanding Christian history, they prefer simple doctorine that claims they are safe as long as they embrace rules and a belief in the person called Jesus. The understanding of believing is one that has lost its true meaning also. This is why I feel it's so important to keep plugging away one person at a time even if they label you a liberal (they make it sound like such a dirty word) once more and more people embrace it, people will have to take note and give it some real thought. I'm really embracing this worldwide movement that is in place, allowing the true character of God to shine through.

Anonymous said...

What about St George, the Roman centurion, Cornelius, the Armenians?

Anonymous said...

Diocletian also ordered the arrest of every Christian in the Roman army, meaning Christians served.

Keith Giles said...

Many Christians served in the military as non-combatants.

Keith Giles said...

Read the Early Christian Soldiers article on this blog for details on early Christians who served as non-combatants.

Penn Janzen said...

I believe a huge part of the church pulling away from Constantine means giving up charitable status and tax-receipts. Charitable status involves making intense and intricate agreements with the government, and then living under their oversight and limitations, all for the sake of some financial benefits (patronage). It's very sad indeed. I've written this article explaining the gravity of the situation for Canadian churches and urging them to let go of charitable status. (https://nomorecharitablestatus.com)