My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute. History tells us that Constantine, the Roman Emperor, claimed to have a conversion experience and, afterward, legalized the Christian faith early in the 4th century A.D. Did he actually come to faith in Jesus? Any of us who are believers know that only God knows one’s heart, and that we all have failed to follow Him as we know we should have, but we are also well aware that, when we are not living in a dire persecution circumstance, there will be some people that will attempt to imitate being a believer for some purpose, and there are some who are just self deceived. History does give us some insight into this question, because, being possibly the most politically powerful person in the world at that time, we have a supply of information recorded about his life.
First, we know that, after his conversion, he ordered two members of his family put to death. Yes, it is possible that he actually had a justifiable reason for that, but, on the other hand, having someone meet death is an easier thing to do when you are a dictator. Second, he ordered that the Christian faith become legal in the
Roman Empire, but, he did not make the paganism that was the national belief illegal. Instead, he gave the church things it did not have, such as buildings, special tax exempt status for the churches and the clergy—except that the church, unlike paganism and most other beliefs—didn’t have clergy. Also, the churches and buildings were named after apostles, similar to the Roman pagan temples being named after the gods of Roman mythology. That caused a run on orators quote converting unquote and taking the church organization leadership positions, which in a fairly short period of time saw the now official church take a look similar to the religions of the world. For me, none of that has a look or feel of a person who truly came to faith in Jesus and sought out mature believers to help guide one’s spiritual growth. It does have every look of dictator of a declining empire grasping at whatever it took to prevent the dictatorship from declining further. Third, when died, his burial spot was made in the form of the sun. One needs to think of Mithras, the Roman sun god—with the sun having twelve rays, with, at the end of each ray, a statue to represent one of the twelve disciples, with him buried in the middle, representing himself as the chief apostle. Does that sound like a person with a good grasp of the teaching of Jesus, the apostles, and the early church and its leaders? Constantine
What does that have to do with us today? Well, almost all traditional churches in the western world own or rent buildings, and the organizations have names. One should notice that, in the New Testament, Paul and the other writers wrote to all the believers in a city, and also never wrote directly any leaders, but, as I mentioned, to everyone. When we look at scripture, we see that 1 Corinthians 6 verses 19 and 20 tell us that we believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit, not any building.
When you have a building, you need someone to take care of it. I am not referring to the janitor; I am referring to the person in charge of who is the janitor and everything else. That person originally was called the bishop, then later elder, and then later, priest. The Reformation recognized that the name priest was about 180 degrees theologically off track, and used the word pastor. All those words appear in the Bible, but the meanings they have taken since
are nothing like what they meant to the apostles and the persons they taught about following Jesus. We, on the opposite side, have been insulated by centuries and what we have experienced from the proper definition of the words’ meanings. Most of these problems have been impossible to see by those of us without graduate theological training because, if anyone can force any idea through two lifetimes of people, by the third generation people think that’s the way it’s always been. One can always believe that maybe a thing they don’t understand was explained one day when they weren’t around. As we should know from politics—no, it was never explained. Constantine
We could say that what has gone on must be still ok with God, because we see the Holy Spirit working through it. One can say that God is gracious and works in spite of our imperfections. We can also say quite clearly today that God is working powerfully in the underground church of cultures where the government or societal groups oppose the church, as was the case of the church in the New Testament days, and, as part of living under intense opposition, have not been able to do anything other than follow the forms that the apostles taught the early church, not as a matter of theological study, but according to what is practical for an underground group without financial or normal social resources. This should indicate to us that the church must literally be a group of people who meet wherever, build up and care for each other, and become God’s supernatural family, and that the Holy Spirit is blessing those groups of believers in spite of any persecution in the form of seeing people coming to living faith.
See George Barna and Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, chapters 2 and 5, which, in turn, have dozens of historical footnotes to back up the statements that make, which I have referred to.