In my history class last semester we spent part of one class debating whether it was a positive thing over all that Constantine legalized Christianity in 325 A.D. You might think that it’s an absurd question, “Of course it was good! People were dying by the thousands. If he hadn’t called off the persecution all the Christians would have been gone.” However, the adoption of Christianity as the state religion was a mixed blessing for it introduced a whole new world of distractions for believers who previously sought to live an authentically Christian life.
When believers were hiding in the catacombs there were thriving and utterly devoted to the Gospel, but when they were getting back-stage passes to the collesium, well let’s say that the spiritual waters were muddied. Fast forward to the twenty-first century and we have a totally different situation that is exactly the same. On the one hand, in Canada, our culture is so ‘anti-theistic’, it is inconcievable that a newly elected head of state could ‘preach’ to an assembled crowd of almost two million people, and a TV audience of hundreds of millions on the supremecy of love. Yet for our southern neighbours, where Christianity is effectively the state religion, a politician’s ‘religiosity’ is an election issue. Both political parties are obsessed with being seen as being Christian. It is no wonder that in North America (Canada and the US), Christianity has become it’s own religious brand and is dangerously close to losing sight of the gospel.
In my pastoral life I am becoming more and more convinced that I must preach Christ and not Christianity. I am less interested in introducing people to my denomination and more interested in introducing people to Jesus Christ. I’m not just telling the world the truth, I’m introducing them to the Truth. Jesus doesn’t talk about the truth or tell the truth, he is the Truth.
Malcolm Muggeridge said it well: Just as in the death of Rome, Christianity was born, in the death of Christendom, we may have an opportunity to cast off the disintegrating reality of this world and hold up Christ, for all the world to see. If our congregations are stuggling to stay open, perhaps now we can hold up Christ for the world to see instead of our propositions of truth, our positions of doctrinal issues, and governance structions.
Can Christ be seen in how we struggle with worship styles? Can we manifest Christ in our humility as we meet with the community church down the street and learn why they are growing and we are shrinking? Can we shutter buildings and start meeting in member’s homes in a way that glorifies our King? Perhaps, instead of selling properties and hoarding the cash, could we give the buildings and properties of our dying congregations to other groups of believers in who are growing and need the space. What would that say about our faith in the wisdom of God and his working through circumstances?
During the great persecution of the first three centuries A.D., the authorities of the world took every freedom they could from believers and eventually took every public forum away. When believers were outnumbered thirty-thousand to one, the only place of public testimony that was allowed to them was the collesium floor, right before the animals were released or their bodies were set ablaze.
Believers in Christ at that time harnessed the arena of persecution and transformed it into a platform for opportunity. The martyrdom of hundreds resulted in the conversion of tens of thousands. When thousands of Christians were slaughtered, their manner of suffering yeilded millions of believers. By the end of the third century, more than a quarter of the world’s population were Christian.
Slick programs, and concise tracts are not the answer for a culture that is sick of self righteous self sufficient religion. Suffering like Christ and living like Christ is what our world needs to see and hear.