Is Persecution Good for the Church? July 29
PIC – Arch of Constantine, Rome
I HAVE BEEN reading in a somewhat sporadic manner for the past couple of years in volume one of British historian Edward Gibbon’s, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
This volume was published in 1776 with the other five volumes following between then and 1789.
My goal is to read the entire treatise, but at present rate I may not be able to accomplish that in this lifetime because it is estimated that all six volumes contain about 80 hours of reading material, not including extensive footnotes.
The reason I mention this “encyclopedia” is because of the way Mr. Gibbon writes about the relationship between Christians and the Roman government.
Mr. Gibbon began his history at about A.D. 95, which was about the same time as, or shortly after, the apostle John wrote his treatise to “the seven churches of Asia.”
According to Mr. Gibbon the next two centuries were a time of great persecution for Christians by the Roman government.
Other historians make very similar assessments of that relationship.
In fact, it was not until the reign of Constantine (A.D. 306-337) that Christianity was declared a legal religion in the Empire.
It seems Constantine’s “conversion” began with the Battle of Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312.
On the day before the battle began, Constantine reportedly looked to the sky where he claimed to have seen a cross superimposed over the sun.
Under it was the inscription In Hoc Signo Vinae or “conquer by this sign.”
That night, in a dream, he then claimed to have received an explanation of the earlier sign – Christ appeared before him telling him to carry the sign of the cross into battle.
The following day old banners were replaced with new ones displaying the sign of the cross.
Although his army was outnumbered, Constantine easily won the battle.
This victory is seen by historians as a turning point in history, a fusion of church and state.
Constantine immediately assumed complete control of the west. As the new leader of the the west, he marched into Rome.
One of his first acts was to issue the Edict of Milan, a toleration of all religions.1
In Gibbon’s assessment of Christianity during the intervening centuries between the reigns of Trajan (A.D. 98-117) and Constantine (A.D. 306-337) those who subscribed to and became Christians followed the original teachings of Christ, the apostles, and the early prophets more closely than did those who came after.
Although the seeds of digression and departure had already been sown and taken root in many places prior to the reign of Constantine, such departures rapidly increased with the melding together of church and state.
With persecution no longer a factor, and with identifying as a Christian now a thing to be looked upon as a positive, many more people began to adopt the name whether they adopted the practice or not.
That being the case, even greater departures from Biblical teachings became inevitable.
In this country Christianity (both the New Testament form and it’s digressive forms) have always been considered favorably by both the government and the population at large.
But it seems, at least in my observations, that “the times, they are a changing.”
“Alternative lifestyles” have become ever more prevalent and prominent.
Some elected officials are now openly hostile to the Christian values set forth in the New Testament.
For the past several years researchers have noted that church membership among those who would identify themselves as Christian has been declining and attitudes toward any organized form of Christianity has been deteriorating.
Could this be a good thing for Biblical Christianity?
Could it be that the “wheat” is being separated from the “tares?”
A cursory reading of the book of Revelation, especially the first few chapters, reveals that those who remain faithful in spite of persecution will receive rewards that are far greater than the cost of their faithfulness.
I certainly do not, and would not, wish persecution upon anyone, but it is true that such persecution will “weed out” those who are CINOs (Christians in name only).
But the important question is, if/when this persecution comes, will you be among the persecuted or the persecutors? Tim McCarver, used with permission, edited – mb
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Rev. 2:20
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike