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Constatine’s Edict of Milan: Blessing or Curse of Christianity?

07 Mar

It all happened in 313 A.D. when Roman emperors Flavius Valerius Constantinus and Licinius made a political agreement in Milan that permanently established religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire – Edict of Milan. This initially meant that everyone was free to worship whatever deity he pleased to, yet its final result was Christianity as the only legitimate religion of the court.

Until now all Christians were facing persecution mostly because they refused to submit to the claim of “Caesar as Lord“. Their loyalty and allegiance steadfastly belonged to Christ following His example. They were a marginal movement, grassroots phenomenon, a people that had no definable institutions, no HQ or buildings designated for special purpose. There was no “staff” with fancy youth ministry, amazing Sunday school, Bible commentaries,  educational seminaries, stunning worship band or a preacher with highly developed rhetoric skills using presentations and pictures to even better illustrate his point. In fact they didn’t even have Bible, only occasionally they got their hands on few pages that circulated among their small local communities. All this time they were hiding, meeting in small groups in their own houses, spreading the Gospel by using the social rhythms and structures of the day, and if they were exposed they faced an imminent danger of being killed. Thus I believe that Edict of Milan surely had to be something everyone was waiting for, a triumph of Christianity, something that was expected to bring safety to people and unleash the underground Christian movement to its full potential. Positively, many significant changes took place after this event. But was it really for good? Mr. Stuart Murray (“Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World, p.p. 76-78”) outlined some of the major shifts that shaped Christendom after Constantine’ deal with the church.

  • The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of a city, state, or empire
  • The movement of the church from the margins of society to its center
  • The creation and progressive development of a Christian culture or civilization
  • The assumption that all citizens (except for the Jews_ were Christian by birth
  • The development of the corpus Christianum, where there was no freedom of religion and where political power was regarded as divinely authenticated
  • Infant baptism as the symbol of obligatory incorporation into this Christian society
  • Sunday as an official day of rest and obligatory church attendance, with penalties for noncompliance
  • The definition of “orthodoxy” as the common belief shared by all, which was determined by powerful church leaders supported by the state
  • The imposition of a supposedly Christian morality on the entire society (although normally Old Testament moral standards were applied)
  • A hierarchical ecclesiastical system, based on a diocesan and parish arrangement, which was analogous to the state hierarchy and was buttressed by state support
  • The construction of massive and ornate church buildings and the formation of huge congregations
  • A generic distinction between clergy and laity, and the relegation of the laity to a largely passive role
  • The increased wealth of the church and the imposition of obligatory tithes to fund this system
  • The defense of Christianity by legal sanctions to restrain heresy, immorality, and schism
  • The division of the globe into “Christendom” or “heathendom” and the waging of war in the name of Christ and the church
  • The use of political and military force to impose the Christian faith
  • The use of the Old Testament, rather than the New, to support and justify many of these changes

Around the year 100 A.D. there were as few as 25,000 Christians and despite all the trials and tribulations by the year 310 A.D. their number grew up to 20,000,000. How did they do this?

It seems that (besides other) comfort, safety and cosiness that came with the “triumph” brought further all sorts of other features that have only a little in common with the church that is in the Bible portrayed to be Jesus’ bride.

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Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Mission, Reviews

 

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