Was the "Christianisation" of the later Roman Empire a victory for the church?

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
We need to order our minds, such that we can see how both:
1) God could ordain many possible avenues to achieve his ends, some which would be "ideal;" that is, they might have miraculous provision (meaning more than providential alignments with various natural aids), or they might cut through untold distractions and potential contests to easily arrive at that key to unlock a theological conundrum. And he might do it precisely while helping the church to avoid worldly "entanglements" entirely.

2) God apparently has chosen to find his determinate ends through the messy mechanics of human history. What God might have done otherwise, as a kind of demonstration of his preference for church labors that stand quite outside of ecclesiastic alliances with covenant-breakers (speaking of them in national solidarity as they stand related to the Covenant of Works), he has not done. Instead, he continues in this age to do what he did in the last, namely to use even those imperfect attempts--be they sinful as such, or mistaken, or just constrained in the moment--to rely on God through secular power surrounding the church, nevertheless to get him his victory one increment of growth (Dan.2:35) at a time.

We don't have to approve unreservedly any aspect of Constantine's contribution, to also admit that it was an instrument of sustaining the church and adding to its mature development and expansion. Nor must we disapprove of every aspect of Constantine's contribution, to be able to say that there was more or less significant defection from a pure ideal of church-state relations.

We can neither roundly condemn the first and great official state recognition of the church, or anything further as it came in one form or another in different places and times thereafter; nor can we unerringly praise it. Unless God had continued and even expanded the miracles of the foundational era of the NT age, we are left to expression of thanksgiving for the providential logistical assistance, and then official promotion of the decrees of Nicaea I.

We do so in the manner of Israel thanking God for the decree of Cyrus permitting them return to the land; or thanking Xerxes (as apt polite admission) for amending his murderous decree against the chosen people, by further permitting them to defend themselves and giving them the natural means. We don't necessarily approve ideally of the lack of Jewish independence in those circumstances, or even that Esther the Jewess was wed to a heathen king. As Mordecai himself stated (Est.4:14), God was able--and he certainly would--defend his people (and his promise) in some manner. The manner he chose also does service to our theological understanding.

I personally don't think that gaining the standing the church did around the time of Constantine is interpretable as a certain kind of progress, a step toward "inevitable" creation of glorious Christendom, and that one which God approves as an earthly apotheosis of his dominion manifested in history. I am convinced by now there is no reasonable expectation of such (not vitiated by too many defects to count) before the arrival of the eschatological kingdom fulfilled. I know others are convinced of alternate outcomes; and I see that those convictions can lead to particular interpretations of Constantine; but I reject them, both the progressive and the destructive.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Just about any resource expended by the church in the name of maintaining independence from the State is justified. This is not a just a matter for speculation by historians, alternative or otherwise. A government will go to great expense to establish a attitude of bon homme with an institution that has as much influence over the opinions of it's citizens as the church has, even coming out on support of some truly spectacular doctrinal statements, if it can use this support as coin for recruiting church sanction for some truly awful cause. Modern historians bemoan the pointless bloodshed of the first world war and rightly so, but who was standing behind the various sovereigns of the day lending support for that pointless conflict in the name of country and God? The church. Why? Because they believed what was good for the State was good for the church and vice versa. A government does NOTHING without expecting something back. Christ does not want his body recruited to any cause except his own and those explicitly sanctioned in the word, and it is not for us to enter into any agreement with any organization outside those boundaries no matter how much they sweeten the offer. And yes, the enemy is capable of playing the long game with the church. What fisherman does not bait his hook with something attractive to the fish?

From those assembled men we have gifts that keep on giving, and to this day the Westminster Standards have been a wrecking ball to his strongholds. The antichrist took a nasty blow at the Reformation, and those Standards have been a marvelous exasperation of his wound. It's very strange to think that 150 men who lived in the Scriptures and burned for the purity of the church would so badly miss that by authoring these precious documents that the devil was pulling a fast one on them. But the view of government you present I'll address a little further down.

Your losing sight of the principle in the details. Look at the lengths God went to to maintain the independence and provide for the needs of his people in the period of the Old Testament. Israel was told numerous times not to make alliances with outside powers, no matter how sweet the deal was, because he was to be their exclusive source of provision and authority. If the Israel humbled herself and trusted in God for her provision, God always came through for them. The principle is directly applicable to our relationship with the State. Putting it bluntly, whatever nation the Church finds herself living among is a foreign power in the eye's of our true sovereign and should be kept at arms length in all matters not explicitly addressed in the word.

I haven't lost sight. You and Jacob are discussing whether the church had its own financial resources from which it could have achieved the same thing, or something similar. I pointed out why it would have been extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible.

God's injunction against certain alliances cannot be used in an unqualified way, any more than you can use Scriptures' condemnation of Asa's use of medicine in an unqualified way. 2 Chronicles 16:12 says he sought not the Lord, but the physicians. David and Solomon imported loads of riches from other foreign powers for the sake of building the Temple, and it was by the decree of Cyrus the second temple was constructed. Unless we want to say that David and Solomon sinned?

I've heard many say what you have said about staying as independent from the government's resources as possible, but when it came to election season many of those same persons become quite passionate that you should vote for Trump because he is "good for the church" (And for those who know me, I do not intend to get on ethics of voting, so don't worry :) ). Even those who are avidly dis-establishment find themselves unable to disconnect the well-being of the church from what government does, and do actively seek and advocate for the government's favor in policy, if not in money. This is as much "leaning on Egypt" as accepting PPP loans. Whether or not you should vote for him isn't my point. Point is, no one in the "independence" or "anti-establishment" camp seeks for a fully unqualified independence from the government. Practically, a total disconnect doesn't exist.

Concerning the view of government, the Scriptures call the government "The minister of God," "a terror to evil" and "a rewarder of good." That is what a government is supposed to be. Like any business or even the church, the government will be as good as the people running it. If the wicked are running it, the nation should ask whether they have voted in the wrong people, or if God is provoked and He has put wicked people over them. It'd never be an argument that the church is bad because so many congregations are run by selfish self-stuffing shepherds who shear the sheep. Neither with government. If we are run by ungodly men, it may be our fault.

But in any case, government has been established by God, for very good ends. How church and state relate to one another, that's a big question; but government being from God cannot be treated as inherently or essentially evil.
 
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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
A matter of research I suppose. Generally throughout the history of the church there have been those with extra resource to be lent to a Godly cause, but I cannot currently claim knowledge of any particular affluent Christians of the period.
You made a sweeping claim about a level of organization and affluence that wouldn’t have been possible for many centuries. Also, I am willing to give up the mythical, never existing innocence if the church in exchange for Nicea
 

hammondjones

Puritan Board Sophomore
The Greek victory was a victory for the Church, since it kept Persia from conquering Europe. Alexander the Great's conquest was a victory for the Church, since it lead to Greek being the lingua franca for much of the known world. The Roman Empire was a victory for the Church - if for the roads only. It is all victory for the Church.
 

dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
From those assembled men we have gifts that keep on giving, and to this day the Westminster Standards have been a wrecking ball to his strongholds. The antichrist took a nasty blow at the Reformation, and those Standards have been a marvelous exasperation of his wound. It's very strange to think that 150 men who lived in the Scriptures and burned for the purity of the church would so badly miss that by authoring these precious documents that the devil was pulling a fast one on them. But the view of government you present I'll address a little further down.



I haven't lost sight. You and Jacob are discussing whether the church had its own financial resources from which it could have achieved the same thing, or something similar. I pointed out why it would have been extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible.

God's injunction against certain alliances cannot be used in an unqualified way, any more than you can use Scriptures' condemnation of Asa's use of medicine in an unqualified way. 2 Chronicles 16:12 says he sought not the Lord, but the physicians. David and Solomon imported loads of riches from other foreign powers for the sake of building the Temple, and it was by the decree of Cyrus the second temple was constructed. Unless we want to say that David and Solomon sinned?

I've heard many say what you have said about staying as independent from the government's resources as possible, but when it came to election season many of those same persons become quite passionate that you should vote for Trump because he is "good for the church" (And for those who know me, I do not intend to get on ethics of voting, so don't worry :) ). Even those who are avidly dis-establishment find themselves unable to disconnect the well-being of the church from what government does, and do actively seek and advocate for the government's favor in policy, if not in money. This is as much "leaning on Egypt" as accepting PPP loans. Whether or not you should vote for him isn't my point. Point is, no one in the "independence" or "anti-establishment" camp seeks for a fully unqualified independence from the government. Practically, a total disconnect doesn't exist.

Concerning the view of government, the Scriptures call the government "The minister of God," "a terror to evil" and "a rewarder of good." That is what a government is supposed to be. Like any business or even the church, the government will be as good as the people running it. If the wicked are running it, the nation should ask whether they have voted in the wrong people, or if God is provoked and He has put wicked people over them. It'd never be an argument that the church is bad because so many congregations are run by selfish self-stuffing shepherds who shear the sheep. Neither with government. If we are run by ungodly men, it may be our fault.

But in any case, government has been established by God, for very good ends. How church and state relate to one another, that's a big question; but government being from God cannot be treated as inherently or essentially evil.
Government is no more inherently evil than any other secular institution and God uses it to provide an orderly environment for his Church, but it is foreign to the kingdom of God, to be related to only on terms prescribed by the word. I openly acknowledge that the confessions that came out of the Reformations were a great good. And it is true that God used State sponsorship to bring them about. But even if the State was a scaffolding used by God for the church then, he used it as a concession to our weakness rather than out of preference, much as God used the polygamy of Jacob to build up the house of Israel. He got the twelve tribes of Israel out of it, but it came at the price of a lot of internecine conflict. God got the confessions out of the synods, but it came at the price of a Church allied to the State that kept the church relatively mum about many of the abuses of the European governments. In fact at times they endorsed some serious crimes. I acknowledge that it is God's right to strike those kinds of flawed bargains to further his purposes, but there is difference between what God uses and what he really prefers. (there is technical term for the two kinds of wills that God has that define his perfect will while permitting his providential will that escapes me). Perhaps we can all agree that State sponsorship of the Church isn't necessary now and should be avoided. My own personal philosophies on the State do not prevent me from voting, but I do not expect my government to further the cause of the Church.
 

dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
You made a sweeping claim about a level of organization and affluence that wouldn’t have been possible for many centuries. Also, I am willing to give up the mythical, never existing innocence if the church in exchange for Nicea
Researcher David Barrett reports that by the year 300, or nine generations after Christ, the world was 10.4% Christian with 66.4% of believers Non-whites. The scriptures had been translated into ten languages. More than 410,000, representing one in every 200 believers from the time of Christ, had given their lives as martyrs for the faith.

I think such a church would have been capable of supporting a Nicean council independent of the State.
 

Schoolman

Puritan Board Freshman
Just as most genuinely professing Christians were raised in Christian households by Christian parents, so it is that most Christians come from nations who formally adopted Christianity. America still benefits from the doctrinally Reformed faith of Great Britain. The model nation of the Israelites was governed by judges of the faith and the Bible grades the kings by the faith reflected in their morals and policies.
 

chothomas

Puritan Board Freshman
Your losing sight of the principle in the details. Look at the lengths God went to to maintain the independence and provide for the needs of his people in the period of the Old Testament. Israel was told numerous times not to make alliances with outside powers, no matter how sweet the deal was, because he was to be their exclusive source of provision and authority. If the Israel humbled herself and trusted in God for her provision, God always came through for them. The principle is directly applicable to our relationship with the State. Putting it bluntly, whatever nation the Church finds herself living among is a foreign power in the eye's of our true sovereign and should be kept at arms length in all matters not explicitly addressed in the word.
You are not comparing apples to apples. Constantine is the emperor of the Roman Empire where most Christians were subject of. Your example of Israel not making alliances with outside powers does not apply to this situation. It's more like Levites like Isaiah or Jeremiah guiding Judean Kings, not Egyptian Pharoahs. Think of it more like the first Great Awakening which was Britain and British American Colonies only.

I believe you are in PCA. Why do we put "America" or "United States" in the Presbyterian denomination names?
 

dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
The Huguenot and Covenanter did not keep mum. Please read history
The Huguenot and the Covenanter both spent time as persecuted churches. Such an experience tends to sever alliances to the majority State sponsored Church. The guiding principle is that when the Church is stroked by the State it tends to come out in favor of what the State requests.
 

dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
You are not comparing apples to apples. Constantine is the emperor of the Roman Empire where most Christians were subject of. Your example of Israel not making alliances with outside powers does not apply to this situation. It's more like Levites like Isaiah or Jeremiah guiding Judean Kings, not Egyptian Pharoahs. Think of it more like the first Great Awakening which was Britain and British American Colonies only.

I believe you are in PCA. Why do we put "America" or "United States" in the Presbyterian denomination names?
I happen to be sojourning in the United States of America and as long as this nation continues to give my church tolerance and protection from foreign powers I will remain loyal to it and even fight for it in a just war, but this is not my home and not the recipient of my first loyalty. My home is a far more glorious place than this popsical stand of a world and my king a far more worthy ruler than any secular prince. I order my life and alliances accordingly.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
I happen to be sojourning in the United States of America and as long as this nation continues to give my church tolerance and protection from foreign powers I will remain loyal to it and even fight for it in a just war, but this is not my home and not the recipient of my first loyalty. My home is a far more glorious place than this popsical stand of a world and my king a far more worthy ruler than any secular prince. I order my life and alliances accordingly.

You just explicitly allied yourself with a government power, pledging your loyalty and life in exchange for policies favorable to the church; the very thing you said we should not be doing.
 

dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
You just explicitly allied yourself with a government power, pledging your loyalty and life in exchange for policies favorable to the church; the very thing you said we should not be doing.
Don't put words in my mouth. I said we give the secular state the deference and consideration prescribed in the bible. Responsible citizenship and even military service are both elucidated in the word when we are temporary citizens of whatever responsible nation we find ourselves in. But this is not my home and as a believer it isn't your's either. The early church endured death before they would proclaim the Emperor Lord. They were prepared to give the Empire every deference except that, and that is my attitude as well.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Researcher David Barrett reports that by the year 300, or nine generations after Christ, the world was 10.4% Christian with 66.4% of believers Non-whites. The scriptures had been translated into ten languages. More than 410,000, representing one in every 200 believers from the time of Christ, had given their lives as martyrs for the faith.

I think such a church would have been capable of supporting a Nicean council independent of the State.
None of that translates into capital and infrastructure
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
The Huguenot and the Covenanter both spent time as persecuted churches. Such an experience tends to sever alliances to the majority State sponsored Church. The guiding principle is that when the Church is stroked by the State it tends to come out in favor of what the State requests.
The Covenanters were theocrats by definition
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Don't put words in my mouth. I said we give the secular state the deference and consideration prescribed in the bible. Responsible citizenship and even military service are both elucidated in the word when we are temporary citizens of whatever responsible nation we find ourselves in. But this is not my home and as a believer it isn't your's either. The early church endured death before they would proclaim the Emperor Lord. They were prepared to give the Empire every deference except that, and that is my attitude as well.

Perhaps you didn't intend how your words come across, that's possible. Still, "deference and consideration prescribed in the bible" is not how you worded it. If that's what you mean then ok. Though nonetheless, as I said before, even the strictest advocates of separation between church and state do end up courting the government's favor via policies "for the good of the church". The government responds nicely to the wooing, and the church keeps wooing. That's how Republicans stay in office.
 

dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
None of that translates into capital and infrastructure
The infrastructure was there for anybody to use, whether the State or private individuals. A Church with the kind of commitment indicated by those statistics would have scraped up the capital.
 
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dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
Perhaps you didn't intend how your words come across, that's possible. Still, "deference and consideration prescribed in the bible" is not how you worded it. If that's what you mean then ok. Though nonetheless, as I said before, even the strictest advocates of separation between church and state do end up courting the government's favor via policies "for the good of the church". The government responds nicely to the wooing, and the church keeps wooing. That's how Republicans stay in office.
Yes, the courting of the church by the government and the government by the church goes on (By both parties. They each have their respective congregations) and probably will as long as we have a flawed Church, which we will as long as we are in this world. But it is a great evil. As a church we are basically cheating on our husband when we do this, and it is a great distress to the heart of our Lord.
 

dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
The Covenanters were theocrats by definition
Maybe by definition, but they spent a lot of time at war with governments that claimed authority over them. Maybe the wars were just, but they certainly weren't being stroked by the establishment.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Maybe by definition, but they spent a lot of time at war with governments that claimed authority over them. Maybe the wars were just, but they certainly weren't being stroked by the establishment.
Nobody said they were being stroked by the establishment. That’s a narrative only you are telling
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Yes, the courting of the church by the government and the government by the church goes on (By both parties. They each have their respective congregations) and probably will as long as we have a flawed Church, which we will as long as we are in this world. But it is a great evil. As a church we are basically cheating on our husband when we do this, and it is a great distress to the heart of our Lord.

So, come elections 2022 and 2024, "the good of the church" will be of no influence at all on your vote, either to vote for or against anyone?
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Freshman
The separation of church and state is a myth. They meet in me. Civil government is not a necessary evil simply allowed by God due to sin. Earth and this physical, temporal existence is not evil either. It is tainted by sin, but all ordained by God. God gave Adam dominion before the Fall.
 

dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
So, come elections 2022 and 2024, "the good of the church" will be of no influence at all on your vote, either to vote for or against anyone?
My definition of "the good of the church" is to be left free to order our affairs and to worship as we see fit, free of any obligations, explicit or implied, to vote one way or the other.
 
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dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
The separation of church and state is a myth. They meet in me. Civil government is not a necessary evil simply allowed by God due to sin. Earth and this physical, temporal existence is not evil either. It is tainted by sin, but all ordained by God. God gave Adam dominion before the Fall.
Then Uzziah prepared for them, for the entire army, shields, spears, helmets, body armor, bows, and slings to cast stones.

15 And he made devices in Jerusalem, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and large stones. So his fame spread far and wide, for he was marvelously helped till he became strong.

16 But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

17 So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the Lord--valiant men.

18 And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the Lord God."

19 Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the incense altar.

20 And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and there, on his forehead, he was leprous; so they thrust him out of that place.

God is very particular about the secular authorities operating in the sphere assigned to them and the religious authorities operating in the sphere assigned to them. In this very important sense he does teach the separation of church and state. I am sure that you do not presume to co-mingle your secular and ecclesiastical roles. If you do you are in serious danger in incurring displeasure from God and corrupting each of your respective roles.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
My definition of "the good of the church" is to be left free to order our affairs and to worship as we see fit, free of any obligations, explicit or implied, to vote one way or the other.

So... Will it sway your vote or not?
 
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dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
Just as most genuinely professing Christians were raised in Christian households by Christian parents, so it is that most Christians come from nations who formally adopted Christianity. America still benefits from the doctrinally Reformed faith of Great Britain. The model nation of the Israelites was governed by judges of the faith and the Bible grades the kings by the faith reflected in their morals and policies.
It is glorious when any nation or culture adopts the faith. And yes, the United States has benefited enormously from the reformed churches that came out of Reformed Europe. But it is no accident that the most spiritually and evangelically active churches are in the nations whose governments take a minimal role in the government of the church or, best of all, are proscribed by law from taking any role at all! Europeans marvel at (and sometimes mock) the religiosity of the American culture when their own State sponsored churches languish in empty moralism. Why? Because we don't have a cadre of State Church commissars muddying the message of salvation with excessive State responsibilities. The rest of the world looks at the American Church and says to itself "Why isn't it dead by now?" Because we are forced by denial of access to any other recourse to rely exclusively upon the Lord, and the Lord want's it that way!
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Isn't it possible for one man to vote for a quick death, another for a slow death, both having in mind "the good of the church?" The votes are not necessarily unto actual extinction. Both men could be "voting their conscience." The one voting for "slow death" (in this scenario) doesn't even think he's voting for death in the least, thereby justifying his participation; he thinks the other man IS voting for quick death, and faults him.

The one voting for a quick death (in this scenario) believes he is choosing martyrdom no matter what choice he makes, and he's been offered a choice between painful but quick, or slow and agonizing. He thinks the other man is naive, and faults him.

Maybe neither should fault the other, take his own position, and respect the other man's conscience.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Freshman
Then Uzziah prepared for them, for the entire army, shields, spears, helmets, body armor, bows, and slings to cast stones.

15 And he made devices in Jerusalem, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and large stones. So his fame spread far and wide, for he was marvelously helped till he became strong.

16 But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

17 So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the Lord--valiant men.

18 And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the Lord God."

19 Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the incense altar.

20 And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and there, on his forehead, he was leprous; so they thrust him out of that place.

God is very particular about the secular authorities operating in the sphere assigned to them and the religious authorities operating in the sphere assigned to them. In this very important sense he does teach the separation of church and state. I am sure that you do not presume to co-mingle your secular and ecclesiastical roles. If you do you are in serious danger in incurring displeasure from God and corrupting each of your respective roles.
I believe in the Reformed concept of separation of church and state, not the anabaptist one. No one here, as far as I can tell, has argued for a “co-mingling” or confusion of roles. The WCF is neither Erastian nor Ecclesiocratic (is there a historical name for this other than Papist?).
 
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