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The Empire Strikes Back
16 December 2014
Today’s article stands at the intersection of two series of articles I am in the process of writing. One series traces the ways in which Satan, mankind’s greatest enemy, through ancient battles in the cosmic war, has fought to destroy the human race and thwart God’s purposes. The second article ended with a brief look at Satan’s attempt to destroy the early Church through the persecution of the Roman Empire.
The other series was started in my last article, in which I gave an introduction to The Pilgrim Church. In today’s article, I will be quoting from that book, and from other sources as well, as we examine Satan’s most successful and devastating attack against the Ekklesia, the true Church of Yeshua (Jesus).
Whereas Roman persecution failed to destroy the Ekklesia, and even served to strengthen her, Satan’s devious new strategy was such a roaring success that, 1,700 years later, the Ekklesia is still suffering greatly from its effects.
To begin our study, let’s take a look at a passage from my article Two Peas In a Pod, written in 2010, with some additions from Crucified Again — Tingling Ears, which I wrote in 2013:
It was NOT the Biblical angel Gabriel who appeared to Muhammad in that cave exactly 1,400 years ago this year, bringing the messages of Allah as recorded in the Qur'an, but a demonic impersonator “masquerading as an angel of light” (see 2 Corinthians 11:13‑15). And the message this demonic being brought was not a message from Yahweh, the God of the Bible, but a false gospel of deception, which has led billions of people astray.Now let’s consider what pastor Gregory Boyd had to say about this episode, in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation. Referring to the early followers of Yeshua before Constantine, he wrote:
But what most people in the West fail to recognize or acknowledge is that almost exactly 300 years prior to Muhammad’s demonic encounters, another man had a demonic encounter that would profoundly change and influence the history of the world up to our present day.
The tetrarch Constantine was fighting in a civil war of the Roman Empire. According to contemporary accounts, on the day before a major battle he had a vision of a cross in the sky, with the words “In this sign you will conquer.” He also had a dream that night in which he saw the same vision, but this time “Jesus” also appeared, telling him to put the labarum symbol (or Chi-Rho) on the shields of his soldiers. This famous Christian symbol is formed by superimposing the first two letters in the Greek spelling of the word Christ (Messiah). Constantine understood it to be a “heavenly divine symbol denoting Christ.”
Although outnumbered two to one, Constantine was victorious in battle the next day, killing and conquering “in the name of Christ.” In the following years, Constantine gradually consolidated his military superiority over his rivals in the crumbling Tetrarchy. By 325 Constantine became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire, making him the first “Christian” Roman emperor. And the rest, as they say, is history. That day, 28 October 312, was the beginning of the end for the Ekklesia of Yeshua.
Thus Satan gained one of his most magnificent victories in the history of mankind. Three hundred years of persecution could not destroy the early Ekklesia — in fact, it only served to strengthen the Ekklesia and cause it to grow at an astonishing rate. So apparently Satan decided to switch tactics. If being at the receiving end of the sword could not destroy the Ekklesia perhaps being the wielder of the sword could!
By the time another 300 years had gone by, the Ekklesia has been transformed almost beyond recognition. Instead of vibrant, strong followers of the crucified Yeshua, who did not love their lives even unto death, the visible Church had by and large been reduced to a non-Biblical Pagan Christianity. Lack of persecution had caused most of those who called themselves Christians to become mere performers of a religious routine, and far from God in their hearts.
In the end, Satan’s sneaky strategy DID, to a large extent, destroy the Ekklesia of Yeshua the Messiah! Not in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense. For the past 1,700 years, this man-made, institutionalized, political, blood-thirsty, demonically-inspired, Christianized version of the kingdom of the world has survived by the power of the sword. The external social-political-religious organization called Christianity has endured, but the Spirit of Yeshua as revealed in the New Testament has largely been lost.
It is tragic yet truthful to admit that for the last 1,700 year, the Church as a whole has not looked very much like Yeshua at all. But if you look at the history of supposedly “Christian” nations, Christianity has looked A LOT like Islam! In fact, they have looked so demonically similar in comparison to the Kingdom of God that one could easily consider them two peas in the same kingdom-of-the-world pod.
As an indication of just how deceived we are, most Christians in the West still consider Constantine’s “conversion” to Christianity to be a great triumph for the Church. And they consider Constantine to be a great man and great Christian.In my own family, the “Christian” homeschooling textbooks that we have been using to teach our kids history have certainly presented such a view. Well, Constantine the Great IS great: great at promoting a tremendous demonic deception, great at sowing seeds of destruction in the Ekklesia from which it has yet to recover, great at corrupting Western culture for the last 1,700 years, great at turning Biblical Christianity into a merely Christianized version of the kingdom of the world. Yep ... that’s just GREAT!
They were a persecuted minority and as such did not dream of corporately exercising “power over” others. Indeed, the church of this time grew — and grew at a mind-boggling rate! This growth came about not by Christians fighting for their rights, as so many do today, but largely by Christians being put to death! Dying was one of the primary ways these early Christians witnessed for their faith.... To a large degree, the early church looked like a corporate version of Jesus dying on the cross for those who crucified Him.From this point in history onward, there were (and continue to be) TWO churches on the earth, which were (and continue to be) diametrically opposed to one another. On the one hand you had the man-made, demonically-inspired visible Church, which came into being as a result of Satan’s great victory. On the other hand, you had the New-Testament-based Ekklesia, the remnant of believers who remained faithful to Yeshua and His teachings.
It’s difficult to overemphasize the change that occurred when, in AD 312, the emperor Constantine was converted. Just prior to an important battle, legend has it that Constantine had a vision in which he was told to paint Chi Rho (the first two letters of the Greek word for “Christ”) on the shields of his soldiers. Allegedly, a voice in the vision announced, “By this sign you shall conquer.” Constantine obeyed the vision and won the battle. The magic apparently worked, and so Constantine and his administration dedicated themselves to the Christians’ God. This was the first time anyone ever associated the Christian faith with violence, but its success stained the church from then on.
This new Constantinian church explained away the self-sacrificial love and humility of Jesus and the early church. Instead of constituting the essence of the kingdom of God, the self-sacrificial and humble example of Jesus and the early church was understood to be merely a provisional inconvenience. Now that God had supposedly given the church power to rule, they reasoned, it just made sense to use it. For they, being the people who knew the truth, obviously knew best how to rule others. Yet what did this line of reasoning accomplish? It produced centuries of barbaric bloodshed — in Jesus’ name.
Because the members of the Church were much more numerous, and because they had no qualms about using the power of the sword to retain their power and accomplish their goals, the remainder of Church history shows the demonic Church persecuting and killing the much-less-numerous members of the Ekklesia, who, for the most part, continued to follow the example of their non-violent Master.
In his book The Pilgrim Church, E.H. Broadbent wrote about this conflict between the Church and the Ekklesia:
Edict of Milan in 313, the Church and State quickly became closely associated, and it was not long before the power of the State was at the disposal of those who had the lead in the Church, to enforce their decisions. Thus the persecuted soon became persecutors.Frank Viola and George Barna explain some of the practical consequences resulting from Satan’s hostile takeover of the Church through Constantine. As I explained in an article presenting the book:
In later times those churches which, faithful to the Word of God, were persecuted by the dominant Church as heretics and sects, frequently refer in their writings to their entire dissent from the union of Church and State in the time of Constantine. They trace their continuance from the first scriptural churches in unbroken succession from apostolic times — passing unscathed through the period when so many churches associated themselves with worldly power — right down to their own day. For all such, persecution was soon renewed, but instead of coming from the pagan Roman Empire, it came from what claimed to be the Church, wielding the power of the Christianized State.
As long as the Church had remained separate it had been a powerful witness for Christ in the world, and was constantly drawing converts into its holy fellowship. When, however, already weakened by the adoption of human rule in place of guidance of the Spirit, it was suddenly brought into partnership with the State, it became itself defiled and debased.
Very soon the clergy were competing for lucrative positions and for power as shamelessly as the court officials, while in congregations where a godless element predominated, the material advantages of a profession of Christianity changed the purity of the persecuted churches into worldliness. The Church was thus powerless to stem the downward course of the civilized world into corruption.
The first three centuries of the Church’s history prove that no earthly power can crush it. It is invincible to attacks from without. The witnesses of its sufferings, and even its persecutors, become its converts and it grows more rapidly than it can be destroyed.
The following period of nearly two hundred years shows that the union of the Church and the State, even when the powers of the mightiest Empire are put into the Church’s hands, do not enable her to save the State from destruction, for, in abandoning the position which her very name implies, of being “called out” of the word and of separation to Christ, she loses the power that comes from subjection to her Lord, exchanging it for an earthly authority that is fatal to herself.
OK, let’s say that some non-Biblical, pagan practices have been incorporated into church practice. It’s not that big of a deal, is it? If we still have the core values of our Christianity, what’s the harm of professional pastors or church buildings, or any of the other issues the authors address?Following are some excerpts from Pagan Christianity? which I have previously shared in Pagan Temples Called Churches and Pagan Priests Called Pastors:
The point is, these are NOT just harmless additions to, or variations of, Biblical Christianity. As the authors so ably demonstrate, these pagan practices actually CHANGE the intrinsic character of Biblical Christianity into something altogether different, so that it no longer remains Biblical Christianity. These pagan practices, which most Christians consider to be normal Christianity, actually HINDER, and even PREVENT, the practice of Biblical Christianity. Thus, Biblical Christianity has been transformed into Pagan Christianity — and it happened so long ago, we don’t even realize it.
While the Emperor Constantine is often lauded for granting Christians freedom of worship and expanding their privileges, his story fills a dark page in the history of Christianity. For far too long, historians have accepted the claim that the conversion of the Constantine caused the triumph of Christianity. To the contrary, he destroyed its most attractive and dynamic aspects, turning a high-intensity, grassroots movement into an arrogant institution controlled by an elite who often managed to be both brutal and lax.Satan’s patient strategy was wickedly successful. For 200 or so years he had inspired increasingly-false teaching in the Ekklesia through leaders like Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Tertullian, Cyprian, and others. Be sure to read the books Pagan Christianity? and The Pilgrim Church for all of the details.
Church buildings began with him. Shortly after becoming emperor in 324, he began ordering the construction of church buildings. He did so to promote the popularity and acceptance of Christianity. If the Christians had their own sacred buildings — as did the Jews and the pagans — their faith would be regarded as legitimate.
Constantine’s thinking was dominated by superstition and pagan magic. Historians continue to debate whether or not Constantine was a genuine Christian. Almost to his dying day, Constantine still functioned as the high priest of paganism. In fact, he retained the pagan title Pontifex Maximus, which means chief of the pagan priests! In the fifteenth century, this same title became the honorific title for the Roman Catholic Pope.
By erecting church buildings throughout the Roman Empire, some at public expense, he followed the path of the pagans in constructing temples to honor God. Because the church building was regarded as sacred, congregants had to undergo a purification ritual before entering. Constantine’s church buildings were spacious and magnificent edifices that were said to be “worthy of an Emperor.” They were so splendid that his pagan contemporaries observed that these “huge buildings imitated” the structure of pagan temples. One anti-Christian opponent wrote that Christians were inconsistent because they criticized pagan worship yet erected buildings that imitated pagan temples. Constantine even decorated the new church buildings with pagan art.
The advent of the church building brought significant changes to Christian worship. The pomp and ritual of the imperial court was incorporated into the Christian liturgy. Constantine introduced candles and the burning of incense as part of the church service. Worship became more professional, dramatic, and ceremonial. The church buildings were wonderful for seating passive and docile crowds to watch a performance.
All of these features were borrowed from the Greco-Roman culture and carried straight into the Christian church. Fourth-century Christianity was being profoundly shaped by Greek paganism and Roman imperialism. The upshot of it all was that there was a loss of intimacy and open participation. The professional clergy performed the acts of worship while the laity looked on as spectators. The Christian building demonstrated that the church, whether she wanted it or not, had entered into a close alliance with pagan culture. This was a tragic shift from the early simplicity that the church of Jesus Christ first knew. By the fourth century, the Christian community had lost touch with those heavenly realities and spiritual intangibles that cannot be perceived by the senses, but which can only be registered by the human spirit.
Constantine was the first to give bishops tremendous privileges. They became involved in politics, which separated them further from the presbyters. In AD 333, the bishops were placed on an equal footing with Roman magistrates.
The Greco-Roman culture that surrounded the early Christians reinforced the graded hierarchy that was slowly infiltrating the church. Human hierarchy and “official” ministry institutionalized the church of Jesus Christ. Soon after Constantine took the throne in the early fourth century, the church became a full-fledged, top-down, hierarchically organized society. He organized the church into dioceses along the pattern of the Roman regional districts.
Bishops ruled over the churches just as Roman governors ruled over their provinces. In fact, Constantine gave the bishops of Rome more power than he gave Roman governors. To be among the clergy was to receive the greatest of advantages. He also ordered that the clergy receive fixed annual allowances (ministerial pay). It should come as no surprise that so many people in Constantine’s day experienced a sudden “call to the ministry.” To their minds, being a church officer had become more of a career than a calling. The concept of the priesthood of all believers had completely disappeared from Christian practice.
From where did Christians get their pattern of ordination? They patterned their ordination ceremony after the Roman custom of appointing men to civil office. The entire process, down to the very words, came straight from the Roman civic world. By the fourth century, the terms used for the appointment to Roman office and for Christian ordination became synonymous. When Constantine made Christianity the religion of choice, church leadership structures were buttressed by political sanction. The forms of the Old Testament priesthood were combined with Greek hierarchy. Sadly, the church was secure in this new form — just as it is today.
Gregory of Nyssa argued that ordination makes the priest “invisibly but actually a different, better man,” raising him high above the laity. If you are wondering why and how the present-day pastor/priest got to be so exalted as the “holy man of God,” these are the roots.
First-century shepherd (elders, overseers) did not receive anything that resembles modern-day ordination. They were not set above the rest of the flock. The New Testament nowhere limits preaching, baptizing, or distributing the Lord’s Supper to the “ordained.” The clerty-laity tradition has done more to undermine New Testament authority than most heresies.
The power to ordain became the crucial issue in holding religious authority. As a result, ordinary believers, generally uneducated and ignorant, were at the mercy of a professional clergy. Ordination produced an ecclesiastical caste that usurped the believing priesthood.
Through the parts of their teachings which deviated from the teachings Yeshua and the Apostles, Satan set the stage for his knockout blow. With false signs and wonders which could deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones (Matthew 24:24‑25), and with a demonic impersonator masquerading as Yeshua Himself, Constantine was massively deluded and led into what I believe was a false conversion. His being told by a supposed Yeshua to kill and conquer under the banner of the cross is total demonic deception which is completely opposite of the teaching of the New Testament.
Through satanic empowerment, Constantine became the sole ruler of the previously-fractured Roman Empire. More importantly, through him Satan gained a strategic foothold inside the Ekklesia. Together, they paganized, Romanized, imperialized and institutionalized the Ekklesia. Satan’s Empire, through the Roman Empire, struck back at the Ekklesia after her nearly 300 years of glorious victories. Even now, 1,700 years later, the Ekklesia has yet to recover.
Of course, there still is, and always has been, Yeshua’s Ekklesia on the earth, as the book The Pilgrim Church so wonderfully documents. But for the vast majority of human beings, all they see is Satan’s spawn which he gave birth to through Constantine: the man-made, institutionalized, political, blood-thirsty, demonically-inspired, Christianized version of the kingdom of the world that is called the Church.
The fall of the Roman Empire less than 200 years after his victory did not bother Satan. He didn’t need the Roman Empire any more in order to accomplish his goals. For the rest of the Church age until the return of King Yeshua, Satan would be able to persecute and destroy the Ekklesia through the excellent tool he had created: the institutional Church. Through it, he would accomplish much more than he had ever been able to through the Roman Empire, as we shall see in coming articles about the Pilgrim Church.
This article is 60th a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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