An Apostolic Understanding – Part Fifteen
Constantine, the Roman Emperor at the time of the Council of Nicea ((325 A.D.) brought about a large number of changes that permanently changed the future of the Early Church. Let’s look at some of those changes…
One of the biggest changes Constantine made was to outlaw house churches. Constantine could not control what happened in house churches, so he built magnificent “temples” for the church all over the empire. Constantine not only outlawed home churches, he also threatened severe punishment for those who continued to meet in homes.
Constantine’s church buildings we called ‘basilicas.’ They were amazing buildings, even magnificent, patterned after the throne room of his own imperial palace. At the front of each basilica, he placed a throne. Remember, there is a governmental shift going on here from the leadership of the fivefold ministers of Ephesians 4:11-12, especially the leadership of apostles and prophets, to paid, professional clergy under the regional leadership of a bishop and the local leadership of a priest. The throne, therefore, was for the bishop. It served as a reminder that the bishop was now the leader in the district (now called a diocese) and a trusted representative of the Roman government and the Emperor himself.
Within these basilicas, Constantine instituted a new kind of worship. Borrowing from the pattern of Rome’s pagan temples, the church hired professional clergy to perform sacred rituals which the church members watched in silence. “Laymen” were no longer permitted to minister. Through most of the Dark Ages (many centuries), the average churchgoer was not even permitted to sing in church. Music was performed by professional choirs. But the worst changes were still yet to come.
Constantine was troubled that his empire was sharply divided between pagans and believers, so he tried to unify the empire by bringing pagan elements into the church. To make his new religion, the Christian faith, more comfortable for the pagans now crowding in, he outlawed “Jewish” celebrations like Passover, and replaced them with “Christianized” versions of familiar pagan feasts.
By the end of the century, paganism was outlawed. Pagan temples became churches. Pagan shrines were changed to Christian shrines. Pagans were told that they now lived in a Christian empire, and it was their responsibility to live as Christians. The trouble was they did not know Jesus. They were still pagans. They still wanted to burn incense to their favourite deities. The pagans responded to the official decrees by giving Christian names to their pagan gods and continuing to worship as they always had.
If you were a pagan farmer and were told you could no longer go to your temple and pray to the god of the harvest, what do you do? You would go to the church building that use to be your temple and pray to the patron saint of the harvest. Your worship has not changed; you are simply calling your old gods by new names. They still called it “church” but much off what took place in the church was now paganism.
As a result, many segments of the Christian faith today pray to dead saints asking them to answer their prayers making them into minor gods. They are actually speaking with the dead in direct contradiction to the teachings of both the Old and the New Testaments.
When paganism and idolatry were brought into the Church, the Holy Spirit departed.
By the year 500 A.D., the Church was overrun with paganism. Many church leaders were unbelievers. When the secular government of Rome crumbled, the church stepped in to fill the gap. The church became a great political and military power, but lost the power of God.