The Constantinian Problem and Opportunity

Constantine Bust from Nish (Germany)

Yesterday I read a quote by John Howard Yoder, that prior to the conversion of Constantine and the Roman Empire, “it took great conviction to stand for Christ. After Constantine (A.D. 272-337), it took great courage and conviction to not stand for Christ.” The Church grew rapidly from the resurrection to Constantine but when Christianity became the norm, fake Christianity began an accelerated growth.  

Our culture is fast-moving toward a pre-Constantinian status. That is, in the foreseeable future, it will take “great conviction and courage to stand for Christ.” What does that mean? Well, in the years prior to Constantine and even after he became the emperor, persecution of Christians occurred in many places. Even as Constantine was consolidating his power, some of his rivals continued to lead large armies and persecuted Christians regularly. 

The following account comes to us from that period.

March 9, 320 (traditional date): Roman soldiers leave Christian soldiers naked on the ice of a frozen pond in Sebaste, Armenia.They placed baths of hot water around them to tempt them to renounce their faith. When one did so, a pagan guard—inspired by the fortitude of the remaining Christians—converted and joined the freezing Christians. They were all killed and made famous by Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa.

(see issue 27 [of CHRISTIAN HISTORY magazine]: Persecution in the Early Church).

Will Christians be called to render such testimony in America? Will it happen soon? Will it happen in our lifetime? Will it happen in our children’s lifetime? Will Christ return before it comes to that in America?

I have no answers to any of those questions. 

This I do know.

As the culture declines, as it loses its Christian memory, as it drifts further and further from Christ and the call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, as the culture works to shame our beliefs, and change long established biblical norms, and erase Christian influence from the public square—the cost for standing for Christ will grow steeper. 

It will be a new day and a new opportunity to show the world the difference the gospel makes and the beauty of the cross of Christ and wonder of our Savior. Let us be ready to stand by standing today and living passionately for and like Jesus every day that we draw breath.