OK, so I’m doing something out of character for me. I’m posting a first draft. Actually, I need help. I’m writing a paper that explores the changes in the early church brought about by the conversion of Constantine and his ascendancy to the throne of the Roman Empire. The basic storyline is that the pre-Constantinian church was less materially motivated, more independent, and less violent than the post-Constantinian church. Yeah, I know. DUH! The paper goes into more detail arguing that a politicized Christianity looks very different from the early church. I use that idea to spring onto something of a soapbox in my conclusion. It’s not very academic sounding, so I may not keep the conclusion as written. Nevertheless, I need all my editors to read it and give me some feedback. Please. Oh, and be critical, but kind. It’s only a first draft. THANKS!
Nearly 2000 years have passed since the church entered the world of secular politics. During that time it has vacillated from complete withdrawal from secular affairs to outright theocracy and made stops at every point in between. In the modern United States, the church lives a confused existence. On the one hand, it preaches being “in” but not “of” the world, yet it flies its national banner beside the pulpit as if to equate its faith with its political allegiances. It preaches peace on Earth every December yet sees providential endorsement of every military operation undertaken by its nation. It embraces its earliest roots in defending the lives of the unborn against the spectre of abortion yet can abide seeing “a man put to death, even justly” when the outrage of the citizenry demands it. It confesses “one God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible” yet fractures over issues of money, power, prestige, and politics.
It is a unique occurrence when something happens for the first time. “Firsts” always shape history. Yuri Gagarin showed the world that existence is not necessarily tied to this celestial ball – that there is indeed a great big universe out there. The Enola Gay’s payload showed the world that we hold the power of self-annihilation. Some firsts are good. Others are not. The church during the reign of Constantine was a first. It was the first instance in which affairs of the Christian faith and of the secular state became mutually and voluntarily intertwined. Was this first experience a good one or a bad one? If we believe that we in the United States are somehow heirs of the fourth century church, the answer could go either way. Certainly, much of our accepted doctrine owes its acceptance to the work of those resilient, pious, and faithful fathers of the early church whose work would likely not have been possible without the patronage of the state. Looking at what the Roman empire became and what the church has today become, though, one wonders if we have not lost something in the trade.