What’s So Great About Constantine?

What’s So Great About Constantine? December 7, 2018

 

If you listen to any Bible Scholar or Christian teacher long enough and you’ll no doubt hear something – good or bad – about Constantine.

 

Some think he was God’s gift to the Church – because he helped to end persecution against Christians and gave Christianity legitimacy in the Roman Empire.

 

Others doubt the sincerity of his conversion experience – because the Jesus in his vision only showed up to bless his battle plans and helped him to kill lots of those who opposed the Roman Empire. [And that doesn’t sound like the Jesus we see in the Gospels].

 

Still others say that Constantine introduced hierarchy into the Church, giving more prominence to the Bishop, and later to the Pastor after the Reformation.

 

And, still others add that Constantine also merged the Church with the power of the State and entangled Christianity with Empire.

 

I agree with all but the first group of people.

 

What’s more, I also think that Constantine’s influence on the Christian Church was tragic and un-Christlike. He took the Nazarene Movement away from humility, love and service to all, and made it about power structures, hierarchy and the fear-based control of others.

 

Unfortunately, one of the primary ways that Constantine accomplished this dark shift in Christianity was by overseeing the Canonization of Scriptures which were then used to determine who was “in” and who was “out”.

Soon after this is when the church started persecuting Herself. [Ironically, since many embraced Constantine for helping to end Roman persecution of the Church, but then very quickly the Church was doing all the persecuting of Christians, leaving the Romans more free time to oppress the other trouble-makers].

As my friend, Mike Schellman noted:

“Before Constantine, Christians made judgments about the legitimacy of certain writings. After Constantine, writings made judgments about certain kinds of Christians. That is not to say that certain outsiders were once insiders – but rather that no group [previously] had the authority of the state backing up its claim on the truth.”

This is the key. In the years prior to Constantine’s suspicious “conversion” to Christianity, Christians disagreed about all sorts of things. But, there was a balance of power where no one group had any authority to condemn any other group. Nor is there much indication that they wanted to do so. Remember, all Christians were equally persecuted by the State. So, even if I might disagree with a brother or a sister about the nature of Christ, or the atonement – or even about which of Paul’s epistles were legitimate – at the end of the day we were all in the same family of God. The persecution they faced was blind to any particular doctrines. That meant that most Christians were also a bit blind about it, too.

Now, it’s sadly true that establishing power structures within the Body of Christ was something that had already started to formulate prior to Constantine’s influence. But, once he arrived on the scene, it became another useful tactic to re-fashion Christianity into a club that – along with a single definition of Orthodoxy – could be used to beat people into submission.

Under Constantine, Christianity became more about exercising power over others, whereas previously it had been more about acting in humility and love to exercise a quiet form of “power under” others.

Once the Christian Church had power – the power of the Sword which had previously rested in the hands of the State – She lost Her true power – the kind that comes from sincere love, genuine compassion and the miracle of a transformed life.

Orthodoxy quickly overshadowed Orthopraxy as the standard for determining who was – and who was not – a Christian. Prior to Constantine, a Christian was defined as someone who put the teachings of Jesus into practice in their daily life. That’s Orthopraxy. But after Constantine’s influence, a Christian was defined by what someone believed, and whether or not they agreed with the doctrines of the “true” Church. That’s Orthodoxy.

For my money, I’d rather go back to a version of Christianity that is more focused on being Christlike, than on determining who is right and who is wrong about theology.

One version is a lot closer to what Jesus set in motion. The other smells a bit too much like something a Pagan Emperor might dream up the night before a big, bloody battle against the enemies of the Empire.

Give me Jesus.

**

LISTEN to a 2 part debate between myself and Christian Historian Al Baker called “What’s Go Great About Constantine?”

Part 1

Part 2

**

Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. 

His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.

He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.

Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.

BONUS: Want to unlock exclusive content including blog articles, short stories, music, podcasts, videos and more? Visit my Patreon page.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ocelot Aardvark

    At the Council of Nicea, Constantine is the main character responsible for changing God’s Sabbath (7th day) to the Sun God’s (Satan’s) sabbath (1st day).

  • Iain Lovejoy

    The Council of Nicea passed no resolutions concerning and did not discuss the correct day for the Sabbath, which had already been observed by the overwhelming majority of Christians as being Sunday for at least a century at that point.

  • Herm

    Keith, I just had the opportunity to listened to both podcasts between you and Dr. Al Baker centered around Constantine. Thank you both for that!

    My time is short to comment because I am in recovery from an esophagectomy a week and a half ago. Please, forgive me now for any seeming lack of connectivity here. I do feel impressed to offer a suggestion relative to church scholarship, to the best of my ability today. Just the discussion between you and Al made it clear that there is no lack of church scholarship that we can draw upon from the last 1,950 years, and it is “complicated” as was mentioned by Al.

    My dependence upon church scholarship reached its peak 24 years ago, when I was 50. My ability to debate through that foundation of understanding has diminished to where I am no more capable than I once was back when I was 17 years old (I, also, had a moment of heightened relationship then toward seeking truth at that age as did Al).

    “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

    Matthew 23:8-12 (NIV2011)

    This scripture now clarifies, for me, all the church scholarship and hierarchy I, as an infant sibling student of the Messiah, need to know to recognize my relationship with and in the Spirit of truth of God.

    I love Al’s red flag moments by being so reactively sensitive to the blame game, throughout your debate, in this case being directed toward Constantine’s responsibility for “the church” embracing the sword under his sponsorship. Al is right to point out, as far as scripture is concerned, that the church’s hierarchical administrative model began right after Jesus’ ascension, and was exacerbated by the implementation of the Apostle Paul’s Pharisaical model, with some exceptions. The era of Constantine’s sincere and best efforts is not the primary reason that “ writings made judgments about certain kinds of Christians”, as that human spirit was demonstrated, biblically, in the early relationships between Peter, Paul and James.

    Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

    Luke 14:25-27 (NIV2011)

    This scripture expresses to “anyone” what must occur before any of us can fully become a student of Jesus then, today, and forever more, not just “Christians”. It appears that Peter, Paul, and James were carrying their cross and did hate the human traditions of allegiance to family over love for all others of mankind, as each would want others to have for them.

    I interject here something I feel compelled to share, with you and Al, relative to something the very impressive technical writer and scholar Dr. Al Baker questioned. He said something like that he couldn’t figure out how Jesus, as of God, could have died on the cross.

    For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.

    Ecclesiastes 9:5 (NIV2011)

    or

    If their children are honored, they do not know it; if their offspring are brought low, they do not see it.

    Job 14:21 (NIV2011)

    Life is no more or less than awareness and influence, both in spirit and in flesh. Jesus gave up his awareness and influence, both as the Son of Man in flesh and the Son of God in spirit. For three days he had no awareness, as far as we know a first for God, and was completely dependent upon our Father to influence his return to life. Even we, mankind, are aware of and can greatly influence the restructuring of the earthly elements of Jesus’ flesh to live, but we have only an infant’s awareness of the spirit to enable awareness enough to live eternally influential in spirit. Our graced image of God, which is spirit as God is spirit, can be accepted to live (aware and influential) with and in all of God or, when our flesh ceases for us to communicate through, we can be separated outside of any companionship, knowing nothing, influencing nothing, dead. Jesus was dead for three days.

    I interjected here because this is where I share that spirit is not physical. All the scholarship in this world, relative to life, cannot be referenced by the temporal physical to define the eternal spirit (the image graced Man by God).

    I am physically pushing beyond my limit, at this moment, to finish this so I am jumping right into my conclusion.

    I live but surely am dying in the flesh. I, simultaneously, live growing , promised eternally, to learn under the tutelage of one Teacher (the Holy Spirit living with and in me, Jesus and my Father with out pause or end), and one high priest forever instructing the Spirit of truth what to share with my heart, soul, strength, mind as I can bear, according to our Father’s will. The only authority ruling my life on earth and in heaven is who we have named Jesus, the Christ. In the Spirit there are no physical words necessary to share in relationship with all of God, influential and aware with and in each other bound as one in all love.

    You were right on when you mentioned something to the effect that if all the scripture, as gathered and compiled in our Bible, were lost we could still go back to get all that is necessary to become children of God born of, with (baptized) and in the Spirit. Our Bible, today, is a more than enough reference in scholarship to lead us into a living relationship (greater than a gifted image) with and in God without pause or end. If we do not come to that relationship, especially if we shine on the one Teacher for all sibling disciples of Jesus, we each will eventually know and influence nothing, separated from God and Man. When we do come to that relationship, I can honestly testify that in everything we each will love all others, of Man and God, as we would have all others love us. I gratefully carry my cross first for others, even my enemies, because I would have them do the same for me. I trust Jesus to judge Constantine’s influence over mankind as I would have Constantine trust Jesus to judge my influence. Jesus’ perspective is much better than either mine or Constantine’s.

    I am a child of God. Good is constructive and evil is destructive. All children are destructive in their efforts to become constructive. That is the investment, the grace, that good adults invest and moderate in their children that they may grow to be good adults. Our Father in my brother Jesus knows my heart, soul, strength, mind directly to lead me into good and protect me from evil. I have faith in them to fill me in all the scholarship of truth I can bear.

    Thanks Keith, and Al.

  • Christopher Bacon

    Or the night after a bloody battle when he decided he needed their support.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    Christians have been celebrating The Lord’s Day in honor of Christ’s resurrection since the beginning. This is not the same as the Sabbath, of course. Christians of Jewish heritage tended to observe both, but obverse the two days differently. The Sabbath is a day of rest. The Lord’s Day was a day of service. It was a regular work day, but on top of that it was also a time when Christians gathered together well before sunrise in order to celebrate Mass, sing songs of praise and coordinate their charitable efforts for the coming week. The services tended to end by the time the sun came up, so that the members could make it to their regular jobs to start work at the same time as non-Christians.

    Constantine did make Sunday a day of rest on the Roman Civil Calendar, but this had nothing to do with Nicea. Constantine was still an active member of the cult of Sol Invictus at the time, so it would make more sense to think he was honoring the Day of the Son in order to honor his solar deity. Of course, his mother was already a Christian and did appreciate how his edict meant she could attend church services without waking up that early.

  • Ocelot Aardvark

    Sunday is NOT the “Lord’s Day” … it’s the Sun God’s Day.

    Furthermore, there is NOT even one place in all of Scripture, which dictates or authorized any person to change God’s 10 Commandments.

  • jekylldoc

    Well put. Power under people needs to be restored to its place of honor among Christians.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    The 10 Commandments, like the rest of the Law of Moses, only ever applied to the Israelites, not to gentiles. Orthodox Jews will tell you it is actually sinful to bind gentiles to follow the laws meant for Jews, rather than only needing to keep the more basic moral principles of the Seven Laws of Noah.

  • Ocelot Aardvark

    Not true! Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ clearly stated:

    17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.

    18) For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished – Matthew 5:17-18

    If you are truly a Christian, you cannot say that the 10 Commandments only applied to the Israelites. We, as Christians, are “grafted into the Tree of Israel, thus we ARE Israelites… as Christ Himself is. – Romans 11:11-31

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+11%3A11-31&version=ESV

  • There are 2 “until” statements in this quote from Jesus. Notice that? Now, was everything accomplished? Yes, it was! Jesus accomplished the mission he was sent to accomplish and now…the Law is obsolete and has passed away.

    Plus, you can’t truly be a Christian and deny that God told Moses that the Covenant he made was with Moses and his people [not the whole world].

    The OT, the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled and obsolete, passing away, fading, etc. [as the NT declares]. And as the Father said after he removed Moses [the Law] and Elijah [the Prophets] and only Jesus remained on the mount and said, “This is my son. Listen to him!”