The Imperial Church – Reactions to the New Order

The History of Christianity #90

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Acts 20:28 which reads: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Nils Forsander. He said: “Church history is the record of God’s gracious, wonderful and mighty deeds, showing how by His Spirit and Word He rules His church and conquers the world.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Imperial Church – Reactions to the New Order” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

One of the results of the new situation was the development of what may be called an “official theology.” Overwhelmed by the favor that the emperor was pouring on them, many Christians sought to show that Constantine was chosen by God to bring the history of both church and empire to its culmination, where both were joined. Typical of this attitude was church historian Eusebius of Caesarea.

Others took the opposite tack. For them, the fact that the emperors now declared themselves Christian, and that for this reason people were flocking to the church, was not a blessing, but rather a significant loss. Some who tended to look at matters under this light, but did not wish to break communion with the rest of the church, withdrew to the desert, there to lead a life of meditation and asceticism. Since martyrdom was no longer possible, these people believed that the true athlete of Christ must continue training, if no longer for martyrdom, then for monastic life. The fourth century thus witnessed a massive exodus of the most devout Christians to the deserts of Egypt and Syria.

Others with a negative reaction to the new state of affairs felt that the best course was simply to break communion with the church at large, now become the imperial church, which was considered sinful and apostate.


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