Scripture: Luke 22:39-46, Matthew 10:26-33
We have come to the last sermon in our series, Church and State: The Rise of Early Christianity. We have been talking about the story of the early church for the past 11 months and this Sunday we are going to close it all out. Last week we talked about two people who dramatically changed the stakes for the church – the Emperor Constantine and the church father, Athanasius.
Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to promote freedom of religion. He was also the first Emperor to really back the church. He supported the church financially by building Christian basilicas all over the Roman Empire. He granted privileges to clergy by exempting them from certain taxes; and most importantly, he promoted Christians to high-ranking offices within the Roman government.
Once Constantine starts appointing Christians to political offices, the Roman government starts to feel the pressure to abandon the Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses. By 380 A.D., the pressure becomes so overwhelming that the Emperor at the time, Theodosius I, makes a decree that Christianity will be the sole authorized religion of the Roman Empire, rendering all other religions illegal.
Just so we’re clear, overnight, the entire Roman Empire is converted to Christianity. In other words, if you’re part of the Roman Empire, you’re a Christian whether you like it or not. This is the biggest moment in the history of the church. Think back to when we started this series last September and I described to you how after Jesus’ death and resurrection, you have a handful of people doing everything in their power to keep Jesus’ movement alive. 350 years later, this movement, that could barely keep itself together, is now the official religion of the Roman Empire.
This Sunday we’re going to discuss the various ups and downs faced by Christianity once the Roman Empire becomes Christian. It will compel one of Christianity’s greatest thinkers, Augustine of Hippo, to produce one the greatest works of literature ever written: The City of God. We have a special Sunday planned to end the series. I hope you can be there. Enjoy the weekend. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!