Read His Words Before Ours!
It’s easy for me to live as if this life,
this season I’m in,
issues the modern-day church wrestles with,
and this post-Christian era with its messages flashing from screens,
are all held inside a vacuum of time.
That’s because I forget my (and our) place in history.
I forget the church’s place on the timeline of God’s mission.
I forget just how much of a dot I am on the map and how much of a tick this era is on history’s timeline.
That is, until I look up at the night sky and remember I’m simply one light among the host.
With a zoomed-out lens I see this divine orchestration by which God has used countless people and circumstances on His stage through the centuries, igniting a spotlight on men and women at just the right time, to bring about His purposes.
A Light in the Night
Constantine was one of those men. He ruled the Roman Empire from 306-337AD and is said to be the first Emperor to convert to Christianity. For over two centuries before his rise to power, Christians had been persecuted, threatened and killed. The most severe persecution ramped up in the 250s all the way up until Constantine took over the empire. (Read more on the Diocletianic Persecution)
Constantine took power and policies began to change, but the most notable turning point occurred during a battle in 312 AD. Constantine saw a vision of a cross of light in the sky that read “CONQUER BY THIS”. The message burned within him. He is said to have made a commitment to the Christian God, if he indeed won the battle. Upon winning, Constantine required all soldiers to don the Greek letters for “Christo” on their armor, a clear message to the world where Constantine believed his power came from.
The years that followed revealed his favor toward Christians by way of new Empire rules. One such proclamation Constantine was instrumental in establishing was the Edict of Milan in 313AD. It declared religious freedom not only for Christians, but for all religions and cults of that time. Beyond that, it commanded citizens to right any wrongs done to Christians including returning property, church buildings, and belongings previously confiscated.
The second major assist Constantine provided to the Christian faith was to convene together The First Council of Nicaea. The church bishops gathered with the primary purpose of creating a common belief statement specifically regarding the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, Jesus. This specific point was sparked because of Arianism, a false teaching which challenged the fully divine nature of Jesus, making Him out to be a created being. From this council came what we know as the Nicene Creed. It reflects foundational Biblical truths including an affirmation of Scripture’s position on Jesus’ deity, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3), and “He [Christ] is the very image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
Without this Nicene Creed, and the handful of believers who fought valiantly for biblical truth to be upheld over society’s popular sway, Christianity today would be vastly different! How far the flame they ignited has carried!
Many throughout history have attributed Constantine’s favor toward Christianity to a personal conversion, though he was not baptized until his deathbed. It’s not completely clear where Constantine’s heart and motives were. How can we truly know the heart of any man? Only God knows. What we can know throughout history, God has used men to accomplish HIS purposes, whether they knew it or not. Proverbs 21:1 says, “A king’s heart is like channeled water in the LORD’s hand: He directs it wherever he chooses.” Constantine’s abiding favor toward Christians was clear throughout his entire reign, which allowed the body of Christ to ignite anew, spread and grow.
Why it Matters
The council of Nicaea proved to be incredibly important in unifying the church and fortifying her against future false teaching. If Constantine had not been so forward in calling the council together, if the church leaders had backed down from facing hard conversations and challenges to the faith, and if Arianism had gained a stronger foothold, the church would not have thrived as it did as a result of Constantine’s initiatives.
It mattered then and it matters today.
Paul warned the church at Ephesus saying by “growing into maturity……..we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” (Ephesians 4:13b-14)
May God fortify and set our hearts ablaze with a fervor for His Word and a passion to spread His good news, while upholding truth. May we be people willing to do hard things with a long view in mind, knowing the future of the church is built today. May we turn to this same God who has been lighting up the church since her beginning, for guidance and wisdom.
We may just be another star on the map, but string it all together under God’s amazing plan, and you can be sure His flame will light up the night!
Curious for more on Constantine?
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!