By: Steve Holt Sr.
Christendom is in real trouble, and it doesn’t even know it.
With only 12 dysfunctional appointees and a few other ragged men and women, Jesus began a revolution that took the earth by storm…for a while.
In the century that followed his return to heaven, Jesus’ followers ushered countless men, women, boys and girls into the Kingdom by doing what he did…loving, serving, showing mercy, and living holy, joyful lives. There wasn’t a church building in sight and not one program for kids, seniors or families. Ample evidence points to the home as the center of Kingdom life during the earliest centuries. Yet, despite growing apostasy, the church grew on the margins of life.
Then in AD 313-314, Emperor Constantine of Rome made Christianity the official religion of the vast Roman Empire, built on a vision, Constantine claimed, from Christ himself. “Legitimizing” Christianity appears to be the greatest coup that Satan has ever made against the Kingdom of God. In a series of edicts, Constantine took Christianity out of homes, neighborhoods and from the margins of society and virtually confined it to ornate structures, making Christianity fashionable, for the first time. He established a clerical hierarchy, corralled the Spirit of God into a canon to be interpreted only by those properly “educated,” and put in place a religious system that continues to define both Catholic and Protestant expressions of faith to this day. Churches today look and function more like the institution that Constantine established than that which Jesus established. Christians today act more like the programmed, conditioned minions of Constantine’s kingdom than the joyful, generous, self-sacrificing disciples of Jesus.
Beginning with Constantine and continuing through the ages, mankind bound what God chose to leave boundless. Mankind confined what God freed. Mankind pronounced impotent that which God empowered. Mankind excluded those whom God included. Mankind snuffed it out where God breathed life.
After Constantine, church buildings became the center of religious activities. Liturgy defined worship. Clergy became the experts without whom ordinary believers couldn’t possibly understand God’s message. Church officials were the final authority in all things related to faith. Sinners were exploited and manipulated. The poor and alienated were ostracized. None of this was ever God’s intention.
In the end, the spirit of individual faith was wrestled from believers and replaced with a pattern beneficial first to the institutional church. Over time, Christians have willingly given religious institutions more and more power to interpret all things spiritual and to put the institution’s well-being above the individual’s.
Today, we have a world of weak, ineffective and generally apathetic “Christians” who look nothing like the first disciples who transformed the world often at unimaginable costs. In many parts of the world, Christianity is scoffed at because of its arrogant claims and distorted ideals. I blame Church for conditioning parishioners and members over time to consider first what the Church thinks and does and to ignore God’s call and the Spirit’s work in the individual.
Believers today have given up a relationship with God for knowledge about God as interpreted by the “learned.” Churches have tricked Christians into believing that money given to God must pass first through the institution to have any validity. Most Churches would have Christians believe that meeting at the church building on Sunday morning is more important than feeding the homeless in City Square on Friday night.
Every new church building or addition, every church “service” or activity, reinforces what Constantine legislated. Local congregations segregated by race or culture testify to the ineffectiveness of religion to bring all things together in Christ Jesus.
Most Christians have no faith in what God can do in them, with them and for them. Most would never believe that their home could again become the center of Kingdom activity. Most do not believe that God’s Spirit could lead them into “all truth” without an “expert” to guide them. Most believe that evangelism is an activity rather than a lifestyle, and few have any idea what a “disciplined life” looks like. Far too many Christians believe that eliminating sin is their primary calling. Too many Christians see the Bible primarily as a rule book rather than a revelation of what God has done, is doing and will do. Too few Christians truly believe that one can develop a real and personal relationship with Jesus that is infinitely more fulfilling and meaningful than one’s relationship with another person. Too many Christians live only in anticipation of heaven rather than seeing today as the opportunity to experience and model life “on earth as it is in heaven.” Like the local Church that provides their spiritual guidance, too few Christians have the faith to return to the margins of society where real life is lived and where they can lend their resources, skills and blessings to people of a different race and social standing.
Finally, too few Churches and Christians have any idea, let alone a plan, for restoring and passing on life in the Kingdom as God intended from the beginning. Christians are living as if things can’t change. In fact, most Christians don’t have any clue as to why things must change. And that might be the saddest reality of all.