Close Your Church for Good, Chap. 1, Sec. 6.
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Following His victory over temptation, Jesus began His ministry, gathered and taught disciples, then died on the cross and rose again from the dead. In His resurrection, He gained what Satan had promised, but Jesus gained it according to the will and ways of God, not in selfishness, but in service; not in power, but in humility; not in riches, fame, honor, and glory, but in poverty, weakness, shame, and relative obscurity. Before He ascended to heaven, He instructed His disciples to follow His example, and pass on the training that He had given them.
Over the next few centuries, the followers of Jesus did their best. But it was tough. They faced constant threats from the government and the military. Some of them lost their jobs, their families, and even their lives. They were scorned and ridiculed. And yet, as they served and loved others, gave self-sacrificially of their time and possessions, offered forgiveness and grace when wronged, and lived faithfully to the example of Jesus, the message about Jesus continued to spread and lives were changed.
But then something happened. The temptations came back around. As more and more people became followers of Jesus, the focus of many Christians began to shift. The emphasis began to move away from self-sacrifice, service, generosity, humility, and peace, and toward power, influence, prominence, authority, recognition, and control. This is seen in a variety of ways. Out of pure motives to protect and educate new believers, church leaders began to consolidate power and control. They created a hierarchy of religious leaders who helped develop rules of morality and decide which understandings of Scripture were correct. They tried to increase their influence in society by gaining more followers and defending Christian beliefs against the claims of philosophy and other religions.
One of the greatest shifts came when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity after he defeated his enemies under the sign of the cross. As a result of this victory, he declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Mass conversions followed. Thousands of pagan temples were transformed into places of Christian worship. Almost overnight, Christianity became rich, powerful, and prominent. It also became a tool of the Empire, blessing the Empire’s wars, approving the Empire’s laws, and installing the Empire’s rulers. In exchange, the Empire gave the church land, money, and buildings. The church had gained power.
In his book, The Myth of the Christian Religion, Gregory Boyd describes the transition this way:
Once the Church acquired power over others, everything changed. A movement that began by viewing the acquisition of political and military power as a satanic temptation now viewed it as a divine blessing. A movement that was birthed by Christ refusing to conquer his enemies in order to die for them now set out to conquer enemies—for Christ. The faith that previously motivated people to trust in the power of the cross now inspired them to trust in the power of the sword. Those who had previously understood that their job was to serve the world now aspired to rule it. The community that once pointed to their love for enemies and refusal to engage in violence as proof of Christ’s lordship now pointed to their ability to violently defeat enemies as proof of Christ’s lordship.
Whereas Jesus has turned down selfish individualism, power, control, riches, fame, recognition, and glory as a means of accomplishing His mission, the church fully embraced such things as a means to spread the Gospel, fulfill the Great Commission, and expand the Kingdom of God on earth.