In the fourth century, Satan introduced a scheme to produce a simulation of the New Testament church on earth. It was initiated through the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire. According to plan, its form was ineffective for accommodating the function of shared life fellowship between God and man.
The devilish scheme was fulfilled by the intermarriage of the organic New Testament church with an inorganic simulation of the church. Supported by the Roman Empire, it was facilitated by a series of questionable events and governmental edicts.
“Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6)
Edict of Tolerance by Galerius
During the early part of his reign, the Roman Emperor Galerius (AD 293 to 311) was the source of severe persecution for the New Testament church. Ravaged by disease toward the end of his reign, however, he experienced a change of mind. Galerius came to believe that his suffering was the result of vengeance from the Christian God. In fear of God, he issued an edict of tolerance toward Christianity in AD 311. It allowed Christians not only the right to exist in the Roman Empire but to meet together.
The edict of Galerius did not establish Christianity as favorable but merely tolerable. Nevertheless, it was an early step that would lead to an eventual union between church and state.
Galerius’ co-emperor and eventual successor, Constantine I (AD 306-337), made more considerable progress in blending church and state. While some remember him as the “first Christian Emperor," others believe Constantine’s conversion to Christianity was questionable.
At least one account of the emperor’s conversion revealed that it was motivated by a private visit and a public vision. The early church historian Eusebius reports that when Constantine and his army were marching toward the battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312, they saw a vision in the sky. The vision consisted of a cross of light and the words "by this sign you will be victor." According to Eusebius, Christ appeared to Constantine that night and instructed him to place the heavenly sign on the battle standards of his army. Constantine attributed his subsequent victory in battle to the power of “the God of the Christians.” As a result of his vision, visit and victory, he developed a favorable stance toward Christianity.
The fruit of Constantine’s experience, however, does not seem to validate an actual conversion originating from God. To the contrary, history testifies that his post “conversion” life was not evidenced by the eternal fruit of living (zoe) works but by extravagant religious devotion. It led him to begin commingling church and state, altering both in a life-changing fashion.
Edict of Milan
In AD 313, Constantine and his co-emperor from the east, Licinius, issued the Edict of Milan, granting religious freedom to all citizens of the Roman Empire, including Christians. Philip Schaff (1819-1893), in his book, “History of the Christian Church,” notes that the Edict of Milan served to extend the scope of Galerius’ edict of AD 311. According to Schaff, Galerius’ edict had previously brought Christianity to a position of “hostile neutrality” in the Roman Empire. In contrast, the Edict of Milan elevated Christianity to a status of “friendly neutrality and protection.”
Once Christianity was elevated to the status of friendly and protected, the simulated church began to evolve rapidly. Representing the Roman state, Constantine called for several synods or councils of the church (AD 313-314). Roman coins were marked with Christian symbols (AD 315). Within four years, religious leaders were exempt from taxation (AD 319). Two years later, Sunday was declared an official day of rest or holiday (AD 321). Change in the Roman Empire was rapid and its influence on the church was significant.
Between AD 323-327, Constantine commissioned the construction of church buildings to serve as public meeting places for Christians. The buildings were designed according to the concept of the Roman civic meeting hall or basilica. In ancient Roman culture, the basilica was most often used for law courts but was also known to house civic business meetings and administrative offices. Commonly included in the features of the Roman basilica was a raised platform, otherwise known as the tribunal of the judge and the ambo. The ambo was the precursor of the modern pulpit.
The features of the basilica were reasonable for the management of legal or civic business. They served to set apart the civic leader in a position of authority and allowed him to moderate the discussion of law or business in an orderly fashion.
The design of the Roman basilica was practical for managing the legal and business affairs of a city. However, it could not provide a supportive environment for the shared life function of the New Testament church.
The church-state buildings commissioned by Constantine presented an environment that was public, impersonal, cold, and sterile. Nevertheless, they were adequate to accommodate large group meetings.
The church-state buildings contributed to the segregation of the simulated church into two classes of adherents; clergy and laity. The clergy (priesthood) was assigned to teach about God, rule the church for Him, and promote religious activity for its members. The contribution of laity was unneeded. Therefore, the common man soon became responsible for little more than attendance. Thus, his role in the church-state building gradually evolved to passive listening, learning about God, and following the legalistic, religious practice prescribed by the clergy.
Facilitated by the advent of the church-state building, the simulated church was characterized by the division of the church body into two separate groups. They consisted of priestly leadership and large passive audiences referred to as “laymen.”
In Name Only
The development of the simulated church caused a momentous change in the public perception of the church. Shortly after their origination, the church-state buildings were identified by names such as “The Church of St. John.” As a result, the public began to identify the church with a building and a name that accommodated the practice of organized religion. Thus, the perception of the church as a living (zoe) organism quickly faded.
Largely a product of the Roman state, the simulated church was inorganic by nature. Its public, sterile buildings sanctioned by the state; divided physical congregations; cold, impersonal meetings characterized by legalistic, religious activity for God; human headship providing oversight by compulsion; and passive laity all provided evidence of a lifeless (zoe) church that could operate for God apart from His direct influence.
Council of Nicea
In AD 325, the original Council of Nicea convened under the direction of Emperor Constantine. Estimated to have been attended by 250-318 church leaders from around the Roman Empire, it was considered the first ecumenical meeting of the church.
The Council gathered for the primary purpose of settling a doctrinal disagreement known as the Arian controversy. Arianism, promoted by the theologian Arius (AD 250-336), presented a challenge to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
According to Clemens Petersen, “It was the first time the Christian Church and the Roman State met each other face to face; and the impression was very deep on both sides. When the emperor stood there, among the three hundred and eighteen bishops, tall, clad in purple and jewels, with his peculiarly haughty and sombre mien, he felt disgusted at those coarse and cringing creatures who one moment scrambled sportively around him to snatch up a bit of his munificence, and the next flew madly into each other’s faces for some incomprehensible mystery. Nevertheless, he learnt something from those people. He saw that with Christianity was born a new sentiment in the human heart hitherto unknown to mankind, and that on this sentiment the throne could be rested more safely than on the success of a court-intrigue, or the victory of a hired army”.
The Council of Nicea resulted in agreement between church leaders about Christian doctrine. It was known as the original Nicene Creed.
Nevertheless, there are two glaring truths often overlooked by church historians regarding the Council of Nicea. First, it was called together under the authority of a state ruler who then used the power of the state to implement the Council’s decisions. Second, the Council of Nicea constituted a significant step in further galvanizing the partnership or marriage between church and state.
Legacy of Constantine
Within the realm of the simulated Roman church, Constantine is often considered a hero of the faith. However, many within the broader realm of Christendom hold a different viewpoint. They believe that Constantine’s conversion to Christ was uncertain.
If the conversion of Constantine was not divine in origin, his interest in the church was innately selfish, merely the result of collusion between satanic inspiration, eternity in his heart, and his fallen nature. It is a distinct possibility supported by the teaching of the Bible and church history.
The historic record appears to testify that Constantine was not a hero of the faith. Instead, the fruit of his works provided evidence that he was nothing more than a powerful religious man who initiated a simulation of the church with inorganic form and function. If true, Constantine was instrumental in altering the public perception of Christ and His body on earth for the last 1700 years.
Transition and Turmoil
Constantine died twelve years after the Council of Nicea (AD 337). During the 43 years following his death, seventeen different emperors ruled the Roman Empire. Included in the number were Constantine’s sons, Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans. It was a time of transition and turmoil both within the empire and the church.
In AD 379, Theodosius I became emperor of both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. The following year he experienced a severe illness and, as a result, “converted” to Christianity. Shortly after his conversion, Theodosius I proclaimed Christianity to be the official state religion of the Roman Empire.
According to his edict in AD 380, Theodosius I stated, “It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our clemency and moderation should continue to the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation, and second, the punishment that our authority, in accordance with the will of heaven, shall decide to inflict” [Theodosian Code XVI.1.2; and Sozomen, VII, iv].
By edict of Theodosius I, the simulated church became accountable to Roman state law and regulation. The emperor had utterly failed to discern the organic function and form of the original church and replaced it with the controlling, inorganic, organizational strategy of fallen man. As a result, Theodosius I served to consummate the marriage of church and state.
In a very short time Christianity became the favored religion in the Roman Empire. Within less than 70 years, it progressed from not tolerated and persecuted to tolerated, then favorable and finally to the official state religion. Relative in part to this seemingly miraculous transition, it was not long until the New Testament church would fall prey to the seductive appeal of the Roman church.
In a worldly sense, the state religion of the Roman Empire was seductively appealing. It not only offered peace where it had not existed before, but its doctrine appeared plausible, and its appearance was glorious.
The simulated Roman church appeared to provide the opportunity for the practice of faith without conflict. For almost 300 years, the Roman Empire had been anything but favorable toward the New Testament church. On the contrary, it had been an object of terror, fear, destruction, and death. Therefore, favorable status in the empire and a resultant offer of peace must have appeared to be the result of divine blessing.
In addition, the religious doctrine of the simulated church was persuasive. It appeared credible and beneficent and was presumed to be supported by Holy Scripture. However, the doctrine of the simulated church was a deceptive commingling of truth and lies, containing just enough truth to make the lies palatable. (cf. Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13) Further, it was supported by the Roman Empire and the influential presence of grandiose buildings, lavish costumes, and religious liturgy.
Plausible in authenticity and glorious in appearance, the seductive appeal of the simulated Roman church was difficult to ignore. The unfortunate consequence of its appeal was a mixed marriage between the New Testament and Roman churches. It was the equivalent of commingling the living (zoe) with the dead.
It was not surprising that the simulated Roman church was appealing to the fallen citizens of the world. However, it was stunning that it was capable of deceiving even the elect. Beguiled by its seductive appeal, some within the living (zoe) ecclesia of God were willing to relinquish the substance of Christ for the mere shadow of religiosity. (cf. Colossians 2:17)
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My People.’ ‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean;’ ‘And I will welcome you.’ ‘And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
Evolution of the Simulated Church
The simulated church, supported by the government of the Roman state, evolved into an unparalleled religious organization. In addition to physical congregations and civic style buildings with identifying names, it became recognized by the distinguishing robes or costumes of its clergy, lecture-style sermons (made popular by John Chrysostom, c. AD 380), and organized choirs (AD 400).
Within another hundred years, an order of worship or liturgy became deeply rooted (AD 500). Only 50 years later, Pope Gregory the Great authored a book on the pastoral duties of the priest. The seven duties included visiting the sick, teaching doctrine, performing marriage ceremonies, infant baptism, conducting mass, burying the dead, and blessing local events. After the Protestant Reformation, the seven pastoral duties were passed forward to the protestant church. Although unbiblical, they continue to be observed in both Catholic and protestant churches today.
The actual practice of a paid priesthood did not become widespread until about AD 900. Nevertheless, the clergy had begun receiving numerous benefits from the Roman government as early as the fourth century. Eventually, early Roman church traditions were weaved into contemporary thinking and even imposed upon translations of the New Testament.
From its inception until the 16th century, God allowed the simulated Roman church to continue its evolution on the broad path of organized, lifeless (zoe) religion. Among many other unscriptural, religious practices, it sold indulgences (the purchase of forgiveness for sin), certificates ensuring the passage of dead relatives to heaven, and leadership positions in the church.
Church buildings also grew more prominent and more extravagant. Monolithic structures known as cathedrals were erected. Lives and fortunes were invested. Therefore, disagreement and dissension were taken very seriously. In time, people numbering in the millions were tortured or put to death for their perceived divergence of opinion.
For more than 1000 years after its inception, the simulated Roman church continued to evolve as a worldly, religious organization. Its evolution has been characterized by unscriptural doctrine, unscrupulous practice, and unparalleled power.
© 2023 James Hiatt