The other day I was wondering when in history Christians changed from a tame, persecuted minority to a group of empowered crusaders. Something must have led them to feel emboldened enough to crusade, even if it was in the name of evangelizing.
Upon further research, I discovered many historians note a significant shift from persecuted minority to empowered majority between 313 and 325 A.D., the Constantine empire.
Some view this time as a new lease on life for the Christian faith. Christians were no longer targeted as they had been under the Roman Empire and were even celebrated. Constantine turned previously pagan traditions into many of the Christian traditions we still celebrate today.
But some theologians do not believe this marriage between the Constantine government and the Church was a good thing, and they believe it even weakened the faith.
A pastor I know once said, "If you read the instructions to the Church in the New Testament, it is not in the context of a Christian nation, but rather as a small persecuted minority. This is why there is such a focus to prepare to be either persecuted or even killed for one's faith."
The Church in America often laments about losing its status as a Christian nation when a culture war occurs. But could it be that we were never intended to Christianize a nation?
In His teachings, Christ put a great deal of emphasis on kingdom come: both what His followers are capable of doing here on earth and the kingdom that awaits us. When we pour all our energy into preserving a Christian nation, we risk losing focus on our work of kingdom come. Evangelism is impacted because our energy is spent elsewhere, and because abrasive Christians who fight for their rights over the rights of others turn off those they are trying to reach.
When we busy ourselves with fighting legal battles to maintain a place of privilege, we are spending time, money and energy that would be better spent helping the poor and disenfranchised. When we get so wrapped up in following those who claim to protect a Christian nation, it becomes difficult to analyze whether they are truly working to advance the kingdom of God.
Our faith becomes a warped version of nationalism, resulting in destructive consequences. It seems that throughout history, Christians have often had good intentions that ended up doing a great deal of damage. The crusades, imperialism and even some missionary stations caused more harm than good. Our dedication to preserving a Christian nation falls into the same category and is something I believe we will regret in the future.
It takes some honest self-evaluation and introspection for us to ensure we stop making mistakes we may not recognize now, but will regret in the future.
While working with persecuted Christians, I have learned a great deal from their faith. The Bible says our faith is refined by persecution, and I have witnessed this from Christians in more than 60 countries where they face persecution. It is enduring persecution that has deepened their faith, not being part of a Christian nation.
I am not advocating that we seek persecution, but rather that we do not try so hard to avoid it. We need to accept the challenges inherent to faith rather than strive for Christian nationalism — which results in a watered-down version of what faith should really be.
Let us be the catalyst for change and go back to the roots of our faith, so we can have a better chance of expanding the kingdom of God — both here on earth and the one that awaits us.