Michael Brown Asks, ‘Can Christians Handle Political Power?’

It’s the perennial question going back to Constantine in the fourth century of this era. How much power can Christians handle? Put another way, are we better off when we are the persecuted minority or the empowered majority?

One of my friends, who lived in Israel for 16 years, was speaking with an Iranian Christian leader. He asked him, “Would you like to go back to the days of the Shah, when Christians had full religious liberty?”

The Iranian friend replied, “Absolutely not. The church is thriving now under Islamic persecution and growing like never before. We’re actually praying for more persecution.”

Yet in past centuries, the church in parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa was almost entirely wiped out by fierce Islamic persecution. Historian John Phillip Jenkins wrote an entire book on the subject titled, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died. Certainly, for those Christians, persecution brought more death than growth.

But perhaps we’re looking at this in too extreme forms.

What about here in America? Does the church do better with persecution (as limited as it may be, comparatively speaking) or with prosperity? Do we pray more, witness more and work harder for change when we have hostile administrations in power or friendly administrations in power? Do we look to God more when the government is against us and look to Him less when the government is for us?

Going back to the days of Constantine, Gene Edward Veith wrote, “The Edict of Milan in A.D. 313 legalized Christianity. Toleration of this new faith in Rome was not a gradual development. It happened suddenly, right after some of the most brutal persecutions of Christians. Soon, Roman officials were kissing the broken hands of Christian confessors whom they had tortured. Quickly, paganism faded as the official religion of the Roman Empire, only to be replaced by the Christian church. Christianity, once despised and persecuted, emerged from the catacombs in triumph. Whereupon its problems really began.”

The great Methodist leader John Wesley saw things in similar terms, stating in one of his sermons, “Persecution never did, never could, give any lasting wound to genuine Christianity. But the greatest it ever received, the grand blow which was struck at the very root of that humble, gentle, patient love, which is the fulfilling of the Christian law, the whole essence of true religion, was struck in the fourth century by Constantine the Great, when he called himself a Christian, and poured in a flood of riches, honours, and power upon the Christians; more especially upon the Clergy.”

And it was largely downhill from there, according to Wesley.

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SOURCE: Charisma News