In AD 312, Constantine was facing a battle for control of the Western Roman Empire. He had a vision of a cross in the sky hearing the words, “In this sign, you shall conquer.” When you see a cross with the three letters “IHS” it refers to the vision of Constantine: IHS means “in hoc signo” or, “in this sign.” Constantine won that battle at the Tiber River, became the emperor of the Western Empire, and a year later signed the Edict of Milan along with the Emperor of the Eastern Empire. The Edict of Milan ended the persecution of Christianity and other religions in the Roman Empire and opened the door to many freedoms for the church. It wasn’t long before the Church moved from being persecuted to becoming the dominant force in society.
This was not only a paradigm shift for the Church, it was a paradigm shift for the whole world. The Church moved from becoming the persecuted minority religion to the dominant, ruling force in the world. It would be easy to make the argument that in many ways the Church failed to live up to the potential such power had. In fact, political power in many ways has hurt the Church. Society today is taking a long look at the future and there seems to be a trend towards finding ways to subjugate the Church’s influence in the world. If that happens, the gospel will still be proclaimed. God will speak to men like Cornelius who sought after the gospel and brought Peter to explain it to a houseful of Gentiles. The paradigm shift began at his house. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” (Acts 10:44)
As you read the book of Acts, there is a common feature to changes in the plans of the Church. The Holy Spirit appears in a special way to the first batch of new believers from a group. Philip had many converts in Samaria and when the apostles came down to check on what was going on, the Holy Spirit fell upon the Samaritan believers. Here, Peter’s speaking to a bunch of Gentiles and in the middle of the sermon, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message of salvation. To a Jew at that time, arguments were held over who the number one enemy of Israel was: the Samaritans or the Romans. God ended that question as far as the Church was concerned by sending the Holy Spirit to indwell people from both groups. It was a paradigm shift for Christianity taking it from an obscure sect of Judaism to a vibrant religion based on the ability of anyone to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ by receiving forgiveness of sins through His name.
As the culture changes in today’s world many in the Church are fighting the loss of social and political power. We see that in the news. We see that in our everyday interactions with people. There’s nothing wrong with followers of Christ seeking the right to live out their beliefs without government interference. The death of those rights, though, does not mean the death of the church. The death of those rights means that God’s people will have to deal with the paradigm shift and find ways to continue to proclaim the love of God and the forgiveness of sins through the name of Jesus. We may moan the loss of power, but if we spend all of our time doing that and not working towards being able to share the word of God in any situation, we will lose out on a golden opportunity to touch the lives of people for Jesus. Our circumstances may change. Our method of proclamation may change. Our message remains the same. “No matter who you are; no matter what you’ve done; there is hope for you in the name of Jesus.”
Lord, times are changing. Prepare our hearts for the differences that You know about already. Help me to be ready to proclaim Your message of forgiveness and grace in the name of Jesus to all people.