Bottom line; Constantine got it wrong and we’ve been living with the consequences of his error (sin) for nearly 1700 years.
You see Jesus never intended to set up a new religion at all, let alone one that would hold as much power over civilization as Christianity would one day command. On the contrary, Jesus wanted to tear down the old religious system and replace it with a new kind of covenant that would provide people direct access to the father without the need for a religious or political system at all. Remember the Jews only had a king in the first place as a result of a compromise God made with them through the profit Samuel. The entire political structure of the Old Testament was never part of God’s original plan. The fact that the Christian Church would eventually join with the state and form one of the most powerful political forces on the planet, a force that would leave oppression, coercion, torture and outright murder in its’ wake is a tragedy of epic proportions.
It is true that Christianity has lost a lot of its political power. The Catholic Church has been in decline since Gutenburg invented the printing press and Luther encouraged people to start to read the Bible. More recently authors like Charles Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have advanced the view that religion in general is nothing more than a relic of the dark ages and one of the last hold outs against enlightenment.
While I disagree with Hitchens and Dawkins on the broader points I do not dispute or lament the fact that Christian political power is on the decline. In fact I welcome it. The subtitle of Christopher Hitches 2007 book couldn’t be more correct, “god is not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything.” [Emphasis mine]
The truth is that Jesus never meant for us to hold real power over people anyway and it all starts with the way he viewed his kingdom.
"My kingdom," said Jesus, "doesn't consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn't be handed over to the Jews. But I'm not that kind of king, not the world's kind of king." Jesus (John 18:36 The Message)
It is important to remember that the New Testament was written in a time when freedom of religion for Christians simply did not exist. There is plenty of teaching, from both the apostles and Jesus himself on how to react to oppression, stand up for human rights and submit to authority but no teaching that gives any adequate instruction on how to steward political power or which would give credence to a Just War theory.
Why? Because the authors didn’t have any religious freedom! Most of the New Testament was written from prison cells.
When Christians kill they usurp God’s authority. The bible is rife with stories of God’s mercy against even the most corrupt and sinful regimes. God is merciful and when he decides to end someone’s life he doesn’t need our help, the cities of Saddam and Gamorah were destroyed by a natural disaster and Ananias simply dropped dead.
I’m over my self-imposed 500 word limit and I can already hear your objections. What about the God sanctioned wars and killing in the Old Testament? What about Hitler? I’ll get to that but I had to layout the frame work first.
Up next Pacifism vs. Jihad. Stay tuned.