Communists and Constantine

31 08 2010

In this post I promise the following: Alliteration, details of two things I’ve read in the past few days, some questions, and absolutely no conclusions.


I was pleasantly surprised to read this article about the Chinese government showing increasing favour to the Christian Church.

After many years of oppressive and drastic restrictions against the Church, the Chinese government is now not merely tolerating, but investing in Christianity; offering financial support for buildings and development.

The Communist Party’s Director General of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, Wang Zuo An says:

On the question of whether there is God, the Chinese Communist Party believes there is no God in the world […] The Communist Party believes that it should respect and protect religious belief. The members of the party must respect religious followers and not infringe their interests.”

Thank you Wang.

I am naturally grateful for his position, and his willingness to show respect in spite of major philosophical differences

He adds:

Our goal in supporting these religions in developing religious education is that we hope they can train qualified clergy members so that their religions can enjoy better development.

So… having the state on your side. That can only be good, right?


I just finished reading Mark Kurlansky’s Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. It is essentially a history of warfare and pacifism, documenting examples of some of pacifism’s biggest successes and failures, and then drawing a few conclusions.

It’s punchy and engaging. There is plenty to say about it (for another day), and at various points I fluctuated between punching the air with joy and punching the book with disbelief. But for now, a lone comment about Constantine:

Then came the triumph of Christianity, a calamity from which the Church has never recovered […] One of history’s greatest lessons is that once the state embraces a religion, the nature of that religion changes radically […] This is not an exclusively Christian phenomenon. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism – all the great religions have been betrayed in the hands of people seeking political power and have been defiled and disgraced in the hands of nation-states.’

So… having the state on your side. Not so good after all?


I am neither a sociologist nor an historian. I approach stories like that of China with an initial burst of excitement. But the little I know about history causes me to stop and wonder… is it really as positive as I might think, hope and wish it to be? Is it true that acceptance by the state necessarily defiles or waters down a church’s effectiveness? I would certainly not wish oppression or persecution upon anyone. But then again, Jesus did say that “if the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. […] If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20)

Should we be grateful or wary when a hostile state shows favour to those of faith? Are Christians better off under Communism than Constantine, insomuch as the Chinese government has not fully embraced believers? There were no visions of crosses and calls to war; for that I’m certainly grateful. The party line is still ‘there is no God.’ When an atheistic government actively encourages the development of religions with which they fundamentally disagree, should we throw our hands up in praise or anguish? Should we be thankful or sceptical?

Brother Yun in his book The Heavenly Man famously wrote:

Once I spoke in the West and a Christian told me, “I’ve been praying for years that the Communist government in China will collapse, so Christians can live in freedom.” This is not what we pray! We never pray against our government or call down curses on them. Instead, we have learned that God is in control of both our lives and the government we live under […] God has used China’s government for His own purposes, moulding and shaping His children as He sees fit […] We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry but a stronger back to endure.

Is he right? How should I pray for my brothers in China? What about the Psalms that ask for God to curse oppressive nations? What about the promise that all authorities that exist have been instituted by God? Would my perspective differ if I didn’t live in a comfortable nation with the ability to worship freely? Undoubtedly it would, but how?

I don’t know.


Here are three things I am looking forward to; two in the coming year, and the third… well, who knows when?!

  • This year I get to have four days of teaching on Church history. My grasp of Church History is poor. My brain doesn’t naturally retain dates and names. But I hope to get a better grasp of the story of the Church’s development. After all, if I’m going to stand on the shoulders of giants, I ought at least to do them the courtesy of knowing their names!
  • One of the books I hope to read this year is Os Guinness’ The Case for Civility. I am intrigued and very much looking forward to hearing what he has to say on the subjects of pluralism, tolerance, and civility. How we articulate ourselves in a pluralistic society will only become more important in the coming years. I need to get clued up.
  • And finally, ‘After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12)

“Maranatha!” If for no other reason than to provide me with some answers.




2 responses

1 09 2010

Great post like you I’m interested to read that statement from China, it does appear that through history that Christianity has most thrived when it has been most threatened, although this is most often times the most uncomfortable time to be a Christian.

In one sense I see that persecution brings many benefits but on the other hand the fear of being separated from my wife, kidnapped, jailed or killed is not something I would look to with anticipation. The sad thing is that its a reality for many Christians all over the world today.

The Constantine scenario certainly complicated matters but lots of good has still been able to come of it and I’m sure that the Christians certainly welcomed some peace after a few hundred years of severe persecution under the Roman empire!

I just pray for places like China and North Korea that God will have his way no matter the circumstances.

Good-work and God-bless

1 09 2010

Absolutely. I wouldn’t wish persecution upon anyone and I’m constantly astonished at what believers endure in other countries. It humbles me as I cannot imagine how I would live under persecution…

Constantine is an interesting one. I’ve heard so many perspectives on his influence on Christianity, (and indeed whether he was genuinely converted) and I just don’t know whether his legacy was a positive or negative one. (It’s one of the periods I’m especially looking forward to studying in Church History this year, for that very reason). What amazes me most is that God’s will prevails no matter who is in power. And I, like you, just pray for him to achieve His purposes, safe in the knowledge that I don’t have to understand every detail of his plan to know it’s going to be good…

Thanks for your comment!

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