Summary: Thanks to Constantine’s move, the church gradually began to think of its universality as power rather than as an evangelical mandate. Christ is to be lord of our political life, our cultural life, our everyday life -- every aspect.
Christ is lord of all! What a bold statement! Maybe even an arrogant statement! Lord of all? Do we believe that?
It was said of one preacher that “for tender minds he served up half a Christ.” Behind that lie two realities – first, that many of us don’t want the full gospel, we’d rather just have religion; and second, that many preachers just give people what they want and not what they need. For tender minds we serve up half a Christ. And maybe give you a buzz for the moment, but nothing that nurtures, nothing that stays around. We are tempted to serve nothing but dessert and call it a meal; but anybody who has ever tried that knows that no sooner has the sugar high left you but you are hungry again.
I hope today to serve up more than half a Christ and more than a dessert gospel. I hope to share the measure of the full stature of Christ and a broad gospel.
Christ is lord of all things. His church has received a gift of universal scope, a wide-ranging responsibility. We the church have been given a gift of representing Christ’s lordship in all things. The full gospel is the mind-stretching, heart-firing, gut-wrenching idea that in Jesus Christ, all things come together. To Him all things are subjected. And the church of Jesus Christ, if it is to be faithful, is to receive all things from Him and is to claim all things for Him. Christ is lord of all.
Wow! Are you up for that? Do you think you can take a full gospel message this morning? Do you think your mind can range and roam over all things – from the tiniest subatomic particle to the ten thousandth galaxy flung into outer space? Are you ready to think about everything from the smallest personal decisions to the most far-reaching political policies?
Well, pastor, the Redskins do play Dallas at one o’clock today. Don’t take more than twenty minutes to talk about “all things”! I understand. So let me first condense the message; then give you some history; and then show you what a wonderful gift we have been given. We have been given the gift of claiming all things for Christ, the gift of universality.
Here is my message, thoroughly condensed; take this away, whether you get anything else or not: Unless Christ is lord of all, He cannot be lord at all. Do you agree? Will you repeat that with me? Unless Christ is lord of all, He cannot be lord at all.
Now for a very short history lesson. In the year 312 AD, at the Battle of the Mulvian Bridge, a general named Constantine was fighting for control of the Roman Empire. Constantine, it is said, saw in the sky a cross, and the Latin words which translate, “In this sign conquer.” “In this sign – the sign of the cross – conquer.” Constantine took that to mean that if he would convert to the Christian faith, the battle would go his way. So he did convert, the battle was won, he went on to be emperor, and in short order not only did Constantine remove the laws which prohibited the Christian faith, but he then put in place laws which forced people to be Christian! This emperor, in the fourth century, in one fell swoop, took the Christian church from being an illegal society, despised and persecuted, to the top of the social heap. The only legal religion. How’s that for a success story?
And so about a century after Constantine, when the leaders of the church gathered to write a new doctrinal statement, they were no longer persecuted and harried followers of an illegal cult. They were princes of a far-flung church. They were proud leaders of a rich and powerful institution. They were light years beyond the poverty and the faith of the early church. Before Constantine, you could lose your life for preaching the gospel; after Constantine, you could get rich living from the gospel. Before Constantine, you had to hide and worship in secret if you wanted to follow Christ; after Constantine, you could build stately churches, wear glorious robes, and stand at the emperor’s right hand, giving advice and wielding power. What a change!
And so when these church leaders gathered to adopt a new statement, they wrote that they affirmed one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. The word catholic just means universal. It doesn’t speak of a particular denomination. The catholic church means the universal church, the church that is spread over the whole world, the church that is involved in everything, the church that is to influence every aspect of life. One holy catholic or universal church.
The problem is, however, that that church began to think of its universality as power. As that church grew in wealth and strength, it saw the gift of universality as the opportunity to take power for itself. It tore down its small buildings and built larger and grander ones. It walked away from sharing with the poor and began to amass great wealth for its inner circle. It sponsored crusades to convert whole nations by force. It forgot that wherever there is power, power corrupts, and that church failed to use its gift of universality for the poor and the needy. That church lost sight of the last, the least, and the lost. That church gave up its soul. It failed to be faithful. It blew its opportunity.