The Good and Bad of Christendom

Christianity began to be the dominant influence over the worldview and theology of western civilization.

Because Emperor Constantine confessed himself to be a Christian and Theodosius later made Christianity the official religion of the empire, significant numbers of people now began to attend church and identify with Christianity, many of whom had never truly converted. In one sense this was positive—scores of people were now exposed to the Word of God; but it also led to many people believing that citizenship in the empire equated with being a Christian, removing the necessity for sincere personal faith in Christ.

 

The legalization of Christianity by Roman Emperor Constantine I (272–337) in 313 with his Edict of Milan marked the beginning of a period lasting up to the Reformation and Enlightenment that some call “Christendom.” Religious toleration in the empire created conditions for the freedom and growth of Christianity to be sure, but when in 391 Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the Roman Empire’s official religion and in the following year outlawed any form of pagan worship, the church began to be the controlling influence in the entirety of the empire.

This shifted what had once been a severely persecuted church to the center of western society, eventually leading to what many believed to be a “Christian civilization.” From an evangelical perspective, the dominance of Christian thought during this period had some positive results culturally and even theologically, including for corporate worship.

First, persecution against Christians ceased, allowing for freedom of worship, which also provided for the expansion of the liturgy. Additionally, pagan influence over the broader culture was progressively limited significantly, and the church was granted more moral impact in the society at large.

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