Updated: Mar 27, 2021
When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity he made Christianity the state religion in the “Edict of Milan” in 312 A.D. This was the biggest single derailment in the history of the church. Christians, who had suffered under relentless persecution for centuries, hailed him as their champion and began to relax. In short order, pagan temples were confiscated by the state and handed over to Christians for places of worship. A distinct caste of priests arose creating an artificial separation between a professional priesthood and a mostly passive “laity.” This is what was at the heart of the Nicolaitan heresy condemned in Revelation. (2:6) Thus, the great divide between clergy and laity not only gained momentum but became sanctioned, sealed, entrenched and protected by the state. The simple church had become institutionalized and increasingly focused on elaborate rituals and religious pageantry – in a foolish attempt to project an air of wonder, majesty and grandeur as a poor substitute for the glory of God that had long since departed. It was a fulfillment of Paul’s prophetic words that the church would have a; “a form of godliness but denied the power therein.” (II Timothy 3:5) The church quickly morphed into a man‑made organization rather than a God‑made organism. It grew in power, prestige and wealth but lost its spiritual power, passion and true purpose in the process. She lost her unique identity as a prophetic counter‑culture, supernaturally different from the patterns of this world, and became a celebrated “insider” instead. In effect, the kingdoms of this world had succeeded in absorbing the “kingdom of God” into its fold and molding it into its worldly image. This downward spiral continued for 1,200 years until the “Protestant Reformation.” One very telling commentary on this was summed up in the poignant story involving Thomas Aquinas. As he entered the chamber of the Pope he saw that priests were counting stacks of gold coins. The Pope looked up and said; “You see, Thomas, the church can no longer say; ‘Silver & Gold have I none!” To which he replied; “True, but neither can she say to the lame man, ‘rise up and walk.’”
As the early church became more and more absorbed into the state religion of Rome, the house church became increasingly marginalized and dismissed in favor of the state-sanctioned church with an emphasis on temples and cathedrals for gathering. In AD 380 bishops Theodosius and Gratian ordered that there should be only one state‑recognized church, and one set of orthodox faith – the officially sanctioned dogma. It became mandatory for each Roman citizen to become a member of the catholic church and was made to accept the “lex Fidei” ‑ the law of faith. This force flooded the church with unregenerate pagans who brought all their religious trappings, superstitions and idolatrous beliefs into the church. Pagan religious practices were rapidly assimilated into the Roman church. Other groups or movements were expressly forbidden – including those that still met in houses. This decree spelled the effective end of the house church and made it illegal. From that point on gathering in a house-church meant breaking the law and becoming a criminal. A new era began: the persecution of the church in the name of the church.