AD 284: Persecution
This is the story of two people. Though they never met, they were indirectly involved in each other’s lives. One was rich, and one was poor. One was powerful and the other was nobody. One was a commoner who became emperor of the Roman empire, the other was born a commoner and remained one. Most important, one was a pagan and the other was a Christian.
Fifteen-year-old Mark had heard stories about the persecutions of the past. But all he had ever known was peace, and in his youthful innocence, he didn’t realize how quickly this could change.
But in AD 284, Diocletian was crowned emperor of Rome. A decade later, soon after Mark set up his own home, Diocletian set loose the demons of hell on the Church. The persecution lasted less than a decade, but it was the worst that Christians had ever experienced. And Mark and his wife Lydia were caught right in the middle.
They had a choice. They could give up their faith and live. Maybe even prosper.
Or they could stand firm. And probably die…
But Diocletian had a choice too. He could retain the pax deorum (the “peace of the gods”) and force all Romans to accept all the gods. Or he could allow Romans to make their own spiritual choices and risk a religious chaos which might anger the gods and destroy Rome.
AD 312: Toleration
What happens when the world’s most powerful man decides to support the cause of a lowly Galilean carpenter? And why would a young Christian leader resist this idea?
Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to acknowledge Christianity’s right to exist. He claimed that Jesus had given him a vision that led to his victory over the superior armies of his arch-enemy Maxentius. Soon anyone who wanted to get anywhere in the upper levels of the Roman government had to identify as a Christian.
Servus was a young church leader during Constantine’s reign. He and his wife rejoiced with many of their fellow-Christians when Constantine announced the emancipation of Christianity. But as time went on, he noticed the repercussions of the changes taking place.
Can Christianity survive under the patronage of a Roman emperor? And what happens when people resist the changes he wants to make? Will Servus and his congregation be able to maintain the concepts Jesus taught during the heady years when Christianity turned into a social club patronized by the world’s most powerful soldiers and politicians?
AD 360: Rationalized
What does the church do when the emperor turns his back on Christianity because of the hypocrisy of family members who profess Christianity but don’t practice it? Does it learn any lessons from this?
Constantine’s youngest son, Julian, turned against Christianity and determined to wipe it out. Some of his earliest memories were of his family being slaughtered at the orders of his “Christian” half brothers. He was determined to return the Roman Empire to its golden years of paganism. However, he only had about three years to accomplish his grand experiment.
Andrew thought the years of persecution were just memories. Now the church, and his family, were faced with an emperor who had some different ideas about persecution. At first, it seemed like this wasn’t so bad. But Julian was no idiot—he had been raised in the church and he had some shrewd ideas about what it would take to destroy it.
How will Andrew cope with needing to send his children to a school taught by pagans? How will he react when his bishop is replaced by one who teaches heresy? And what is he going to do when he discovers that the protection of law and order no longer applies to Christians, even though it continues to protect his pagan neighbors against him? Intellectualized
AD 380: Choices
How long can the church survive with two powerful rulers; an emperor and a bishop who both feel that they have the divine right to make decisions? What happens when they clash and the bishop excommunicates the emperor? And what happens to the ordinary people who just want to be part of God’s kingdom and follow Jesus?
Theodosius became emperor in 379 and in 380 he issued the edict that eventually resulted in Christianity becoming the only legal religion in Rome. But Theodosius found himself locking horns with the empire’s most powerful bishop, Ambrose.
Ambrose was a very rigid protector of the Catholic church. When Theodosius punished some Catholic radicals for burning a Jewish synagogue, Ambrose came to their protection. Theodosius backed down, probably marking the first time that a bishop won a political victory of this magnitude over an emperor.
Cyrus grew up in a Christian home. He had ecclesiastical training but chose to be merchant rather than a priest. His interests in the Kingdom of God describe in the New Testament often clashed with what he saw within the church, which had by this time become a powerful political force rather than a spiritual force for good. This finally leads him to make a decision that put him in total opposition to both the political rulers and spiritual rulers of Rome.
It was not a decision that anyone made lightly, but he was not the only person who faced it. Some decided one way, and some decided the other way. The repercussions of these decisions lasted for an entire millennium.