Fragments of Iron

In this post we will seek to understand the ‘fragments of iron’, the Christian clergy, the rulers of the fifth, and final, human kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar's dream.

Bishops usurp control of Christianity.

During the ‘Apostolic Period’ most Christians met in private homes and maintained family-like relationships with virtually no hint of dictatorial leadership by the apostles.

However, during the second and third centuries, the hierarchical nature of Christianity began to take shape. Virtually every city soon had a Christian bishop controlling the life and practice of ordinary Christians, the laity, in their region.

How much control did these bishops wish to exercise?

Here are a handful of examples from Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (100AD), extracted from three known letters;

It becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust.

 

Give heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you.

 

It is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp.

 

Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.

 

It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.

 

It is becoming, therefore, that you should be obedient to your bishop, and contradict him in nothing; for it is a fearful thing to contradict any such person.

 

As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do you anything without the bishop and presbyters.”

Seven examples from three letters written by one bishop in one city within the Roman Empire!

In the centuries to follow, these hierarchical ambitions would soon harden into soulless, hierarchical organisations that had the appearance of godliness but denied its power” (1 Timothy 3.5).

By the close of the third century, these power-hungry, fractious bishops were in full control of Christianity. And, having traded the power of true godliness for organisational power, these Christian bishops were hungry and willing to embrace an all-powerful Roman Empire.

Imagine what they could achieve with the levers of state in their hands!

The Devil’s Deal.

By 300AD, the Christian population represented about 10% of the Roman Empire. Christianity had become the largest organised religion within the Roman Empire; in reality, an empire within an empire.

While Constantine’s predecessor considered Christianity a threat, Constantine viewed these power-hungry bishops as potential allies; Christianity could become the unifying, religious ideology Constantine needed to replace the failing pagan religions.

His first overture to Christian bishops was the Edict of Milan issued in 313AD. The edict restored church properties that had been confiscated during previous waves of persecution and ushered in a new dispensation of religious toleration.

However, there was one, serious drawback to Christianity as a unifying force within the empire; Christian bishops were embroiled in raging disputes, the most fractious being over the nature of Jesus Christ. So fractious were these disputes, that opposing groups of Christians, were appointing competing bishops in each city.

For Christianity to be of any use to Constantine, he needed to end these disputes. His solution was an ecumenical church council to be held in the city of Nicaea in 325AD. Over three hundred Bishops from across the Roman Empire were invited to attend, of which about two hundred actually made it to Nicaea.

The Council of Nicaea would determine whether Christianity was Constantine’s friend or foe.

The bishops had to declare a victor for Christianity to be of any value to Constantine.

The stakes could not have been higher for the bishops in Nicaea.

The bishops of the winning faction would be showered with unprecedented wealth and power, while the losing bishops would have to retreat into obscurity.

Had the bishops failed to declare a victor, none would have left Nicaea alive.

Constantine’s ruthlessness had already been well-demonstrated. He had already eliminated three co-rulers in quick succession, as well as his eleven year old nephew. He would not have allowed the head of this Christian foe to escape and, no doubt, a new wave of persecution would soon follow.

The bishops accepted the devil’s offer and declared a winner, Nicaean Christianity with its central doctrine of the trinity.

The Christian Empire had been conceived.

But take note, these Christian bishops had just accepted the very offer that the Lord Jesus Christ had rejected almost three hundred years earlier! See Matthew 4.8 – 10.

A bishop’s checkmate.

After the Council of Nicaea, Christian bishops would steadily increase their influence over the Roman Empire.

Christianity gained control over the Roman Empire when, in 390AD, Ambrose, the wily bishop of Milan, managed to outmanoeuvre and humiliate the Roman Emperor, Theodosius, during an eight-month stand-off at the cathedral in Milan. The Roman Empire in Europe would collapse soon after.

The Christian Empire was born.

For the next one thousand six hundred years, power-hungry Christian bishops dominated European affairs; the remnants of the Roman Empire in Europe. The 'fragments of iron' mixed with the clay in a brittle marriage.

By the sixteenth century, European Christianity dominated global affairs as the imperial powers of Europe expanded their reach into every corner of the globe.

Today, with over two and a half billion followers across the globe, Christianity is still the largest empire in world history.

The final human kingdom.

Christianity is the fifth and final human kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

Next comes the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that will never end.

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