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71 - In the Heart of the City

Some change is hard to see. Most things change slowly over a long period of time. If you have kids, you understand this. Because you see your kids every day, the changes they are going through aren’t that noticeable. But to Grandam Susie, or Uncle Ted, who only see them once or twice a year, “my how you’ve have grown,” or “look how big you’ve gotten” are common sentiments.

During the Patristic Period, The Church was growing. The Church was growing up. The Church was growing up into power and prominence. During the four-hundred-year span of the Patristic Period, the Church was changing. The focus of the Church was changing. The Church was becoming an institutional power in the Western World. The Church was becoming a power to be reckoned with. But that power came from the State.

In 380, Emperor Theodosius I issued the Edict of Thessalonica, making Christianity the official religion of Rome (En.10). So much was going on in the Church at this time. The Church was growing and gaining influence and power. It was also reorganizing itself in a new way, under that new power. The Church now had the power of an Empire with which to establish itself. As a result, that small change instigated by Ignatius of Antioch early in the second century was having major consequences.

The power of Rome wasn’t just vested in the Church, or local churches. It was vested in a single individual over a local church, The Elder of Elders, The Bishop Supreme. As a result, individual Bishops over more prominent churches, in more prominent cities, were also getting elevated over their counter parts. If you were the Bishop of the Church in Rome or Constantinople, for example, you were finding that you had a lot more sway with present political power, and thus more power in the Church as a whole. Eventually, over time, a different kind of hierarchy of power was forming in the Church, along with a different kind organization. It was no longer just One Leader of individual churches. It was beginning to be One Leader of One Church.

In between the first and second councils of the Patristic Period, the attempt to put down Arianism (the belief that Jesus was created, and not co-equal with God) had not gone over well. Church lines were being drawn over the decision, with entire Church regions falling strongly on one side or the other. Roman Emperors were also drawn into the fight. Emperor Constantine’s son and successor, Constantius II, was strongly Arian. His later successor, Theodosius, was strongly Nicene. That’s why he called the second counsel at Constantinople, to try and enforce Nicene Orthodoxy as the official truth of the Church.

During this time, the role of the Holy Spirit was also entering into the debate. Specifically, whether the Holy Spirit was also co-equal with God the Father. It seemed that the Trinity was the hot button issue of that time. Two main churches were coalescing during this time, along these theological lines. The more eastern church, centered in Constantinople, was strongly Arian. The more western Church, centered in Rome, was more Nicene. These two Churches both had strong Bishops at their center, who were becoming something more than Bishops. They were becoming Leaders of the Church as a whole. There was the Patriarch of Constantinople, who was the Leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Pope in Rome, who was the Leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

By the time Emperor Theodosius called the second council in Constantinople, a clear division was emerging in the Church. It’s no coincidence that Theodosius was also the last Emperor over the entire Roman Empire. After him, Church and State both split East and West (En.9).

For every move of God, Satan has a counter move. For every move of Satan, God has a counter move. The Church during the Patristic Period was ankle deep in the very thing Jesus resisted in the third temptation of Satan, the lure of power from nation-states. And what was the result? The divisive nature of wrangling for power.

There’s never any reason to wrangle for God’s power. God gives His Spirit to us freely. God is eager to give His power away. Satan is eager to take our power away. Satan does that by offering us power in His system. But once we’re bought in, we’re caught in a system that delivers our power to him.

The goal of Satan is to empower himself to rule the world. He wants to be God somewhere. Since he has no power on the earth, he must use us to take it. But he cannot do that outright. He cannot present himself as the god of this world. He must present Himself as a savior, as a false Christ. Satan is the anti-Christ, and sends the spirit of anti-Christ out into the world.

The Apostle John talked about the anti-Christ in his first letter. He started this section of his letter by saying, “do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Then he said, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). Then he explained exactly what defines the anti-Christ; “who is the liar except the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:23). In the middle of this section, John also mentioned the Holy Spirit; “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it” (I John 2:20-21a).

In this section John laid out both the Plan of God and the Plan of Satan. God’s Plan is baptism into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Satan’s Plan is to tempt the Church with a counterfeit of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is the spirit of the anti-Christ.

Remember, Jesus came to reunite us back to the Father through the Spirit. It takes all three persons of the Trinity to accomplish this. Through Jesus death on the cross, the way was cleared for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are reunited to God the Father. God’s Plan is Himself. Satan’s Plan is One Leader, One Church, One Truth. By the fourth century, with the first two counsels of the Patristic Period over, Satan’s Plan was well underway. The Church was well invested in the power of the nation-state.

For every move of God, Satan has a counter move. For every move of Satan, God has a counter move. God’s counter to a Church becoming enmeshed with nation-states was the Desert. If the nation-state is Satan’s power system, then the City is its epicenter. The Desert is the opposite of the City. The City concentrates people and power. The Desert spreads people out.

Long before the Church, and Satan’s counter Plan to that, Satan had an earlier Plan to control the world. That Plan was the City/Tower. After the Fall, and the corruption of humanity. After the Flood, and God cleansing the earth. After humanity had recovered and started to flourish again, Satan struck again with his Plan. He enticed humanity to build a City with a Tower at its center. It was called the Tower of Babel.

Why was Satan’s City/Tower so opposed to God’s desire for humanity? It’s not that God hates cities, or towers. It’s that God wants humanity to be free, and Satan wants to enslave us. There are certain conditions more conducive to Satan’s system of power.

Look at the Genesis account. People at the time said, “come, let’s build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let’s make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:4). When God saw what they were doing, He confused their language in order to prevent them from building the City/Tower. In verse eight it says, “So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth; and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8).

Why is the City a pattern more conducive to Satan’s system, and the Desert a pattern more conducive to God’s? To control people, you have to concentrate them. It’s hard to control people who are spread out and wandering. Nature is wild. God is wild. God calls us out into the wilderness of His Plan. The wilderness doesn’t feel safe or controllable. The wilderness is a place where we encounter God at the end of what we can control.

The Spirit is like the wind (Acts 2:2, John 3:8). We cannot control the Holy Spirit. We can only submit to the power of the Spirit in our lives. Submitting to the power of God isn’t comfortable, or easy. It requires that we surrender everything. That’s why Jesus called his disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him (Matthew 16:24). That’s why death, burial, and resurrection are central to new life in Christ (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12).

To control us, Satan offers us control. Satan always offers what he wants for himself. He wants to be his own god. He offers us the ability to be our own gods. The power of Satan is the City/Tower, and the nation-state. It is a way to organize humanity into a system that uses us for power. But it also teaches us to use each other for power. Satan’s system of power requires a concentration of people for the purpose of control.

The Church in the heart of the City, the City at the heart of the nation-state, the nation-state at the heart of Satan’s power, meant that the Church could start to use the people of God for its own power and political gain. It also meant that Satan could start to use the Church for his own gain. To do that, Satan needed the Church to forsake the more organic structure established by Jesus and Paul, and take up the way of the Gentiles. That’s why that one small re-organization by Ignatius of Antioch was so critical for Satan’s power-grab in the Church.

Jesus flatly denied the power of the nation-state in his desert temptations. And he also instructed the twelve Apostles to do the same. In the midst of the Apostles wrangling for power, and arguing over who would be the greatest, Jesus said to them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles domineer over them, and those in high position exercise authority over them” (Matthew 20:25). Jesus continued saying, “It is not this way among you, but whoever wants to become prominent among you shall be your servant, and whoever desires to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

At the beginning of this long section in Matthew, a few chapters back, Jesus also illustrated the difference between God’s power and Satan’s in another way. The disciples had come to him asking, “who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” to which he replied, “Truly, I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-3).

What can a child do? What power does a servant, or a slave have? In Satan’s system, they are powerless. To be empowered by God, we must become powerless in Satan’s system. What looks like powerlessness in the City/Tower is the power of God. But it is the kind of power that leads us into the wilderness.

God leads us to forsake the City for the Desert.

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