At all events the victory of Constantine over Maxententius was a military and political victory of Christianity over heathenism; the intellectual and moral victory having been already accomplished by the literature and life of the church in the preceding period. (Phillip Schaff, History of Church Vol. 3, p. 28)
Schaff, describing the first of a series of events that ended in the official persecution of the imperial persecution of the Christian Church in the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. For the first time since Nero began persecuting the church in 65 AD it was not illegal to be a Christian.
There had been generations of faithful Christians worshipping and writing and living that hoped for that day, but never saw it. But Schaff is right that this new found freedom to worship was the fruit of those previous generations living well, dying bravely as martyrs, and writing defenses of the faith. Because while the rest of the empire was growing weaker in its connections, both to one another and to previous generations, the church was remaining connected in its resolve.
If someone wanted to be a leading farmer, he could drive his tractor out to all of his neighbors and give them advice on fertilizer, crop rotation, planting times, and the merits of all the newest equipment. If he is slick, he might be able to sell them on it, but he is selling them on ideas that he has not tested and tried himself.
The other option is to get at the work of plowing and planting and harvesting your own field. If we really do have the best methods, then it will show in our harvests. If our harvests really are the best, then we will have other farmers coming and looking for our methods. Admittedly, this methods looks suspiciously like hard work. And it will take patience. And having our results judged is much more uncomfortable than explaining ideas. But leadership that leads the way is better than leadership that points the way. Jesus said, “Come this way,” not “Go that way.”
But we are in the reverse situation. As the revolutions of the 60’s raged, the leadership of the left understood this principle better than anyone. Todd Gitlin, former president of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) wrote that, the Left began by “marching on the English Department while the Right took the White House” (p. 12, Nancy Pearcy, ‘Saving Leonardo’). They saw that winning the argument was more important than winning the power. At the time, the Christian Church was barely even engaged in the argument.
In spite of the fact that we lost the intellectual, literary, poetic, artistic, and moral arguments of the previous century, (mostly by not even showing up) much of the church is still attempting to fight for political victories. But God’s pattern has always been that his people first win with literature and life. God’s habit is to first fill the church with truth and grace until it is billowing out the doors of the foyer every time they are opened. Only later are there any victories outside the church. Because only then would we be a blessing.
Only when the church has minds, souls, and hands dripping with grace, mercy, and righteousness is it a blessing to the world. Only when our own field is overflowing is it a blessing to let us plow outside our own field. And God is not concerned with his people having power. He is concerned with the families and nations of the earth being blessed. When it would not be a blessing for his people to lead, then ten enemies chase away his ten thousand.
In the meantime, plow and plant and harvest your own field. Drop all of the envious sidelong glances at the power of the powerful. It just makes you look like Lando Calrissian just before you turn the Rebel Alliance over to the Empire, more concerned with your own power and influence than being a blessing. Care for the field that you already have. Whether it is your family, your job, your church, your kid’s soccer team, your high school’s surf team or chess club, or even just your little dorm room empire, prove that you know how to be fruitful where you are.
The communication revolution that we are living through is opening opportunities that are still stretching the imagination further than a circus contortionist could dream. It appears as if the stage is being set for something. The church needs to be faithful in the place that it already has and learn to speak, write, explain, declare, and live the Good News of the grace of God there. And then remember and believe that God is righteous. He is always faithful to his promises.