The early Church began in the midst of a powerful Roman empire that had no patience for any sect, religious group, or leader that challenged the “lordship” of Caesar. Before Jesus came on to the historical scene, there had been many self-proclaimed “Jewish messiahs” who marched into Jerusalem trying to fulfill prophecy, gain a following, and essentially over throw the Roman oppressors who were thought to be the final evil empire before God would deliver Israel. After Jesus came on the scene, performed many miracles, and was eventually crucified, the Jews (and the romans in the region) thought that His “small” following would come to an end.
When it did not end, but instead grew in number and in power, the Roman government eventually sought to declare the Church as a ‘heranos,’ or in English, a ‘private religious gathering’ rather than an ‘ekklesia,’ or a ‘public gathering’ that declared public truth (Light to the Nations, 180-181). The Romans wanted the empire to come first, and the new Christ followers knew that no nation could stand before their allegiance to the Kingdom of God.
As we from early Church writings, they rejected this status and chose civil disobedience against the Empire, and they were eventually persecuted because of it, as they claimed to be “Kingdom citizens” over and above being “Roman citizens”. They called themselves the “ekklesia,” a public gathering in the public marketplace that declared a public (universal) truth that Jesus was Lord, not Ceasar. They had a higher standard of love and sacrifice to live by that the Empire didn’t share, nor honor. So after a few centuries of brutal persecution, the Church’s self-proclaimed name, “ekklesia,” became acceptable, prominent, and nationalized at the time of Constantine (the beginning of Christendom early 300’s AD).
This is the beginning of a “Christian” Empire, one that once again placed the importance of allegiance to the Empire over and above allegiance to the Kingdom of God. Will your allegiance for the Empire shape your vision and action, or will you seek first God’s Kingdom, even if it means that you must not be completely faithful to protecting the Empire and its comforts? Herein lies the struggle and tension of nationalistic Christianity. Some would say it is no Christianity at all.