I keep saying that in the coming decades our society will look far more pre-Constantinian than post. Actually, among emerging generations, particularly Millennials (those 29 years and younger) this is already the case for all practical purposes. Even though among Millennials there is not a call for persecution, their negative attitudes and perceptions of American Christianity and the institutional Church (even if justified in many ways) causes a culture predisposition against Christianity and the Church.
From this article entitled, “Fighting Words: the politics of the creeds,” by Philip Jenkins in this month’s issue of Christian Century (my first issue), I might more accurately say “other than Constantinian Christianity” rather than “pre-Constantinian.”
“That story [history of persecution and growth of Churches in Egypt, Syria, etc., during the early Patristic period] tells us a great deal about the nature of Christian loyalties in the centuries after the Roman Empire’s conversion. If your emperor or king was formally Christian, then self-preservation alone dictated following his lead, so that we need not think that church members actually had any high degree of knowledge or belief in the new faith. But if the church was itself in deadly opposition to the state and faced actual persecution, then people had no vested interest whatever in belonging to it – quite contrary. Why risk your life by Hobo Jake [Archbishop Jacobus Baradaeus]? Through most of the Middle East and for long centuries after Constantine’s time, then, people followed these dissident churches for exactly the same reasons that their ancestors would have adhered to the beliefs of the earliest Christian communities. They followed because they thought they would obtain healing in this world and salvation in the next; because they wanted signs and wonders; and because the ascetic lives of church leaders gave these figures a potent aura of holiness and charisma. Ordinary Christians followed not because they were told, but because they believed.”
(Philip Jenkins, The Christian Century, March 23, 2010, p.24)
As we continue into Post-Christendom, people will be drawn to Christ and the Church because of what they witness in the lives of those who claim Christ – in their strengths and weaknesses, in their honesty and integrity. We become the imago Dei for those we encounter in our everyday lives.