Imagine that you were a Christian during the Great Persecution of 303-313 AD. Your pastor and most other leaders in your local church are in prison or have been executed. Biblical manuscripts and pastors’ sermons are destroyed. Church members are not allowed to meet on threat of arrest. The government confiscated your property. You lost your livelihood and have no way to earn a living. People you used to think were loyal friends have turned in Christians to save themselves from government persecution. You are always in fear of being hauled before a judge to face the charge of being a Christian. You have seen countless family members and friends arrested, imprisoned, tortured and many killed. The last ten years have been the toughest of your life. You may even wonder if Christianity will continue to exist with the Roman Empire doing its best to destroy it.
Now imagine that it’s 313 AD and you hear about the Edict of Milan. Roman emperors Constantine I and Licinius agreed to grant all people freedom to worship any deity they chose. You find out that your legal rights are being returned to you, as well as the property taken from you during the Persecution. You can return to your home. You can go back to work to earn a living. You can raise your family in safety. You can worship God with other Christians openly. Church leaders can preach the Gospel of Christ without fear of arrest, torture and death.
What would you think about such an edict?
313 AD must have been a great time of relief for many Christians. It was also a challenging time with Christians trying to sort out what had happened to them during the Great Persecution. Who would lead local churches after so many bishops, pastors and deacons had been tortured and killed? How would faithful Christians deal with believers who had lapsed in their faith and turned other believers in to authorities to save themselves? It was a challenging and turbulent time for the Church.