We learn history lest we are doomed to repeat it.
No one knows who originally said that. Some credit George Santayana; others give credit to Winston Churchill. Regardless, everyone who has ever studied history has asked, “Why do I have to learn this stuff?”
Eusebius was not one to complain about history. It was important to him; so much so, that he wrote much and wrote often. He wanted to record the events that had happened in his life so that there would be an account of the day. He is known for writing the Ecclesiastical History – a history that spans the events of his years (AD 263-339).
We owe our gratitude to Eusebius. Much of what we know in the first few centuries of Christianity comes from his writing. The Apostles, the Churches, the Roman emperors – all are accounted for in his writings.
In the late 3rd century, during the reign of Diocletian (AD 284-305), Eusebius gives account of the Church:
Before the persecution of my day, the message given through Christ to the world of reverence to God was accorded honor and freedom by all men, Greeks and non-Greeks alike. Rulers granted our people favors and even permitted them to govern…All governors honored the church leaders, mass meetings gathered in every city, and congregations worshiped in new, spacious churches that replaced the old. This all progressed day by day, the divine hand protecting its people from jealousy or plot so long as they were worthy.
But greater freedom brought with it arrogance and sloth. We began envying and attacking one another, making war on ourselves with weapons formed from words. Church leaders attacked church leaders and laymen formed factions against laymen, while unspeakable hypocrisy and pretense reached their evil limit. Finally, while the assemblies were still crowded, divine judgment, with its accustomed mercy, gradually started to intervene, and the persecution began with our brothers in the army…Those who were supposed to be pastors, unrestrained by the fear of God, quarreled bitterly with one another and only added to the strife, threats, jealousy and hate, frantically claiming the tyrannical power they craved.
Eusebius is describing the state of the church in his day. But he says that he doesn’t go into much detail because he is only explaining why God has unleashed his judgment on his people and, instead, exalts its enemies. The persecution of Christianity begins and is, in the eyes of Eusebius, the judgment of God.
…I saw with my own eyes the houses of worship demolished to their foundations, the inspired and sacred Scriptures committed to flames in the middle of the public squares, and the pastors of the churches hiding shamefully in one place or another, or arrested and held up to ridicule by their enemies…I will say nothing even about those who made utter shipwreck of the salvation in the persecution.
In this nation – America – we who believe in Christ are allowed freedom to worship, to meet, and to evangelize those around us. In a time such as this, let us let our light shine and honor God, bearing witness of Christ and his mercy. As the Apostle Paul encourages,
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12-14 ESV