Satan followed. What God uses, Satan also comes along to use in order to cause damage. The emperors began to persecute the Christians, and countless numbers were martyred. Persecution, as we know, did not terminate the Christians; it rather helped them. Then Satan changed his strategy. Under the rule of Constantine the Great the Roman Empire made Christianity legal, and Christians had the full freedom of worship. Because of the favors he granted the Christians, thousands of pagans were baptized and became Christians in name. These were the tares spoken of in Matthew 13:24-30. That ruined Christianity.
Constantine was a clever politician. He wanted to bring all the warring factions of the empire together. Realizing that Christianity could be a peaceful influence, he decided that first the conflicts that were raging among theologians must be resolved. He therefore convened a council to meet at Nicaea to discuss the matters of Christology and the Trinity. These were the two main issues that were being fought over, even as they are today. Constantine himself presided over the council. Under his influence the Nicene Creed was drawn up (A.D. 325). He acted openly as head of the Church, which in his reign was first called Catholic; at the same time he kept his title of high priest of the heathen.
This ruin progressed from the fourth to the sixth centuries, by which time the papal system was fully established. With this the Roman Catholic Church reached its full development; it claimed to be the one, universal church (catholic means universal) and exercised worldly power over people and nations. No protest or dissent was tolerated. Over the centuries when it held sway, the Roman Catholic Church killed more genuine Christians than the pagan Roman Empire had killed. Under such a dark Church, the so-called Dark Ages were produced, lasting about ten centuries, from about A.D. 500 to 1500.
Around 1500 the Reformation came in. God used Germany to protect Martin Luther. But once again, what God used Satan also used. Luther was bold in defending justification by faith. When it came to the matter of the church, however, he was weak. Satan used Germany to interfere with Luther’s ministry. The first state church was formed in Germany; this was due to Luther’s weakness. Even today this state church exists in Germany, supported by public taxes.
Other state churches sprang up. There are the state churches of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The monarchs of these countries are the heads of the state church. The same is true of Great Britain; Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Anglican Church. What a ruin to the church of God, which is the Body of Christ!
This historical background shows how God used the world situation in the carrying out of His economy and then how Satan followed, using the same means, to ruin God’s work.
Around the time of the Reformation, another thing happened: the discovery of the new land by Columbus. These two things, the Reformation and the discovery of the new land, liberated human mentality. Science and scientific knowledge grew, leading to modern machines and weapons. The free mentality plus the newly discovered land changed the world a lot.
This was the period of time when Spain was the dominant power. It was Spain which provided the support for Columbus’ voyages. This gave Spain the right to lay claim to vast portions of the Americas. Even today in the southwest of the United States the Spanish influence is apparent. Many cities along the west coast, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, have Spanish names. Spain reached out even to the Far East and took possession of the Philippines. As a result, the Catholic influence there is still strong. All of Central and South America, except Brazil, speak Spanish because of the Spanish conquests.
Until the close of the sixteenth century, Spain was the leading power on earth. If she had remained on top, the whole world would be under Catholicism, as is the case with Latin America. God could not allow this. Therefore He raised up the small island of Britain, and in 1588 the British navy dealt a fatal blow to Spain’s supremacy by defeating the larger, seemingly better equipped, Spanish Armada.
(The World Situation and God's Move, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)