Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Demise of Christendom

Here is another post of some of the writing I have done in conjunction with my DMin course. This section is on the characteristics of the Christendom system that has been set up in Western culture - which most of the culture is now rejecting. I trust it is interesting reading.

It is because there is such a significant shift in our culture that the church has become the least likely option for those seeking an “artistic, politically subversive, activist community of mystical faith" - and the rejection of middle-class American values in some ways is also a rejection of Christianity, the sponsor of those values. The mode of operation of much the Church is still rooted in an assumption of “culture Protestantism” – in other words, still rooted in the Christendom paradigm.

Christendom is the term used (in many instances negatively) to describe the church-influenced culture that has dominated European society for the last Millennium. Its roots go back to the Edict of Milan in CE 313, where Christianity moved from being a marginalized, subversive and persecuted movement, secretly meeting in houses and catacombs, to being the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity became the metanarrative of Western culture blurring the lines between the church and the state to the point where, in some countries, the king (or queen) was, and still is, the head of the church.

The head of state was often the one who determined what type of church there would be, or if there even was to be a church. You became a Christian by birth rather than choice, and to be a good citizen was to be a good Christian (and vice versa). Rodney Clapp refers to this as “Constantinianism” and a good summary of his thesis is this quote: “The question is no longer ”How can we survive and remain faithful Christians under Caesar?” but now becomes “How can we adjust the church’s expectations so that Caesar can consider himself a faithful Christian?””

Stuart Murray provides an excellent summary of the major shifts that occurred in the centuries after Constantine imposed Christian rule on the Roman Empire.

• The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of a city, state or empire
• The movement of the church from the margins of society to its center
• The creation and progressive development of a Christian culture of civilization
• The assumption that all citizens (except for the Jews) were Christian by birth
• The development of the corpus Chirstianum, where there was no freedom of religion and where political power was regarded as divinely authenticated
• Infant baptism as the symbol of obligatory incorporation into this Christian society
• Sunday as an official day of rest and obligatory church attendance, with penalties for noncompliance
• The definition of orthodoxy as the common belief shared by all which was determined by powerful church leaders supported by the state
• The imposition of a supposedly Christian morality on the entire society (although normally Old Testament moral standards were applied)
• A hierarchical ecclesiastical system, based on a diocesan and parish arrangement which was analogous to the state hierarchy and was buttressed by state support
• The construction of massive and ornate church buildings and the formation of huge congregations
• A generic distinction between clergy and laity, and the relegation of the laity to a largely passive role
• The increased wealth of the church and the imposition of obligatory tithes to fund this system
• The defense of Christianity by legal sanctions to restrain heresy immorality and schism
• The division of the globe into Christendom or heathendom and the waging of war in the name of Christ and the church
• The use of political and military force to impose the Christian faith
• The use of the Old Testament rather than the New to support and justify many of these changes

Even though many of these changes may have been well intentioned, we see how the Christendom model has created a system that makes it difficult to produce radical followers of Jesus. To be very simplistic, the Christendom goal in North America has been to establish a nation that is lead by a godly person and that has laws reflecting the Old Testament moral code, with morality legislated so that the behavior of the citizens is controlled. The spiritual leaders sponsor the civil leaders (or elect one of their own) so that the nation will create an environment favorable to their purposes. The model citizens of this society are outwardly obedient and outwardly observant – inner conviction was a matter of personal choice.

Those who are unable to comply are marginalized to the fringes of society. It devalues the powerless. It produces Pharisees and outcasts. It sounds very much like the system in which we find ourselves in North America. It sounds like the system from which Jesus came to deliver us. Tony Campolo says it this way: “If we were to set out to establish a religion in polar opposition to the beatitudes Jesus taught, it would look strikingly similar to the pop Christianity that has taken over the airwaves of North America.”


alan said...

Well said my faithful servant!
Just send them to Africa maybe we should start a christian training school here. Here you get the test first and then the lesson.
in Africa

Volkmar said...


That is a compelling summary of the general situation. Somehow, I don't think it'll get aired on Focus On the Family.... ;o)


hillschurch said...

Sometimes I like listening to Focus on the Family!

Volkmar said...

It must take a lot of guts to admit that... LOL!!!


hillschurch said...

I did say "sometimes" ... although I must admit it has been quite a long time since last I listened!