No, not an advocate of Christendom!!

Had a few responses to the post ‘Toward the vacuum’ and also Steve Lowton re-posted it on his facebook page soliciting a few more comments. In the post I was both reflecting back on the dream from years back on the opening up of the façades, the response of a number of believers in the public sphere and the danger of the ‘familiar’ being our default response. In the post – now some 8 years on from the dream – I suppose there were a few paradigms that crept through that I am becoming increasingly aware of. So I thought I would outline what I think they might be below.

Surprisingly (!!) I am not an advocate of Christendom. I have been too heavily influenced by anabaptism, the new church movement and the like to be in that camp. I see Christendom as an aberration of the apostolic faith, not as some sort of fulfilment of eschatological hope. And given the nature of God (another paradigm here) this does not mean that God did not use Christendom… he works in all things for a purpose. His work ‘in’ does not mean his approval ‘of’.

Paradigm 1: the church is here for society

The primary role of the church is not to evangelise society (keep reading…), but to, as witness to God, create / fashion / hold a shape where something redemptive can fill it. It is our responsibility as royal priesthood to stand to mediate the presence of God to the world and to allow the world to grow up into a healthy space. This is not a) withdrawal to a spiritual realm (sorry to one stand of anabaptism there) nor b) to impose some kind of theonomy on the world (sorry to that strand of Calvinism, Reconstructionism, Kuyperism, 7 mountains etc.). The latter is ultra-Christendom. Not all come to faith, but there are those who will grasp the Jesus’ values and fill space in a Jesus-like way, even if some of those were to be atheists. (I see this in the reference to the Asiarchs in Acts, for example.) The former (a withdrawal) is to deny the intensely political nature of the Gospel. Not political in the sense of party politics, but carrying an all encompassing vision for society. The kind of vision we have been trying to capture with the word ‘convivencia’.

(Now don’t read ‘don’t evangelise’ into the above but do read ‘some evangelism is not a witness’.)

Paradigm 2: the world is not the church

My background of course left me very clear on that… however, the two realms are related. One has been redeemed, the other, not being evil but fallen, is there to be redeemed. The church that resorts to the familiar and does not connect with the era in which it is placed and participate with God’s redemption of the world might not be able to fully own the term ‘church’. Church is political (the ekklesia of Christ in every geography was a provocative term when the cities of the empire already had their ekklesia shaping the city and future). We have to somehow engage with the tension that not everything is in Christ but everything is in God. In him we move, live and have our being…

In Jeremiah 22: 16 Josiah is honoured because

He judged the cause of the poor and the needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord.

The chapter begins with a call to:

Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Jeremiah did not say that Josiah’s behaviour was indicative of someone on the way to knowing God, nor that someone who knows God will seek to behave in this way. His words are too strong for that. Someone behaving in that way is showing the evidence that they know God! (And Jesus promise was not that people who followed him would know God… but that they would know who this God was.)

Paradigm 3: God is not in control

A little strong maybe? But what on earth do we mean by ‘in control’. Love and partnership have to be the ways in which we understand God at work in the earth, not omnipotence. Love means he is at work. It means he will work in and through whatever he is given. But he does not act in isolation – we are partners with heaven.

In all the above I am not an advocate of Christendom, I do see a distinction between the church and the world. I am not looking to Christianise society, but to heavenify it. That kingdom that comes from heaven does mean that convivencia has to manifest. Space for those who are not believers in Jesus to express their gifts for the sake of others. It means any wall that is built is a sign of failure, that any bridgebuilding will mean we are trampled on from both sides.


6 thoughts on “No, not an advocate of Christendom!!

    1. I’ll take that as a ‘yes’ then? Last weeks Gayle and I have been thinking about some of the paradigm shifts: are they tweaks, shifts… or even changes of beliefs?

      1. Big YES from me too. Thanks for explaining the journey so well…
        “God is not in control”, “some evangelism is not a witness” (cringe!), we are positioned as priests to the world and “all things are in God” Too true that we’re not sure we believe the same things anymore… glad to be in company with the Scotties! An amazing young lady leads my ‘over 55 poetry group’ – a performance poet and playwright, so strong on social justice, wrote a great play about the pressure teachers are under, works in a foodbank, raises money for rape crisis centre, kind and open – just starting to read the Bible (found a Gideons in a hotel!) because of poems being written based on Biblical stories… but is surely already a prophetic woman who “knows God” – one of the next generation we have prayed for! Paradigm shifts indeed!

        BTW, going to Malta on Saturday – defined by the stand off between Turks and Knights of Jerusalem, defeat of Muslims… May have to do some repenting? 😉
        SA xx

      2. I sure hope we all go beyond tweaks. We’ve been tweaking the same fundamental beliefs for centuries. So let’s go for really radical change. I know, that always presents dangers but I doubt we can resist such change any longer. Look at all the shaking, all that is being exposed on so many issues. Clearly the earth is calling for radical change from how we treat the planet to how we treat one another. This combination of ecological failure and collapse along with still rising population has never been experienced on this scale before. It demands a rethink from all of us along with new ways of living. I tell my university and college students that they must imagine new things, new ways of living together. They get it. They are on it if we would just get out of the way. So way beyond tweaking please!

  1. So glad to see this truth articulated. I believe this too but could not put it into words like you have it is a concept that I feel in my heart but would have trouble expressing so thank you for clarifying it so well. Have always felt uncomfortable with conventional ways of evangelism and to usher in heaven into the world whatever that looks like seems a better way. Sometimes the overt is just not the best way although sometimes it works too! Like you said God uses everything but there has to be a more desirable approach than the ‘Christendom’ way which seeks to rule and coerce at times.

  2. Thanks for the reminder Martin, it remains current. The nature of things seems to mean that moving from the status quo is not a one time event, but continual repentance as in being transformed and renewed. ‘The world is not the church’ agreed. It is this alternative community that reveals the reality of the love of God that draws on me the most. I’m not quite of the ‘we can’t go out there unless we get it right in here’ kind of outlook (not sure what ‘in here’ quite looks like), but I do think there is a movement of discovery towards what our ‘love for one another’ really looks like. Some facades to lower (are lowering) for that reveal….

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