Christendom is not something totally easy to define. It certainly relates to an era when the church ‘possessed’ the culture that it resided in. The culture was ‘christianised’ as it had some sort of Christian morality shape. Nations could be termed ‘Christian’ or heathen. It relates to an era when Christianity was the religion of the state / empire. This whole scenario became in the west the status quo in the centuries that followed the shift with Constantine, his conversion, and edicts such as the edict of Milan.
It is possible to see the submission of the pagan ruler (Constantine and successors) as a fulfillment of OT hopes, even if we accept the outworking as imperfect. It is probably also OK to feel that we have lost a measure of a moral framework that resulted from the christendom era, the framework that at some level permeated (western) society. In other words, even those of us who are opposed to christendom, who see a resulting fall of the church, do not need to demonise every aspect. The paper I wrote on the redemptive trajectory suggests that in the ever-increasing fall of the life of Israel God was still found in some incredible and glorious ways. Who would not wish to testify that ‘we were unable to stand to minister such was the presence of the glory cloud’? God present in power, yet inside an edifice that Jesus proclaimed could not be sustained beyond that generation.
A wonderful move forward, a mixture, or a terrible downward fall – regardless of our perspective we are moving from a christendom era to a post-christendom one. The pace of that movement and where we are located on the spectrum might vary but I think the movement is irreversible. In the process there will be loss and perhaps the loss of some good elements, but the process is necessary.
What will we think should (when) the president of the USA is not sworn in with hand on Bible, or a UK monarch is no longer anointed with oil at Westminster Abbey and presented with a Bible by senior church leaders as a ‘rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes’? Post-christendom could certainly mean change to both those practices – and of course numerous other ones that reflect the advance of christendom.
I do not suggest that the territory ahead is easy to traverse, but the shift of seeing the cross as the sign of power to overcome (Constantine, crusades) and rather as the place that re-orients all of life and through the embrace of love offering to one and all an opportunity to lose one’s life, is a journey that we have to engage with.
If there is a general principle that trouble is a sign to look higher (‘when you see these things…’) it is not too difficult to see numerous levels of crises all around. I am sure the dire conflict and loss of life that France has suffered these past few months is only a taste of what is coming to the majority of western nations. This should be no surprise. The idea that the daily slaughter in Syria or Baghdad is ‘somewhere else’ among ‘another people’ is not really tenable. We are in a wake-up call period of time. Isolationism and protectionism will neither isolate nor protect us. They will prove to be hollow promises, and as I wrote recently we have entered a slower but deeper time of the façades being opened up and the core of what lies behind them being exposed. It will indeed be painful.
For years I have been saying that the strength of Islam is found inside a christendom belief. That the source is not simply the quran but christendom. It should be no great surprise that Dayesh believes in Armageddon, with the gathering of the heathen nations (us!!) and although ‘we’ will have numerical and power supremacy, they will be vindicated as Jesus returns to defeat the heathens (us!!). I might find it hard to let go of some of the christendom benefits and privileges but the urgency of the times presses in on me and calls me beyond my comfort zone.
Hence back to where I started – christendom. We have to move on and through the current time. We cannot, though many will, seek to re-establish christendom. To get the church out of the building is a move forward. To call for the church to embrace its place in society and culture is a good call. To use language of ‘mountains of influence’ might be a useful metaphor, but if we see the langauge as more than a limited metaphor I fear it will simply result in a people out of touch with this time. Solomon (my morning reading) might have built for God a great house, but Jesus warned in his day that not one stone of ‘God’s house’ would remain. An era was over. An era is over in our day. We will have to learn how to traverse a land where we do not possess the culture, yet believe passionately that the gospel is this-worldly in application. We will have to learn the difference between wanting the 10 commandments in our court room or the beattitudes of Jesus to permeate our values and to seep out beyond. We will have to learn that the ‘greatest mountain’ will have to go through a NT lens of all mountains being brought down.
We do not have to demonise the past. God has never left us. There are godly vestiges, for after all even the Temple could still potentially act as a house of prayer. But we have to face tomorrow and allow ourselves to be cleansed.