Thursday, April 20, 2006

The End of Christendom

I am still looking for some thoughts on the question with which I ended my last post: "Does the Bible really give us solid footing for continuing to have hope for Europe?"

In the meantime, I thought the following quote from the book The Church is Bigger than you Think, by Patrick Johnstone, would give some good food for thought...

The End of Christendom

Christendom itself as an ideology is flawed and failing fast too. The rapid marginalization of the Judeo-Christian cultural heritage and also the failure of Christians to preserve their privileged position are patently obvious to the Western world. We are being compelled to return to a much more biblical and radical position - that of being a minority in the world but not of it. Few Christians are aware that the 1,700 years of a politicized Christianity as the ideology of the ruling elite are rapidly drawing to a close. Whether we like it or not, the concept of the imperial Church dominated the thinking of Roman Emperors from Constantine onwards through the papacy, the Reformation and the nineteenth century mission movement. Its marks are also visible in the largely Protestant Moral Majority or Religious Right in the USA and the efforts of Russian Orthodoxy to eliminate every alternative religious opinion today. The era of Constantinian Christendom is ending. A Church deprived of political power is freed from the burden of trying to use human power to dominate and influence the world. The time for a more effective mission to the needy world is dawning. We need to recognize this, adapt and seize the opportunities offered. Our reference point is not territorial or church growth aggrandisement, but building a kingdom that is not of this world, yet which will fill the earth as a contrasting alternative society. We need to return to the concept of a pilgrim Church, a Church that will be hated, rejected, despised, persecuted, yet be an incisive, decisive, victorious minority which, one day soon, will be ready for its Heavenly Bridegroom as the perfected Bride. The twenty-first century may be the time when the alternative Church becomes recognized as the real Church.

Christendom is doomed, but the future of biblical Christianity is bright. It is taking us a long time to perceive this. We need to stop mourning the decline of Christianity in Europe and many parts of the West, and realize that the coming of Christianity did not convert Europe, but "baptized" the paganism that still has to be adequately confronted with the claims of Christ. The Europe of today has reverted to attitudes that prevailed in time of the early Church. Europe's secularism, unashamed sinfulness, infatuation with neo-Hinduist New Age thinking and occultism needs to be confronted once more, as in the first centuries of the Church, by a Christianity unafraid to love and win those who persecute it.


Theophilus said...

That is absolutely awesome! If that doesn't make you want to strap on your spiritual armor and storm the gates of hell what will?

Mike Woodward said...

If you listen to a lot of Christian talk radio you get a steady diet of: a) taking back the country for God; b) restoring our country to our Godly principles; c) standing for righteousness

The c) topic sounds innocuous enough until you realize that it is just the "spiritualized" version of a) and b).

How is the gospel received in Europe? Is it received as God making a way to have eternal relationship with you, or is it received as an attempt to take back the Western culture for Christ? (see a), b), c) above)

I find when I am talking with friends and family about Christ, I have to spend a lot of time saying what the Gospel is not.

Scott said...

There is scriptural basis for continuing to do what you and I do. Paul gives the most complete treatise in Romans: How can they hear etc., but that does not fully respond to your question. Related scripture indicates that God is concerned that all peoples have the chance to "hear" the news. In our context in Lisbon, I know of few people who have actually heard the gospel. Mike's post points to some barriers that we have in common. I must confess that I fall into the relevance camp... While the gospel is inherently relevant, all too often, we focus on the irrelevant. Again, this is nothing new... all of the first century churches seem to have struggled in this area! But that is what gives me the most hope for Europe. Over the centuries, God has shown that matter what kind of mess we make, He is still sovereign. Maybe that is too simplistic, but i believe that is better than complicating it all with a bunch of trash.

Tim Sweatman said...

A very profound and provocative excerpt. My concern here in the USA is that by and large the church is not preparing ourselves spiritually for the day when we no longer enjoy a privileged position in society. Instead of preparing for this, we tend to devote our efforts to trying to reestablish our privileged position.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your excellent thoughts. I serve east of you but still in a "western" context. You have summarized the spiritual condition very accurately. Mike's comment concerning reception of the gospel is also insightful. If there is no hope, why keep going? Why move family and life to a place unknown and in a language that seems impossible to master?

The only thought I have is God's sacrifice of His Son and His call to His people. He has not promised an easy path or even that people will listen (the Old Testament prophets were told at times to go but nobody will listen). The fact that He sacrificed His Son for all of us sinful people who don't even want to know Him is enoughf to have hope. The fact the He calls people to take the gospel into hard and barren lands, gives me even more hope.

The hope will not be found in "traditional" church models. Europe is covered with those and it has done more to push people away from the gospel than to draw them. It seems that models which involve relationships, time, openness, safety, and hospitality are having an impact. They are small right now but can become very significant in time.

Joel Williams said...

Great post. 100% agreement. My sense is that Christendom is dying fast, but not fast enough for me. For years we have been hearing the rhetoric of "taking back our country for God." Totally unbiblical. That just equates "our country" (wherever it is) with the OT nation of Israel. We need a move towards the NT church, or "pilgrim church" as you called it. As the "alternative church" grows and becomes "missional" in the true sense of the word, we will begin to see impact. The small glimpses that we see of that in Europe (and elsewhere where the church has become marginalized) are the future and are worth giving our lives for so that His kingdom will be built up. Its time to give up hope in Christendom and move on to "being a pilgrim church" in our context.