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June 22, 2008


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It's all Augustine's fault, Joe - 'Compel them to come in', and all that...


So, the Christendom of social justice conversations in 2008 refers to Christopher Columbus and his colleagues? Moving quickly on to anti-imperialism and all that good stuff?


Leslie - check out these posts on my old sabbatical blog.


Luke 14:23

"And the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.

Augustine was just quoting someone else... :^)


Yes, but his use of the quotation to justify the persecution of heretics was entirely original!:^)))


Interesting post Tim.
The book you've reviewed appears to confirm all my wonderings. :)

Next this an Anglican word? 3 years of anabaptist bible school and a lifetime in the Lutheran church and I've never come across it until reading Anglican blogs...the concept of Christendom (organized religion, evil-Constantine, etc) came up a lot in university amongst Christians interested in social justice and anti-globalization type stuff, but those troubled by it all never labeled it with the word Christendom. Mostly they just framed it in terms of hating George Bush's theocracy.

I'm not trying to be a smart-alec here, I come across the word Christendom often, sometimes in reference to Constantine's day and sometimes in reference to the here and now and without having a clear idea its meanings in the various contexts, it becomes one of those words that wields a lot of power to those who are able to use it.


The word "Christendom," as it was once used, referred to that part of the world ruled by (supposedly) Christiam princes. It was a world where Christianity (or, in latter days, a particular form of Christianity) was dominant - to the degree that there was significant pressure to belong, or at least to conform, to the established church.

Even as religion became disestablished in many parts of the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, a lingering "effective Christendom" continued on. Although there was no established church in either Canada or the United States in the 20th century, there was still a strong expectation that one would belong to one or another Christian denomination. While there was some toleration - albeit imperfect - for those who ascribed to non-Chriatian religions, a Christian world view was reasoably assumed for the bulk of society. Churchgoing was the norm.

This changed in the post-war period. By the end of the 20th century, non-attendance at church was the norm, and Sunday was, depending on your economic status, another work day, a day to sleep in, or a day filled with children's sports tournaments.

In this context, therefore, "Christendom" refers to those good/bad old days, and to the maintenance model of mission that was sufficient for the church in those times.

The biggest challenge to Christian mission today, it seems to me, is that our churches have not yet grasped the fact that the Christendom party is over. To a very large extent, we still believe that keeping the church doors open is enough. Heaven forfend we should ever INVITE someone to attend our Sunday service.

This isn't a "left-right," "conservative-liberal," "reappraiser-realigner" issue. We are generally failing across the board.


It's not an Anglican word, either. First time I came across it was in the writings of Lesslie Newbigin, and he was a Presbyterian missionary to India who became one of the first bishops of the Church of South India. I don't think anyone ever accused him of being left-wing. In North America Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon (both Methodists) have run with it quite a bit, and also the folks at the Alban Institute. In the Anglican Church of Canada the guy who's making the most noise about it is Harold Percy, and he's definitely not liberal or left-wing or any such thing.

Question is not whether or not Christendom is over. Question is, do you think it was ever a good thing? That depends on your point of view. If you can read the Gospels and the Epistles and think that Jesus and his apostles ever envisioned a time in which the Church would be allied with the secular power and in which evangelism took place in the context of the expansion of empire, then you'll see the end of Christendom as a bad thing. If you think that Christendom involved compromise of the biblical gospel (as I do), then you'll see the end of Christendom as an opportunity to return to the intention of Jesus and the authors of the New Testament.

But 'left-wing' 'right-wing'? No, it's not that kind of issue. Those categories are no longer useful.


By the way, Stuart Murray Williams (the author of the 'Christendom' book I reviewed) is a Baptist.


First reference I ever saw to the present age as "post-Christendom" was by Michael Ingham - who was not yet Bishop of New Westmister.


Tim, I'm not sure what discussion over whether or not Christendom was a good thing accomplishes. It was what it was, no? The question is really what do the people of today need now, isn't it?

>>Heaven forfend we should ever INVITE someone to attend our Sunday service.

This is a really interesting thought, Malcolm+. One our church used to grapple with and doesn't seem to anymore. There was no strategy to remedy it other than our church woke up one day and found itself walking through the it didn't ask for. A journey that led us through a process of repentance, renewal and reaffirmation of the authority of Scripture and though none of it was our own doing God has blessed us. The neighbours aren't reluctant to talk about their faith anymore. The mean age is down from 70ish to 20ish. People reach out and help their neighbours. No one committed to do anything's as though the unseen bars of hindrance were removed and it became easy. A traumatic process getting there though. I was a kid when it happened so this is just my observations. From Christendom, as you say, to beyond.

All that to say there's a tension with the concept of least how it is often presented. If you want to talk about "expansion of the empire", what large mainline denomination doesn't look at their shrinking numbers and gulp. Did Jesus and his disciples ever envision a time where evangelism would take the form of strategy planning and policy amendments in denominational conventions? Each denomination its own state.

Which in a strange way puts an awkward spin on 'unity'. How bad is it to embrace the Christendom paradigm in 2008, really? What is the alternative? How do we 'disentangle ourselves from the machinery of Christendom' without small groups going their own way? Prioritizing a state of unity would contribute to things rolling along as large and hierarchical as ever.

It would seem.


I think we are basically looking at the same diamond, Leslie, only perhaps coming at it from different directions.

I think that for me the biggest difference - and John Howard Yoder put his finger on it - was that Christendom lost the theological concept of 'the world' as distinct from the Church. In Christendom the world and the church were identified. And I think this is in the DNA of mainline denominations, so that we're used to the idea that the world around us will reinforce our faith and we're shocked and uncomfortable with the idea that we might find ourselves at odds with the world.

Malcolm and I of course might disagree about some of the specific instances in which we ought to be content to be different from the world around us - and I expect you and I would as well. But about the idea that the confession 'Jesus is Lord' is our primary allegiance, ahead of any nationalistic or ethnic loyalties, I trust we're in agreement.


>>I think this is in the DNA of mainline denominations, so that we're used to the idea that the world around us will reinforce our faith and we're shocked and uncomfortable with the idea that we might find ourselves at odds with the world.

Yes, I agree with you there. And then when the world doesn't reinforce our faith, we are tempted to bend until it does. Traps aplenty.


"hen the world doesn't reinforce our faith, we are tempted to bend until it does"

I don't disagree with you that this happens, or that it's a bad thing.

But it's not a new thing either. Indeed, the manner in which some of us use the word "Christendom" refers to the several centuries during which the faith bent itself pretzel shape to conform to the society around it.

What this means for the Church today, I think, is that SOME of the current disruptions are the result of the Church trying to conform itself to the present age. But SOME of the disruptions are the result of the Church having conformed itself to previous ages. Whether a particular disruption is one or the other is not necessarily easy to discern.



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  • Copyright Rev. Joseph Walker, St Timothy's Anglican Church

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