Christendom Is Dead.  Now What?

I’ve picked many fights, started a slew of discussions, asked even more questions and made my share of enemies and friends in the first year of SHLOG.COM’s existence.  So much of this, I’ve just realized tonight, is my way of wrestling publicly with an uncomfortable reality: Christendom is dead.

Christendom: The arrangement of Western society from the time of Roman Emperor Constantine’s pronouncement of Christianity as his adopted religion to at least the late 1800s in Europe and the 1960s in America.  Two of the most notable characteristic of Christendom were that 1)the church was perceived as central to society and culture and 2)the church operated primarily in an “attractional” mode, meaning that the church expected non-Christians to come to the church.

But Christendom is dead.  This is not the order of things in the West, for the most part, any more.  In large cities especially, and in rural southern cities less so, society is no longer leaning in to hear what the church has to say to her or about her.  Society has lost interest.

I’ve read too many books and been in too many conversations with non-Christians and seen far too much of the American church in the last several years on the road to believe Christendom is alive and well.  So I come here every day to find answers I hope you have to the one question that colors everything in life for me these days: Now what?  That’s what this blog has turned out to be for me – now celebrating one year of existence – a place to ask in many different ways this same question.

Two examples:

Politics: I blog about my not voting, my disinterest in either party, Christian abdication of mercy showing and peace making to government programs and military, and my belief in Christian non-violence.  I do this because I’m working out what the relationship between Church and state is in a post-Christendom West and what the consequences are to being free finally to pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God instead of the nation-state.  What can we be now that Church and state are divorced and political arguments based on faith fall flat?  Christendom is dead.  Now what?

Event Driven/Attractional/Spectacle Ministry: In the old Christendom world order in which national history, art history, and church history were one and the same, where else would one go but to the church?  We were the financiers and power brokers behind war, art, education and politics.  The source of morality and just about everything esle.  The church attracted musicians, poets, Caesars and generals to her bed, not only because of her beauty but because of her influence.  What are we becoming now that there are more handsome suitors with greater influence elsewhere?  What do we do now that the church and anything labeled “Christian” are not attractive to non-Christians?  Christendom is dead. Now what?

It’s good that Christendom is dead…I think.  The support of Christendom by the church forced her to abandon so many of her distinctives and much of her mission.  Christendom swelled her ego, fed her vanity. In time she grew fat, lazy, self-absorbed and dumb.  She believed she would always be the center of attention and today she gets little.  What now?

I think we have many options but three come up most often here at SHLOG.COM and in conversations with my friends in ministry:

1) TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY: We work hard to be the best and the brightest people in society, enter the arts and politics, dominate with our excellence until we Christians are the primary influencers of “culture” again.  We vote, run for office, demand our rights, stomp our feet when we don’t get them, legislate non-Christians into Christian behavioral patterns, say often that our nation was founded on Christianity and fight to get back our seat of power beside Caesar.  Build the biggest best Christian education system ever.  Turn out scientists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and business men so that the authority and respect and wealth that was once the church’s will be hers again.

2) NAH NAH NAH, I’M NOT LISTENING: Stick our fingers in our ears when anyone tells us Christendom is dead and go on believing that non-Christians in physical, emotional, and spiritual need will visit LifeWay stores, listen to Christian radio, watch Christian DVDs, and come to our churches on Sunday morning in search of Jesus.

3) REMEMBER WHERE WE CAME FROM: Quit our addiction to power, influence and wealth cold turkey.  Learn to live without the adoration of Caesar, Hollywood, and Johnny Q. Public.  Somehow remember what the church believed and how it operated before the Emperor put his arm around her and made her his influential, powerful and wealthy bride.  Contextualize this memory to the 21st century and live it out whether powerful and influential or ignored and marginalized.

I’m frozen these days by the number of career/ministry options before me now that I’m no longer contractually obligated to make “Christian” music for Christians and am able, for the first time in my life, to do virtually anything I want to do in its next chapter. I don’t think questions about my future ministry/work can be wisely answered without at least wrestling a little with how the death of Christendom affects me and you, if at all.  It could make the difference for me between making music or not, preaching or not, ministering to a Christian subculture, or from one, or ignoring it all together, or doing something completely new.  Roofing?

Why wrestle here?  These kinds of discussions happen often of course at conventions and around conference tables when pastor types get together.  And you get left out.  Few people who don’t go to these meetings or read books by pastors or attend a seminary have ever heard of “Christendom” or of its demise.  Now the secret is out.  What your captain probably hasn’t told you, I just let slip:  We sank a few miles back.  What do you want to do about it?  I know what pastors think; it’s you who have something new to add to this conversation.

Now what?