The Downside of Christendom

In case you are in the mood for a little theology, here is something I ran across during my reading today that is worth thinking about:

“Certainly the reduction of mission in Western theology has to do with the so-called Christianization of Western cultures. Once the Christian religion had become the only allowed religion within the boundaries of Christendom, mission was not seen as the central task of the church. Rather, her theological definition gradually came to focus on the care and tending of the salvation of her members […] Further, the eschatological shaping of the Gospel, so central to the New Testament, was distorted and reduced. Jesus’ message was the inbreaking reign of God, and the early church confessed him as the one who is and brings that reign into human history. […] That sense of radical and transforming anticipation of living hope that profoundly shapes the ‘now’ of the corporate Christian witness, was gradually reoriented to an individualistic emphasis on the second coming at the end of time with its threatening judgment that determines where each soul will spend eternity. The biblical emphasis on the ‘resurrection of the body’ is replaced by the Hellenistic concept of the immortality of the soul, which changes the nature of Christian eschatology and diminishes the strong biblical emphasis upon the integrated wholeness of the human person as body, spirit, and soul. Life now was understood not so much as faithful witness in hope but as wearisome and often anxious preparation in this vale of tears for what must come hereafter. Salvation is a question of where one spends eternity rather than the larger biblical witness to the restorative and salvific reign of God breaking in now, whose consummation is yet to come. […] The individualism of such a reductionist soteriology has only intensified in the self-centered and consumerist culture of present-day North America. The church’s focus on the tending and maintenance of the ‘saved’ is well attested today in churches that advertise themselves as ‘full-service’ congregations and function as purveyors of the religious programs and products their member-consumers want. The partnership of church and state, has, after the end of Christendom, effectively been replaced with the partnership of church and marketplace.”[1]

Happily, Guder also recounts,

“the wise words of the pastor from Malawi who told my class one day about all the changes the gospel had brought when the missionaries came to his tribe. ‘And,’ he concluded, ‘you must realize that we could always tell the difference between Jesus and the missionaries.’”[2]

Bibliography

Guder, Darrell L. “The Church as Missional Community.” In The Community of the Word : Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology, edited by Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier, 114-28. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2005.


[1] Darrell L. Guder, “The Church as Missional Community,” in The community of the Word : toward an evangelical ecclesiology, ed. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2005), 118-20.

[2] Guder, 120.