Is Christendom Dying In America?

April 3, 2013 — 8 Comments

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Lukewarm faith that surrenders to the values of secular culture will not accomplish the mission God has given us.

 

Yesterday I received an email from Antonio Cordero, a psychologist from Venezuela who holds a doctorate in science management and serves part-time as a youth pastor. He had been reading my blog and wished to respond.  He began by mentioning several issues he feels presents “a gloomy spiritual future for the nation of America.”  

Mr. Cordero explained: 

“Well I believe there is still a fundamental misunderstanding in very many American Christians today: They confuse their own culture with Christianity. Somehow main stream historical denominations of Christianity are engulfed within a culture, which they define as western, civilized and Christian. But, the truth is that the suburban American way of life has mostly succeeded in placing the message of the gospel inside some sort of cultural cocoon, where it feels safe from a hostile environment but that makes it unable to have an effect on the outer world. . . “

“If Christians in America really want their country back serving God, they need to abandon their comfort zone and sacrifice mainstream culture for the sake of saving the lost that live among them. That might represent a tremendous sacrifice, very necessary when the Nation is in great peril.”

What Antonio Cordero is describing has been recognized before by many others. A number of people have called the American version of Christianity Christendom. (See my blog post Christendom Vs. Christianity.) Of course, the problem has been with the church for a long time. A major change took place in the church when Constantine professed Christianity in the fourth century. At that time historians estimate Christians probably made up less than ten percent of the population of the Roman empire. But in a few short years it grew to become the dominate culture of that society.

The problem with this is that the church was no longer made up of  highly committed individuals who had experienced a spiritual transformation. It had become a cultural institution, the official religion of the Roman empire. What the church had gained in human quantity, it had lost in spiritual quality. Church and society had become one and the same. This was the birth of Christendom!

Some theologians in Europe, as early as the 1950s were talking about the death of Christendom and the end of the “Constantinian era.” This because of declining interest in the institutional church on the part of Europeans. Increasingly, we are seeing that same decline taking place in the United States. 

Early Christians, prior to Constantine, lived in a world extremely hostile to the Christian faith. We have witnessed seventeen hundred years of Christendom in Europe and the Americas. However, our world is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. Perhaps we need to reexamine the lives of the early believers and scrutinize how they not only coped, but how they advanced the gospel in an inhospitable environment.

One thing seems certain, my new friend Antonio Cordero is right. Lukewarm faith that surrenders to the values of secular culture will not accomplish the mission God has given us. At present we are more often being transformed by our culture rather than successfully transforming others. This is why I’m personally so determined to help churches develop committed, obedient, mature disciples who rise above culture to follow Jesus Christ.

 

QUESTION: Do you believe “Christendom” is dying in America? If so, do you think this is a good or bad thing? Please respond in the Comments section below.

 

 

Dr. Gary Thompson

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I am a retired United Methodist pastor. I write adult curriculum for the United Methodist Church and have been doing so for over 10 years. My passion is helping the Christian Church more effectively fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and to help individuals identify and fulfill their God-given personal mission.

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  • Bj

    Is Christendom dying in America? Writing from the UK I really can’t comment but the church in my community has Christendom within its walls and some Christianity. The call to share the gospel with people saturated in Christendom is truly a work of the Spirit and one I am committed to. I have seen some small changes over the last five years with the Christendom folk but dramatic changes in those who have freshly encountered the gospel.

  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ Robert Martin

    For myself, as an Anabaptist, I’ve never really bought into the whole “Christendom” ideal. My theological fore-fathers were killed by folks who saw church and state as a single entity. Christendom is no different, really, except in that while it denies the single entity of church and state, it still makes the assumption that, even in the “separation” there is a union.

    Most folks make the Christendom argument when pointing towards the political Right in the USA, legislating moral issues, waging “culture wars” and so forth. And, they would be right in that assessment. But I put forward that even the politically Left in the USA are mired in Christendom with putting forth public policy for care for the poor, the disadvantaged, etc., to create a legal, public law code that assumes people are good “Christian” folks who would want that anyways.

    Both sides make the claim, implicitly and explicitly, that their political public policy is motivated out of making the USA into a good “Christian” society. And even, beyond the political, even in the rest culture, people make their cases for their causes out of appeal to the “Christian” ideal. “Give to the Red Cross, the homeless shelter, etc., because it’s the Christian thing to do”. Perhaps not in so many words, but it is implied.

    Instead of appealing to a non-existent Christendom, it is my opinion (and again, this comes from my Anabaptist background) that the church (meaning the body of believers, not the institution) needs to start being a witness to the world around us, not in some coercive fashion of using the power of either politics or public opinion, but through what James D. Hunter calls “Faithful Presence”. Jesus himself called us to be yeast and salt. You don’t need a lot of either to have a major impact.

    Dr. Thompson, it actually sounds really interesting hearing this kind of teaching coming from a UM pastor. It’s encouraging to see a “main line” denominational leader putting out this kind of teaching. I don’t want to seem out of place in suggesting it, but this kind of thought process sounds a lot like some of the thinking put forward by John Howard Yoder. If I may suggest, if you haven’t already, to read “Politics of Jesus” and “Body Politics” by that self-same author/theologian. As a more contemporary author, I’d also suggest James D. Hunter’s book “To Change the World”.

    God bless and keep up the excellent teaching!

  • Julie B.

    Only that which is not of Christ will die, the rest will be changed into a greater expression of Christ and His mission. If the people are confused, I would say that is a fault of the teachings of church, and unfortunately it seems that too many churches don’t keep Christ as their head. Under some of the current structures on churches, I have met way too many people who are talking more about their human “leadership” than about Christ, His love, His mission, His sweeping changes to the culture of His time, and discovering what He is trying to do today. So just who are the people being taught to follow? Are they encouraged to become disciples of religion, or Christ? It may not be a lack of faith, but a misguided “leading” of what to put faith in.

  • http://twitter.com/DrGaryT Gary Thompson

    I appreciate the comments–all important points. Robert, I think your mention of yeast and salt is “spot on.” This was Jesus’ images, along with light and a few others, that make the point a faithful minority can indeed transform society. But we must not be transformed by that society; we are the “called out,” the “resident aliens.” I’m afraid rather than providing the yeast that causes the bread to rise, we have allowed the culture to contaminate the yeast to the point it has largely lost its power to transform.

  • tony kiar

    The ‘watering down’ and undermining of scripture in order to preach a message that will appeal to more ‘paying customers’ and placate politicians causes eternal casualties among the very people who desperately need to hear His Gospel message. http://scrapbookwithtony.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/secularization-of-the-sacred/

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  • Dorinda Burrell

    True believers are rare in America. Many churches are social clubs that exist for themselves rather than places to prepare folks to reach into society with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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