Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Christendom Legacy

I've been reading Stuary Murray's books 'Post-Christendom' and 'Church After Christendom', and have been pondering the claims he makes about the influence of Christendom on Christian theology. The first chapter of 'Post-Christendom' is here and the first chapter of 'Church After Christendom' is here

While Murray notes that there were worthwhile dimensions to Christendom, he goes on to suggest that "Christendom excluded or reinterpreted elements of New Testament teaching that had been important in pre-Christendom:

· There was no longer any significant distinction between ‘church’ and ‘world’.

· The general orientation of the church was now towards maintenance rather than mission, which was largely carried out by specialist agencies.

· Pastors and teachers were honoured, while apostles, prophets and evangelists were marginalised or regarded as obsolete.

· Mission within and beyond Christendom was accomplished by top-down methods, including coercion and offering inducements.

· Faith in Christ was no longer understood as the exercise of choice in a pluralistic environment where other choices are possible without penalty.

· The supranational vision of the new Christian nation, the corpus Christi, scattered through the nations was replaced by a vision of an earthly Christian empire.

· Discipleship was interpreted in terms of good citizenship, rather than commitment to the counter-cultural values and practices of the kingdom of God.

· Church services became performance-oriented as multi-voiced participation, the use of dialogue and the exercise of charismatic gifts declined.

· Clerical power and the disappearance of the ‘world’ beyond the church meant that church discipline became punitive, and often lethal, rather than an expression of pastoral care and mutual admonition.

· A preoccupation with the immortality of the soul replaced the expectation of the coming of the kingdom of God

· The church largely abandoned its prophetic role for a chaplaincy role, providing spiritual support for groups and individuals, sanctifying social occasions and state policies.

· The church became more concerned about maintaining social order than achieving social justice.

· Enemy-loving and peacemaking were replaced by the formation of a Christian army and the adoption of the ‘just war’ theory or ‘holy war’ ideology.

· The cross was less a reminder of the laying down of life than a symbol carried into battle by those who would take the lives of others."

Are these claims about the negative theological results of Christendom fair, or has Murray overstated the case or misinterpreted the historical and theological data? I'd be interested in your thoughts


Chris Thornhill said...

"Faith in Christ was no longer understood as the exercise of choice in a pluralistic environment where other choices are possible without penalty."

I think this is a particularly fair assessment of Christendom's influence upon Christian theology. I might suggest that this remains a largely un-faced challenge in many of our churches still today - both institutional and 'emerging/ent' alike.
The emphasis that Jesus put on his followers having to seek-out the Kingdom of God; to take up their cross; to live in the world as sheep amongst wolves; and to expect the same extent of persecution that he did, suggests that unsavory consequences await those who choose the Kingdom of God above the kingdom of man - at least in this age.
How can we live as faithful followers of Jesus while seeking protection & sponsorship from the State? Surely faithful discipleship will lend itself to a level of rejection and conflict with the 'powers that be'?

Ian Packer said...

"There was no longer any significant distinction between ‘church’ and ‘world’."

I think this is a key problem. Yoder talked about this in many places, especially his essay "The Otherness of the Church" (in The Royal Priesthood).

The Johannine sense of world includes the apocalyptic notion that we live “between the times” where the freedom of unbelief remains. Ultimately, the ‘world’, that is the “structured forms of unbelief”, will pass away.

Some sense of this needs to be recaptured in 'missional' conversation. Where some 'conservative' folk (for want of a better description) are negative about culture, they often fail to see their structured worldliness (as per my earlier post). In the missional attempt to be constructive and 'engaged' with 'culture', there is sometimes a lack of a sense of this negative (or at least ambiguous) 'world'.

And sadly, where the church adapts itself in either of these senses, it can no longer confidently claim a new world coming in its gathering or mission.

Anonymous said...

i think there is always a danger of doing what Stanley Hauerwas calls "reproducing Constantinianism by being anti-Constantinian".

By reproducing symptoms of 'Constantinianism' in dot-points and lists, I find Murray's work sometimes a little shallow in explicating the historical and political conditions that made a uniquely Constantinian theology emerge and persist.

This always brings the danger that we might come to believe that we are being non-constantinian by avoiding those symptoms, rather than agonise through the process of working out of what it means to be an 'alter-community' in contingent circumstances. As Hauerwas (following Foucault) proposes, I think the latter can only be done locally and as a singularity.