Saturday, September 08, 2007

American Christendom, RIP /by Diana Butler Bass

photo: The Roman Emperor Constantine. The "grandfather" of the concept of Christendom.

, in the widest sense, refers to Christianity as a territorial phenomenon: those countries where most people are Christians are part of Christendom. In the West the word Christendom sometimes refers to Roman Catholic nations that include the "Social Reign of Christ the King," the concept that a nation is subject to the authority of the Church.

The term Christendom has been used to refer to the medieval and renaissance notion of the Christian world as a sort of social and political polity. In essence, the vision of Christendom is a vision of a Christian theocracy, a government devoted to the enforcement of Christian values, and whose institutions suffused with Christian doctrine. In this vision, members of the Christian clergy wield plenty of political clout. The specific relationship between the political leaders and the clergy can vary but, in theory, national or political divisions are subsumed under the leadership of a church institution. This vision would tempt Church leaders and political leaders alike throughout European history.

The seeds of Christendom were laid in AD 306, when Emperor Constantine I became co-ruler of the Roman Empire. Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 to order the government to stop the persecution of Christians, and convoked the First Council of Nicaea in 325 whose Nicene Creed included belief in "one holy catholic and apostolic Church", possibly an interpretation of the Great Commission, see also Constantine I and Christianity. Christianity became the state religion of the Empire in 392 when Theodosius I passed legislation prohibiting the practice of pagan religions. The orthodox Church gradually became a defining institution of the Empire.

My thesis in much of this blog is that the true mission of the Church is to BE the Church... not to run or fix the World... because we cannot. In conducting the affairs of ANY nation including the United States certain moral compromises have to be made so that the possibility of a TRUE Christian nation is actually not really feasible. Jesus was actually pretty plain spoken about this.

The Bible tells us in 1st John 2:15-17:
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

In the light of scriptures like these it is readily apparent that the role of the Church then is to BE the Church affecting culture from the roots up. The Church's role is not to fix the world or to rule it- but rather to represent God's love and grace to it inasmuch as we are able- to our neighbors and EVEN our enemies. This does not mean that we cannot be patriotic or cannot be civicly engaged- but it does mean that we have to be careful HOW we do these things. I assert that we as Christians HAVE to be careful and use wise and mature spiritual discerment in our geopolitical lives. The United States is a fabulous country with enormous potential for good. However, it is still a worldly system with wordly values... in the truest sense it is still part of the World and not the Kingdom of God. This cannot be forgotten if the virtue of the Church is to be maintained.

Good article from Sojourner's

American Christendom, RIP /by Diana Butler Bass/

The Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy, the Christian Right leader Rolling Stone magazine described as “the most influential evangelical you’ve never heard of,” died yesterday in Florida of complications from a heart attack. His passing, only months after the death of Jerry Falwell, signals the generational shift of leadership now occurring in evangelical Christian circles.
Unlike most people, I had heard of D. James Kennedy. In the early 1970s, he created the popular program “Evangelism Explosion International” to encourage churchgoers to be more assertive in witnessing to their neighbors. My then-congregation in Scottsdale, Arizona, used the program to great success. Kennedy was a hero to us—helping us all to be grassroots Billy Grahams and to double the size of our small church.
In 1979, Kennedy’s interests took a turn. As a founding board member of Falwell’s Moral Majority, he increasingly directed his preaching toward politics. His opinions on individual issues did not differ from other Religious Right leaders. His strongest contribution to the movement was his passionate belief that America was founded as a Christian nation and developing media to carry that message across the globe. “Our job is to reclaim America for Christ,” he proclaimed, “whatever the cost.” His preaching, politics, and public ministry flowed from this central idea: to restore Christian America.
And it is at that very point—the idea of a Christian America—that evangelicalism, along with American Protestantism more generally, is changing.
Born in 1930, Kennedy lived in a world so distant from our own that it may well have been possible to believe in a Christian America. Churches stood on every public square; members of the clergy shaped public opinion on every issue; schoolchildren uttered Protestant prayers and read Protestant scriptures daily. Many people from Kennedy’s generation remember—or imagine they remember—a vanished Christian world, an ordered society with Protestant faith at the center. Much of the Religious Right’s energy derives from a desire to restore that world, or to “reclaim America for Christ.” To that end, Kennedy mixed evangelicalism with classical Reformed theology and a kind of soft Christian Reconstruction, creating the spiritual fuel for a right-wing political and media empire that meshed with the longings of a certain age.
While Kennedy’s generation was ascendant, new Christian voices began questioning such nostalgia. “Sometime between 1960 and 1980,” wrote Methodist leaders Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, “an old, inadequately conceived world ended, and a fresh, new world began.” They recounted “the end of Christendom” in Greenville, South Carolina (the home of Bob Jones University), when the local Fox Theater opened—for the first time ever—on a Sunday in 1963. “The gradual decline of the notion that the church needs some sort of surrounding ‘Christian’ culture to prop it up and mold its young, is not a death to lament,” they claimed. “It is an opportunity to celebrate.”
The contrast between Kennedy and Hauerwas and Willimon is dramatic. Kennedy believed in Christendom, an American Christian nation divinely designed as the leader of a global spiritual empire, and in creating a Christian politics toward that end. Hauerwas and Willimon believe that Christendom, the ideal of a Christian nation, was historically wrongheaded from the start. “The church,” they argue, “doesn’t have a social strategy; the church is a social strategy.”
The contrast defines the generational shift regarding attitudes toward Christendom. Older evangelical leaders, for the most part, want Christendom back. Emerging leaders, influenced by theologians such as Hauerwas and Willimon, are less interested in “reclaiming” Christendom and more interested in strengthening a confessing church based on the model of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s alternative community in Hitler’s Germany. For younger Christians—evangelicals and progressives alike—Kennedy’s nostalgic world bears no resemblance to their own. The vision of a post-Christendom church, a community of pilgrims joined together in practices of faith and justice, energizes their hope for the future. As the Christendom generation passes away, a post-Christendom faith will, most probably, take its place. That may take some time, but it will eventually recreate Christian political theology in America.
D. James Kennedy, RIP. And while we are at it, let us bury American Christendom, too.
Diana Butler Bass is the author of the award-winning Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (Harper One). She holds a Ph.D. from Duke University—where Hauerwas and Willimon taught—in American religious history.


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