In this fourth post, I offer the reason the church's politics of witness to God's Kingdom come in Jesus has been undermined. Since the fourth century the church in the West has had a Christendom addiction, and it seems to be an addiction Christians have come to enjoy.
The church's most significant dilemma that it faces at the dawn of the twenty-first century is the same dilemma it has faced since the fourth century: What to do with Constantinianism and what to do with Christendom? In facing this most difficult challenge the very character of the church is at stake, the very character of its mission is in jeopardy. While the vast majority of believers have embraced Constantinianism (the belief that Christians should forge a close alliance with the state in order to influence and, if possible, enact Christian policies) and Christendom (the product of Constantinianism where the culture of a nation reflects Christianity and vestiges of Christian values), I believe that Christians must reject both if they are to be faithful witnesses to the gospel in the world.
It is from the ministry of Jesus that we understand how Jesus intended to reconstitute the nation of Israel in his ministry. In gathering twelve disciples around him, Jesus was founding a nation (that would become known as "Church") that would uniquely bear witness to the nations of the ways of the Lord; and the ways of this holy nation would not be the ways of the nations of the world.
But some two hundred and fifty plus years after Jesus, the church would be confronted with its greatest temptation-- the temptation to wield power, to reject Jesus' upside down kingdom and replace it with the typical status quo model of the pagans (Mark 10:35-45). The Emperor Constantine would offer the church such a temptation, and it would find itself unable to resist.
I think the reason that the politics of witness is so difficult for many Christians to engage with and understand is because for many centuries now the church in the West has been immersed in the Christendom context, where the mission of the church is conflated into the responsibilities of the state. In other words, church and state have been wedded together for so long that Christians have no idea how to think about politics apart from the nation. Thus, when I assert my position I am told I support withdrawal from the political realm, which s simply not the case. Whether it is a Constantinianism that seeks to enlist the state directly in fulfilling its agenda or a deceptive Enlightenment understanding of the separation of church and state that seeks to define religion as nothing more than a means for commending status quo morality that makes for good citizens, Christians in the West have been in this Christendom context for so long it is hard to think of the church's politics as something with its own integrity apart from the nations of the world.
There are those, however, who have responded that since Christendom is now our context, and that it doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, Christians should just get with the Christendom program and use it to further the gospel. If we can't beat 'em, we might as well join 'em.
I offer my thoughts on that in the next post.
1. The Politics of Witness: Introduction
2. The Politics of Witness: What It Is Not
3. The Politics of Witness: The Church as Nation
Allan R. Bevere, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)