People who use the term post-Christendom are wanting to highlight a particular shift in Western European/North American society, if not beyond. The shift they are highlighting is the shift from a time when religious affiliation, citizenship and politics were all bound together, to a secular, pluralist society where government is committed to both secular and pluralist principles.
- ‘Secular’ i.e. not aligned to any religion
- ‘Pluralist’ i.e. providing equal rights of citizenship to all, irrespective of their religious affiliation
To people holding a Western European/North American perspective, this seems to name an observed shift from a time when the church had considerable political influence and Christians enjoyed many privileges, to our current situation where the church’s influence on society is unclear and Christians find themselves viewed as one religious group among many.
There is much in this description to be cautious about and the term is much debated in various books. Firstly, was the age of Christendom (approximately 313 to…. let’s say the 1950’s) really an amazing period of Christian witness? It is however undeniable that it had a considerable impact of one sort or other. Secondly, many will claim we still live in a Christian state (I.e. we are not living in a time after, or post, the age of Christendom). After all Christianity is still dominant in social structures within the UK, providing Christians with much influence through soft power.
None-the-less many in Western Europe/North America have found the idea that we live in a post-
Christendom society helpful when thinking about how the church can best be church today.
Ever since God called Abraham to not be like other nations but for other nations (Genesis 12:1-2) the people of God have battled with how to do this. From early accounts of life in cities such as Babel, the call of great patriarchs such as Noah and Abraham, the realities of Israel in the times of prophets and Kings, the humbling of a diaspora in exile, the radical proclamation of Jesus that in him exile was ended and the Kingdom of God had come, and the challenges of a church taught to pray in line with this reality: Our Father, Hallowed be Your Name, Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…
Made possible by and exemplified in Jesus’s birth, life, death and resurrection, the call to make manifest the rule of God in all the world as a blessing to all, is at the heart of what it means to be the people of God – the church. The discussion around Post-Christendom highlights that society has changed in the last 50 years or so and, because of this, we need to rethink how we do church.
Debate around what it means to be church in Post-Christendom has given rise to two key questions:
- How should the church work to see God’s rule established on earth as the lived experience of all.
- How should the church communicate the Good News of Christ in todays’ world.
For those focused on the first question, there is a further debate regarding how the church should challenge the powers of the age and what God’s rule looks like. I.e. what takes precedence: imposition of a particular morality, or working for a particular view of social justice?
For those focused on the second question the discussion focuses on issues of identity and relevance. I.e. should we focus on maintaining what we have and fighting for what we have lost, or should we gather worshipers in new ways and engage with the world in a kind of Christian guerrilla warfare?
Ultimately the Post-Christendom debate challenges us to think afresh about how the church can be salt and light in today’s world. It asks us to seriously consider how we can work with the Holy Spirit in making manifest the reality of God’ rule, today, in line with the Father’s heart to reconcile all back to God, through Jesus Christ are Lord.
Do’s and dont’s of engaging in mission and ministry, evangelism and discipleship, in post-Christendom.
- Teach commitment not certainty
- Develop relationships not attendance patterns
- Hold doubts, and engage with them sensitively; don’t provide easy answers
- Be honest about your own journey; don’t pretend you are more ‘sorted’ than you are
- Engage with emotions as much as, if not more than, rational discussion
Embrace the Church as the people of God struggling to inhabit a common vision; don’t pretend the church has it all sorted.
REFLECTION & LEARNING
- How do you understand your calling as part of God’s mission to reconcile the entire world back to God?
- What do you understand a world reconciled to God to look like (Isaiah 11:1-10)?
- How do you communicate the reality and beauty of God’s kingdom to the young people you work with?
- How do you talk to the young people you work with about how to make God’s kingdom manifest for the blessings of all?
- Read the Lord’s Prayer a line a day and meditate on what you have read during the day
At the heart of discussions around post-Christendom is the challenge to the church of how best we can be church in today’s culture. By definition this means entering into respectful dialogue with others. A good place to start is with your own team. Setting aside time to discuss together the questions above can revitalize your work with young people. For those who want to explore more, conferences, seminars and training days can all be useful, as can reading around the subject (two classics are listed below). For those who are called to engage with these issues in a leadership capacity, then a more in-depth period of reflection and formation, such as those found on full-time ministry courses cannot be underrated.
Stephen B. Bevans. Models of Contextual Theology: Second Edition. New York, Orbis Books, 2002
Richard. Niebuhr. Christ and Culture. New York, Harper Collins, 2001
Robin is the Director for Lay Training at Ridley Hall Cambridge which includes a popular youth ministry degree. Robin is passionate about resourcing the church for ministry and mission, evangelism and discipleship. As a youth minster and youth worker of over 20 years experience, Robin has a particular interest in training youth leaders to build God’s church. Robin is married to Sam and enjoys various fitness actives including callisthenics and running.