Jeff Jeremiah Sep 25, 2008
The working definition of a missional church that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church approved at its 2008 General Assembly states that a missional church is one “that believes that the United States has become post-Christian and is now a mission field” (emphasis added). Knowing that the term “post-Christian” has drawn an unfavorable response from some, I’d like to address another term, post-Christendom. Post-Christendom is used synonymously with post-Christian, and is written about extensively in the missional literature I’ve been reading.
Christendom asserts that the church enjoys a central and dominant place of influence and power in western culture, or, that western civilization is “Christian.”* (Ed McCallum writes in the “Missional Primer” that Christendom is a synthesis between the church and state that began to emerge with the official toleration of Christianity via the Edict of Milan in A.D. 314). This synthesis was complete with the coronation of Otto I as the Holy Roman Emperor by Pope John XII is A.D. 962. With the ascendancy of Christendom, Christianity moved from one of many religions to the dominant religion in Western civilization.
For centuries, the institutions of western culture “Christianized” people and discouraged (and even stigmatized) non-Christian belief and behavior. On an individual level, to be “Christianized” meant that people who were not Christians are familiar with the Bible and its message, affirm the culture’s affirmation of Christian belief and behavior, and are favorably disposed to the Gospel. Though people were “Christianized” by the culture, they were not regenerated or converted by it. The church’s job in Christendom is to challenge people to enter into a vital, living relationship with Jesus Christ.** In this setting, churches are able to assume that a significant stream of non-Christians who are familiar with and favorably disposed to the Gospel will continually come to church in search of the salvation that is found only in Jesus Christ.
The word “post-” means “beyond” or “following after.” “Post-Christendom” means that the time of Christendom, in which Christianity enjoyed a dominant place in western culture has passed. Is it still a factor, an influence in society? Yes, but it no longer enjoys a prominent place in the West, especially in larger metropolitan areas. We find ourselves in a similar position to first century Christians: we are on the fringes of our society, and we cannot assume that people know the Christian message, are open to the Gospel, or even that we will be talking about the same thing when we use a word such as “God.”
Missional writers argue that in this new, post-Christendom setting, the western church needs to develop a “missiology” of western culture, in much the same way it has done effective missiology for mission to non-Christian cultures around the world. A missiology of western culture means rethinking and reformulating what it means for do worship, discipleship, community and service in a reformed and evangelical way and to engage effectively with people in post-Christendom society.
* Craig Carter, Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective, (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007), page 6.
** Tim Keller, “Missional Church,” page 1.