Monday, May 14, 2007

Thoughts on Christendom, part 2

The comments left on my first installment of these reflections on Christendom (I perceive this may be an on going reflection) have lead me to think I need to explain further my expansion of the concept of Christendom.
As I understand have encountered the term "Christendom" falls into two general concepts that often overlap in various discussions 1) Christendom is that social political and cultural situation that Constantine created when he legalized Christianity and essentially made it the religion of the Roman Empire (though it was a long time after Constantine before one needed to be Christian to hold office in the empire, and the full implication of having the potential of the coercive force of the State behind the church was yet to be realized) and which exemplifies Medieval Europe and Christianity. 2) The situtation in the US of de jure disestablishment of any particular Christian church but the de facto establishment first of Protestants and then more generally Christianity as Catholicism looses some of its stigma for Protestants. This de facto establishment does come to be reflected in tax law surrounding clergy and churches.
I want to note that if we allow and most seem to allow for Christendom to exist in both forms above then we have not thought fully the meaning of Christendom, and our use of the term is not useful except to condemn something we don't like in the Church's relationship to the world. I want to move away from the primarily polemical use of the term. This is what I was attempting when I said that Christendom is an effect of the Church in the World. My assertion is that our pejorative understandings of Christendom emerge out of a confusion of Christendom and the Church, a confusion that is common among Christians. However to say that there is a confusion of Church and Christendom and that the two need to be carefully distinguished does not meant that the two can be separated. If there was no Church as an eschatological entity that could effect the world there would be no Christendom. What I am saying is that we cannot avoid Christendom when the circumstances are right for its emergence. I want to say that Christendom exists when the Church's presence is large enough to influence the culture and society, and this influence is largely due to large numbers of Christians across the social stratas of a society and culture. If Christendom only emerges in certain pockets of a society we may not get the political situation where Christians hold the reigns of Political power, so I am not seeing political power and influence as the primary manifestation of Christendom, such is a later stage of Christendom, a maturing if you will.

But most importantly I want to say that Christendom is an effect of the eschatological nature of the Church. That being that The Church as witness to God bringing about a new world and age and that the old world and age are passing away, has real effect in the world- that effect is Christendom. But this effect is not the eschaton thus Christian culture and society is a mixed bag and doesn't create the perfect social order. In some sense those who cling to Christendom and those who reject it completely both expect that the effect of the church in the world is the bringing in of the eschaton, even though I think when pushed they would deny it. In a sense little is in fact lost (from the perspective of the Church, I am not speaking societally or culturally) if Christendom disappears the Church does not change. In the same way in the midst of Christendom the Church is still the Church, only the ability to easily draw a line between Church and World is lost. This is the source of the confusion. In either situation the Christians can loose sight of the eschaton as the founding reality of the Church, I believe this loss is rampant in our situation and this loss of perspective cuts across the churches.

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