The church started life as a marginal minority. A heretical sect despised by the Jews and persecuted by the Romans. But it grew.
In 312AD Constantine became Roman Emperor and Christianity became the official religion. Persecution ended, church buildings flew up, and new people flocked to the church.
For centuries Christianity remained the state, or at least default, religion in most Western countries. Citizens were assumed to be born into the state church. Parliament opened with prayers. The head of state was in some places the head of the church too. Church leaders were respected voices on issues of morality. In some countries a church tax – collected by the government and distributed to the church – is still part of the economic system.
That world, called ‘Christendom’, has ended. The church is marginalised, if not despised. While a majority may still identify as ‘Christian’ – we’ll wait for the 2016 Census results to be sure – most have no orthodox content to that faith. Certainly it doesn’t show itself in church attendance.
The new world is is called ‘post-christendom’. How do we live with it?
Many are attempting to preserve the outward symbols of Christian influence like prayer in parliament or SRE in school. But what effect they might have remains to be seen.
Others are attempting to work within the new paradigm and develop a new understanding of our faith.
In his book Church After Christendom, Stuart Murray defines seven major movements in this era. I’ve added what I think the implications are for us…
|From the centre to margins
|In Christendom the Christian story and the churches were central, but in post-Christendom these are marginal.
|We have to earn the right to be heard. Our lives have to stand out enough to get noticed. Mike Frost calls this living ‘a questionable life’.|
|From majority to minority||In Christendom Christians comprised the (often overwhelming) majority, but in post-Christendom we are a minority.
|The ballot box will no longer be our friend. Political action will become increasingly irrelevant.|
|From settlers to sojourners
|In Christendom Christians felt at home in a culture shaped by their story, but in post-Christendom we are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home.||Get used to being uncomfortable. The symbols and language we used are now irrelevant.
We need to work with the symbols and language of the culture we are in, not the one we wish we had.
|From privilege to plurality
|In Christendom Christians enjoyed many privileges, but in post-Christendom we are one community among many in a plural society.||Stop whining about how bad things are and start looking for other communities we can work with. Look for the ‘man of peace’.|
|From control to witness
|In Christendom churches could exert control over society, but in post-Christendom we exercise inﬂuence only through witnessing to our story and its implications.||Fighting outward issues is a waste of time unless it leads us to tell our core story. Retaining the dated symbols only results in a form of Christendom that has the outward appearance of godliness but lacks all content.|
|From maintenance to mission
|In Christendom the emphasis was on maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo, but in post-Christendom it is on mission within a contested environment.||‘If we build it, they come’ won’t work anymore. Expecting people to come to us is naïve. We must go to them.|
|From institution to movement
|In Christendom churches operated mainly in institutional mode, but in post-Christendom we must become again a Christian movement||Our institutions – especially our training ones – are part of the problem. Like many armies we’re always ready to win the last war, not fight the next one. We’re training people for jobs that have changed beyond all recognition.|