24 September 2007

Post-Christendom Christianity

A young pastor I know here in Glasgow is preparing to give a talk at his church on Post-Christendom Christianity. I'm not sure how relevant this topic is in the North American church, as I'm not quite sure that America has become a Post-Christian culture yet, but Scotland (and Europe, for that matter) is very much in the throes of it.

To begin with, "Post-Christendom" is a term used to describe a personal world view, ideology or society that is no longer rooted in the language and assumptions of Christianity. Thus defined, a post-Christian world is one where Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion, but one that has, gradually over extended periods of time, assumed values, culture, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian.

The pastor is reflecting on where we've been:
  • Constantinian Christianity - a Christianity which operates from a Christendom mindset with the key characteristic being POWER
...to where we are:
  • Post-Christendom Christianity - a Christianity which operates from an early church mindset with the key characteristic being ????
He has had an abundance of input and feedback to fill in the ????, and is still wondering what Christ-followers of today would say the key characteristics of Post-Christendom Christianity should contain, some being: authenticity, community, flexibility, relational, intergenerational, marginal, sacrificial and subversive.

I rang in with my tuppence and shared that for some time, the emerging Christian generation has been banging on about 'community,' something I've had extensive involvement with. During my ministry I've been a part of the post-modern generation discussion that has occupied the thoughts, books and seminars/conferences of emerging pastors and missionaries. I have had the notion that in 50 years time, the post-modern, post-Christian, post-whatever generation of that time will reflect back on our generation as the era where Christians worshiped at the altar of 'Community' as a self-serving, self-fulfilling clique that promoted safety and sameness. I appreciate the value of 'community' for its biblical context, but often wonder if it's run its course as a definitive term for Christian togetherness.

The key characteristics that seem most relevant to me are authenticity, relational, mission and fundamental.

When operating in a post-modern context it is crucial that we, as leaders, be authentic. One friend that I've worked closely with in the last year put it like this, "Post-modern youth are born with authenticity radar and won't put up with people who don't live what they preach." Our words have a very short shelf-life with people of the post-modern generation. If they don't see words accompanied by action, the power of the Gospel is lost on them. Erwin McManus catches this fundamental issue when he says, "What I said on Sunday wasn't nearly as important as what I did."
Our grand vision, values and inspiration are for naught if they're not lived-out in the context of mission. We can even learn some things from pop-culture. Why are characters like Harry Potter and Jason Bourne so endearing? Why has James Bond's character been reinvented? Why were audiences so taken with Frodo and Aragorn? People are drawn to and relate with flawed heroes. Perfection in any context is not believable.

Closely related to authenticity, is the need for us to be relational. This means believers, saints, brothers and sisters of the faith inviting non-believers into the intimacy of our home setting; breaking bread with them; intertwining our lives with theirs. This means being transparent before them. If we keep people at arms length, we may be able to maintain the veneer of perfection, but we will make precious little headway when it comes to inviting them into a life with Christ. We must be comfortable with our weaknesses, our fears and our failures. This is how people will best relate to us and understand our need for a perfect Father... and theirs.

I said fundamental in the context of the fundamentals of our faith - scripture, prayer, discipleship and mission - as in Acts 2. In a post-Christian society where we model our lives and practices after the early church, we must, as a collective, dive into God's word together; worship and cry out to God together; and build-up and equip one another for the purpose of returning to the battlefield together on mission.
Reading scripture together is good. Worshiping and praying together is good. Discipling and equipping others is good. But none of it is GREAT unless it is for the purpose of sending one another out to love and minister to a lost world. Collective reading and praying is the equivalent of a farmer tilling the soil. It's only necessary if he is then going to plant the seeds, work the land and harvest the crops. The tilling (praying) is necessary, but if it's not followed by action, all he's done is turn the soil over and let it breathe. It's still just dirt. 'Community' is impotent if it does not culminate with MISSION.

So these are my thoughts on ministering as the church in a post-Christian culture. I'd love to hear yours!

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