We live at the tail end of an era in Western civilization known as “Christendom.” I talked about “Post-Christendom” a few weeks ago in a few other blog posts (you can read them here, here, and here). Since Post-Christendom is by definition what comes after Christendom, it would probably be a good idea to explore what exactly Christendom is.
In my next few posts, I want to take a look at the origin of the era and culture that we call Christendom and how it has shaped the church as we know it today.
What is Christendom?
In the book Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, edited by Darrell L. Guder, Christendom is defined as the “centuries in which Western civilization considered itself formally and officially Christian” (pp. 5-6).
Christendom was that period in history (about the last 1500 years) when the whole culture was a Christian culture—when Christianity was at the center of Western culture.
But, as you’ve already guessed, that’s not the culture we live in anymore. Very few places, if any, in Western society consider themselves to be “formally and officially Christian.”
Alan Kreider, in The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom, says, “In Christendom everyone is a Christian” (p. 94). As a result, in Christendom culture, churches spring into being because people simply expect to attend church.
My own former congregation here in San Diego, was launched when the founding pastor went door to door through the streets of the community informing residents that a new Presbyterian church would soon be established. All he had to do was let people know when and where this new church would meet. And that was enough to virtually guarantee that the church would grow in attendance and membership.
Because it was 1953! And because back then those who had a Presbyterian background were certain to attend. All the founding pastor had to do was find the Presbyterians who were moving into town.
In Christendom, going to church is just what you do.
It Wasn’t Always this Way
That, however, is a far cry from the church in the first 400 years of Christianity. The early church was at worst persecuted and at best marginalized by the Roman Empire.
How did the church of Jesus Christ go from being persecuted and marginalized to being the dominant cultural power in Europe? I’ll share more about that in my next post.