Christendom and Christianity

I’ve been thinking about Christianity a lot lately. I’ve been thinking specifically about why so many professed Christians do the exact opposite of what Jesus calls on his followers to do. It’s a bit mind-boggling. Why would anyone profess to be an adherent and followers of someone or a faith and then do the exact opposite of what that person calls on them to do? Not a variation, mind you, but the exact opposite.

Honestly, following Jesus isn’t difficult to discern. You literally just read the words in Scripture that are attributed to Jesus, looking for phrases where he says things like, “If any want to be my followers, they must…” or “I give you a new commandment…”, or “Go and do…”

Yet, it seems as though many professed Christians are more concerned with determining who is right, rather than actually attempting to even try to follow Jesus. No where in Scripture do I ever read Jesus telling people that to be his followers they have to get it right and impose their beliefs on others to make them believe the right way. That’s not Christianity, it’s a form of authoritarianism. Do this, believe this, or else!!! Far too often, many professed Christians become the biggest hindrance to the unfolding of the Kingdom of God because they have made correct belief their savior.

This made no sense to me.

And then it struck me. I was wrong.

I made a bad assumption. I thought my belief that those claiming to be Christians would actually attempt to follow Jesus and that this belief was the norm and to be taken for granted. Of course, there are many Christians who do exactly this. I know many of them. I am blessed to know them. They are an inspiration to me. My relationship with them is vitally important. We encourage one another because following Jesus can be awfully lonely and frustrating. And yet, I observe far too many professed Christians who don’t. Many are in positions of influence and power – people who others listen to.

I made another bad assumption. That Christian churches were interested in teaching Christianity. There are many Christian churches that do just this, and do it well. But the reality is that there are many self-professed Christian churches that are really only interested in using the name Christian while discarding Christianity for something else.

See, I now realize that my assumption wasn’t the norm for the church. Not in practice anyway. In fact, my idea of what the church is all about is actually the outsider idea. I realize that I’m the outsider who is messing with the established norms of something that has called itself the Christian Church for a really long time. Much of the church today isn’t Christian and it hasn’t been for a long time. It’s Christendom.

I’m not alone in this though. I’m not unique in this either. There’s actually quite a few of us who have been pushing the church with these ideas. And we hold onto a long held tradition in Christianity that has held to the same message as well. There have been many who have come before me that have been proclaiming the same message. I’m just slow on the uptake in realizing that I assumed I was in the norm, when in fact I’ve been on the outside pushing in.

Christianity and Christendom are not the same things. There are parts that appear similar and sometime have overlapping interests, but they are not the same.

When I speak openly about Christians and the church living in a Christ-like way, adopting Christ-like ideas and beliefs, I’m going against what much of the church is really grounded on – Christendom.

Christianity.com posted an article from August 3, 2021 titled, “What is Christendom? When and Where was it?” Here’s what the article states is the difference between Christianity and Christendom.

“The distinction between Christianity and Christendom is found at the theological and societal levels. We found a good explanation in an article from The Dispatch, saying, 

“Think of the distinctions roughly like this—Christianity is the faith, Christians are believers in the faith, and Christendom is the collective culture and institutions (universities, ministries) of the faith.”

“According to Brittanica, “After the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the idea arose of Europe as one large church-state, called Christendom. Christendom was thought to consist of two distinct groups of functionaries: the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the secular leaders. In theory, these two groups complemented each other, attending to people’s spiritual and temporal needs, respectively.”

So when did Christendom start? The article says very plainly:

“According to Malcolm Muggeridge (1980), Christ founded Christianity, but Constantine founded Christendom. Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. When the church decided to get in bed with the empire, it stopped having its main focus on teaching discipleship and Christianity, and shifted to a church of Christendom.

I do disagree with the conclusion of the article which claims that Christendom died in the age of enlightenment. “American Catholic bishop Thomas John Curry stated in 2001 that the end of Christendom came about because modern governments refused to “uphold the teachings, customs, ethos, and practice of Christianity.” He asserted that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution established in 1791 and the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom in 1965 are two of the most significant documents causing the end of Christendom.”

1965 is not that long ago in human history. I would offer this correction. That Christendom began to die in the age of enlightenment. But it’s not dead yet. It continues to rear its ugly and abusive head. It continues to do what all empires have done – colonize, take what doesn’t belong to it, use names and words for its own purposes, to do the exact opposite of what it claims, and to mislead multitudes.

There is no secret that the church has been in decline for several decades. But the real question is this – which church? Christianity or Christendom? Over the last several years, churches have been gripped by partisan division and dissension over a host of things – elections, conspiracy theories, COVID-19 and safety protocols, and more. I think so much of this has to do with the dying breath of Christendom that is making its last lunge at holding on to life. Christianity isn’t interested in partisanship as a defining lens. But Christendom can certainly use it because the main goal of Christendom and partisanship are the same – acquisition of power.

Christendom has been in the drivers seat for so very long. When people, and institutions, have been in control and have had power, and then they start to lose that control and power, they react in a predictable way often – they try to exert more power and control over anyone and anything they can get a hold of. They will do anything they can, and sacrifice anyone who gets in the way, in order to get those last breathes of life. I think that is a great deal of what we are seeing in Christendom in America today.

Because they fear dying. They believe that death is the end.

And that’s a key difference between Christianity and Christendom. Christianity preaches life, death, and resurrection. Christianity doesn’t fear death because we know that death is natural and you can’t get to resurrection without death. And resurrection is transformed life – better life. In other words, the best days are yet to come.

Christendom fears death because it means that it is no longer in control and no longer has control over people. The sum is that Christendom believes that the best days are in the past, and so we have to either hold on to what we have through any means necessary or we have to try to recreate the past because the past is when we experienced greatness.

While Christianity follows Jesus path in which the means and the ends are equally important, Christendom firmly believes that the ends justify the means. Christianity is concerned with the outcast and poor and weak. Christendom is more concerned with might making right and the strong surviving.

Christianity is a movement that is supposed to be supported by an institution. Christendom has been an institution that demanded the movement support it while the movement doesn’t make too much noise or raise too many questions that would upset the status quo.

I can’t believe it took me this long to figure this out. But I’m grateful for this revelation.

No more will I get frustrated when there is resistance to the Good News from within the church – or rather from Christendom dressing up as church – because Christendom hasn’t been interested in the Good News of Jesus for centuries. Since its inception it has been interested in the gospel of empire – power and control. And it seems that Christendom is finally dying off. Not soon enough though. It’ll still cause damage on its way out the door.

Christendom is dying – thanks be to God. I’m firmly in the movement of Christianity. I’m not the norm of the church as Christendom and I never wanted to be. My call is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ that sets people free from bondage – even bondage to Christendom dressed up and calling itself church.

And the beauty of Christendom dying is that Christians have nothing to lose, but everything to gain. This is why we should not fear the death of Christendom, but cheer it on and throw dirt on its body in the grave finally burying it. Not because I hate the church. I don’t. I love the church very much. So much that I want the church to be church, not playing church but in reality being Christendom.

The church has been infected with the virus of Christendom for a long time. Christendom is terminal. The church however can look forward to death and resurrection. Because the resurrected church is amazing, transformational, and not only doesn’t get in the way of the unfolding of the Kingdom of God, but ushers it in for the benefit of the world. The best days for the church are yet to come. Especially as Christendom’s days are numbered. Thanks be to God!

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