The Death of Christendom: Why it Happened.

Here is a riveting speech protesting the Pope's visit to the U.K. in light of the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church.  I will comment afterward:

This is not an anti-Catholic post, rather I wanted to post it as an example of yet another reason why the institutional church is suffering globally---most especially in Europe.

The Rise of Christendom (Institutionalism)

The Church of Jesus Christ is not Christendom neither is it institutionalism.  The Church of Jesus Christ is "where two or more are gathered in my name."  Nevertheless, Christianity has, over time, formed larger more organized religious communities.  The propensity toward forming a church organization can be seen in Acts as culture and the need to coordinate charity result in the need for committees, leadership teams, delegation and--ultimately complexity.

In other words, while Jesus was not necessarily interested in creating bureaucratic institutions, the call to preach the Gospel and, care for the poor, and take the message to the ends of the Earth meant organization.

The church, which was originally a persecuted, misunderstood community eventually conquered the Roman Empire.  The small band of disciples grew to such a dramatic extent that the Empire that once crucified Jesus, was no governed by Christians and the seat of persecution (Rome) was now the center of the Christian movement.

The merging of imperial power (earthly governmental power) and the Christian church is known as Christendom.  The Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the many Catholic (and later Protestant) kingdoms and states that emerged in Europe and happily merged politics with Christianity.  Well, it wasn't happy.  Each country and each King had its own hidden agenda and the Roman Catholic Church became corrupt as well because, as we all know, power corrupts (something Jesus warned us about).  "My Kingdom is not of this world," Jesus said.

However, as Christianity entered its institutional phase, Christianity went truly global.  Not all of this was bad.  The Jesuits in China, De Las Casas in the West Indies, and many other Christians brought charity, grace, and intelligence to countries far away.  But along with this came the Spanish Conquistadors, the partition of South America by the Portugese and Catholics.

I recently read about one European explorer who landed in the Americas and couldn't figure out how to even feed himself amidst the different American vegetation so he was wholly dependent on the local Indians.  This didn't stop him from declaring the entire land for his King, Jesus, and his country.

But the combination of politics and Christianity ended up in catastrophe.  The Wars of Religion (and the disease that accompanied that era) wiped out 1/3 of everyone in Europe.  The Enlightenment and the secularization of governments (which includes democratization) eventually (after the rise of Fascism and Communism which the Christian Church often enabled) set the stage for a more peaceful era in Europe.  But all of that came at a price, the loss of trust in Christian institutions.

We'll discuss the decline in belief in institutional Christianity in the USA at a later date--but in Europe, The Roman Catholic Church has been in decline for a while.  Some countries like Poland and Ireland have had a close relationship with the church (politics and religion still mix).  But these sex scandals are accelerating the secularization.

The Effects of the Roman Catholic Church Scandal

For those of us that are Christians, what are we up against in sharing our faith here?  This is where some of the Emerging/missional Post-Modern Christian Church makes sense.  The video in the previous post (Michael Frost) is helpful in Europe.  American Evangelicals get nervous when they hear the language of the Emerging/Missional church.  But this is the paradigm that churches have had to operate in in Australia, New Zealand, and Secular Europe for a long time.

Protestantism has not been that trusted in much of Europe.  In most of Europe, Protestants (and especially Evangelicals) are viewed as a cult.  This is a hold-over of the time when the church and state where the same:  "the only legitimate church is the Catholic Church."  "The only legitimate church is the Eastern Orthodox church."  So Protestantism always faces an uphill battle in Eastern and Western Europe.

This Roman Catholic Scandal is having huge repercussions for the Catholic Church.  There is clear evidence of a cover-up and in places like Ireland, the abuse of minors was systematic and covered up at all levels.  The church then (Protestant or Catholic) becomes a place of fear, of bad memories, of corruption.  In a place like Ireland, building a Protestant church with a white chapel and steeple, might not be such a good idea.  Even the building is a threat or has negative connotations.

This is why the approach that Michael Frost advocates in the previous video is something to take seriously.  It is not simply a theological matter.  It is a deep, cultural matter.  One that few Americans can relate to.  American Christians have no concept of what life as  Christian in Ireland would be like.  A country divided by Christianity and the largest church being associated with political control, all education, and institutions known for sexual violations.

For American Christians, religion is benign.  Christianity is benign.  It's not scary, secularism is scary (this is now changing as American Christians are afraid of Islam---but they can't understand why Christianity would ever be viewed as scary).  That is NOT the case in countries where Christianity aligned itself with Fascists (Spain), or with Communist interrogations (Russia), or systematic sexual abuse (Ireland).  Americans underestimate the danger of Christianity when it is in the wrong hands.  Jesus warned us, but we don't listen.

For our work in Europe here at Three Worlds, we have no choice but to look deeply at the history, culture, and negative effects of the Christian Church on this continent.  Quick dismissals of everything associated with these new approaches is careless.  Christendom has been dying for 500 years, and that's probably a good thing to a large extent.

Notice that the man in the video respects Jesus--and suspects that there is a difference between true Christianity (what Jesus preached) and the institutional Church.  Where this guy is at is where most people are at.  "There may be value in faith, and there may be value in the words of Jesus, but there's no value in the organized church."

We can critique these new approaches (and we will), but we must acknowledge the cultural, historical and sociological challenges that our churches face here in this region and in this age.