Month: January 2019

The End of Political, Colonial Christendom:

Artists rendition of The Battle of Milvan Bridge where Constantine claimed heaven opened and he accepted the Christian God.

Jonathan Faulkner

 

In the broad field of church history one of the many debates that will likely never be settled is the legitimacy of the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine who made Christianity the religion of the empire and ushered in the western “Church Age” that gave rise to the Christendom model that still exists in fewer and fewer places today. Constantine’s conversion allowed the church to solidify its doctrine, specifically the trinity and two natures of Christ, but the tie between the Church and Government that came out of it was nearly immediately problematic. Not to mention that once the Roman Empire fell and the emperor dethroned by the Goths a void existed that meant the other institution of power, the Church, was there to fill and take power leading the practice of the Pope crowning and ordaining the rule of the head of the Holy Roman Empire (800-1802)

I grant you this is a crude history that glosses over much of the details of Constantine’s conversion. Needless to say, the conversion set in motion the creation what today we call Christendom which Merriam-Webster defines as: “The worldwide body or society of Christians.” Of course, in the west we might add to this definition: “Holding power and influence over the state through political action.” Constantine’s conversion took a small, persecuted, but growing group of Middle-Eastern, Greek and African believers and set their teachings and leaders in places of power and allowed it to become a global faith. Hence the creation of Christendom.

And if we had left it at that, simply gaining freedom from persecution, even had we not had people placed in positions of influence, we would likely have been fine, but once we defined our doctrines, we found ourselves in power with little to do. As the years went on we returned to the place of our roots, waging wars against Islam and later against ourselves called Crusades. We responded to violence with violence and even committed violence of our own. The church became so powerful it could determine the eternity of the most faithful souls and condemn kings and emperors, wage wars and condemn heretics, exacting taxes and selling salvation. The Gospel became cheap and Christendom became politicized.

Then in the 16th century a monk named Martin Luther stood up to the correction of the Catholic Church and nailed the Ninety-Five Thesis to the chapel door at Whittenberg. By his own account he never intended to split, but reform, the Catholic Church, but a split occurred nonetheless and the Church in the West, which had already split many times and suffered from Schisms, split again into Catholics and Protestants.

Along the way we forgot we came from Middle Eastern, Greek and North African roots and began writing those things out of our history. By the time of Luther, Europe had already gone to Africa, The Caribbean The East Indies, Latin America and South America and with it began the ruthless and barbaric Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which would last until the mid to late 1800’s. We called Africans, who had been Christians long before we had, barbaric, animals. We dehumanized and sought justification for our supremacy based on skin color, even falsifying scientific data to claim that these human beings were somehow less or “other” than us. We raped and murdered and sometimes completely killed off indigenous peoples and held men in bondage and rewrote scripture to justify it and make sure they did not rebel or gain an understanding of their personhood. Christendom had become the twin of colonization, often times showing up with the colonists to help them “Subdue” the natives. All of this was justified by the Discovery Doctrine which stated that if native persons did not bow and become believers they could be killed off.

 

The Discovery Doctrine, issued by Papal Bull in 1493: The Bull stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers and declared that “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” This “Doctrine of Discovery” became the basis of all European claims in the Americas as well as the foundation for the United States’ western expansion. In the US Supreme Court in the 1823 case Johnson v. McIntosh, Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the unanimous decision held “that the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands.” In essence, American Indians had only a right of occupancy, which could be abolished.”

https://www.gilderlehrman.org/content/doctrine-discovery-1493

 

In America, Christendom fought for power and prestige all throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries culminating in the rise of the Christian Right and, as its death nears, an angry, renewed surge of Christian Nationalism. It apposed civil rights, continued the sins of the discovery doctrine, drove natives from their land, lynched innocent black men, stripped men and women of their dignity because of their skin color. It conflated the flag with the cross, making them synonymous. Many became cultural Christians, or Christians in name only and feeling their power wane they turned to violent nationalism, bringing with them some in the Church who had been leaders and who had grown up with the Christendom model with them. We panicked over the loss of our power and turned to a man whom we didn’t understand and could not control. Not all of us, some of us voted on one issue, the economy or whatever, some voted because they had seemingly been forgotten by the coasts and were angry because they felt they were not being heard. Racism, Hate Speech and other atrocities began running rampant. Christendom was dying, and we were confused.

The sins of a political, colonial Christendom have been exposed, there is no one to blame but ourselves, the church has lost its power and all this writer can say is “Praise the Lord.”

I know this is a bleak picture, but it is an important one, we must acknowledge our sins, some of which we are still committing. We must be willing to acknowledge our ignorance of the Church outside of our borders, a Church that is thriving beyond anything we can really imagine. A Church that is made up of every tribe, nation and tongue, that bounds across ethnic boundaries, a church that we are a part of, but have denied ourselves the benefit of fellowship with. We need to acknowledge this, we need to admit where arrogance and pride have spurned prejudice and hate in the name of power. We need to acknowledge where we have individuals have contributed to these things and seek forgiveness, while balancing a corporate acknowledgement that we, as the Western, yes, white, Church, has committed violence and dehumanized and engaged in supremacist ideas. Be humble enough to seek reconciliation that may involve some corporate and individual repentance. We have abused out power, historically.

If you are a long-time reader, and have made it this far in the article, you know I usually have a positive outlook on the church, and I do. Many are realizing that Christendom has run its course, biblical literacy is on the rise, as is the amount of churches involved in meeting the needs, spiritual and physical, in their communities. Christians in the pews are, in mass, abandoning the old model and politicized definition and acknowledging their place as part of a global, multi-ethnic and catholic church. But we must be careful not to make these changes without recognizing the ways we have failed in the past. We have to be humble enough to ask forgiveness where it is necessary and not assume the need to apologize means we are under some attack by leftist ideals. We need to recover the true Gospel that, as Paul tells us, has “Torn down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14) which we have re-erected using race and ethnocentrism as justification.

And as we go back to living Gospel centered lives, perhaps we will see a change in the world. I have no doubt that God is calling and drawing His people back to Himself. It is evident in the research of both Christian and Secular Sociologists. That calling means we need to repent of that which has driven us from Him and from one another. Because in this time of cultural crisis, the Church needs to be the vessel of peace and reconciliation that it is meant to be, a true continuation of the presence of Christ.

Jim Singleton has said, and I agree: “There has never been a time when the culture has been closer to the first century as it is today and the same goes for the Church.” That means that sect, schism and segregation are the privileges of a church in power. We must abandon these, re-integrate and renew our mandate to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. So that the world may know that there is a God, the God of the bible, who created us as one body, globally placed, crossing every ethnic line, not favoring one over the other. As politicized Christendom dies, the real Christendom can rise and we can enter the age of the Global Church.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Shifting Focus: The Vital Importance of Small-Town Ministry And the Pastors Who Lead There.

Jonathan Faulkner

It has sort of become a “Where were you when” moment for me, that is, I remember that I was taking a break from working on a research paper on the influence of Philip Schaff on Dr. Vanhoozer’s Reforming Catholic Confession (catholic referring to the universal church) and a critique of his idea of “Neo-Catholicity.” When I stumbled across an article from Church Leaders (Liberty University) about Andy Stanley’s comment about the selfishness of parents who take their kids to small country churches instead of mega churches like his. He has since apologized for the statement, but the statement is not easily forgotten, especially as a kid who grew up in small churches in small towns.

Of course, the full name of my Bachelor’s degree is: Bachelors’ of Arts in Christian Education and Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. Like so many of my colleagues I was ready to go plant a church in the inner-city, be the next Tim Keller. I went to Denver for a summer and fell in love with city-life and with doing ministry there among the homeless population and youth from families coming off the street. It was the first time I experienced a truly multi-ethnic setting as an adult and the first time I was confronted with extreme poverty and homelessness. God used that summer to stretch and break me and to eventually call me into the full-time pastoral ministry, a call on my life that was fulfilled in November as I accepted a call to First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center IA.

But hold up…. Buffalo Center…” I can’t find it on a map, didn’t you just write a paragraph about loving Urban Ministry?”

It is true, Buffalo Center is a small town in Northern Iowa, the closest city is Mason City (also known as River City for those of you who love musicals). The closest major city is Minniapolis/St. Paul. My youth pastor in high school described Sterling as a small town at the intersection of four cornfields, that description pretty much applies to BC as well, Sterling boasted 2000 inhabitants when the students were there, BC is just nearing 1,000 residents, both are much, much smaller than Denver or my current city of Boston. If I follow Stanley’s logic, I suppose I am being selfish, not taking a larger church with more resources. That of course assumes, that I, a rookie with two total years in a part-time pastorate after college was applying to churches above 100 members.

The hard truth that the church is dealing with now is that the cities have been over-evangelized and over churched. Resources have been pouring into the big cities from churches in other big cities while the small-town churches and pastors often feel neglected. Everyone wants to copy what Keller has done in New York City with Redeemer, which is good, the City to City movement has done amazing things with the Holy Spirit reaping more and more fruit each year. Meanwhile, there is a town one and half hour from here that only has one church remaining. Contrast that with Boston where Park Street’s steeple is just one of many steeples including Old North Church and other historic churches.

I get the draw of the big city, and I know the argument of going where the people are, but I think that leads us to forget that there are people who do not live in the major cities, that our small towns are actually quite full of people and some, like BC are actually doing quite well all things considered. Not only that, the churches there do as much if not more for their surrounding communities than some large churches in our big cities. This is not to say we need to abandon urban and suburban ministry for rural, we do not need to neglect the city in favor of the small towns and small churches, but we do need a more balanced way of working together and distributing resources, financial and otherwise.

To some extent this is already happening, Church Planter and Revitalizer Ed Stetzer has made a point to begin emphasizing the importance of small town ministry and we are seeing more and more Small-Town Summit’s pop up that create networking opportunities for small town pastors who often feel alone, forgotten and isolated. The Gospel Coalition has come on board and supported these summits, committing to help provide networking and care for small churches. In a denomination like the CCCC most of us pastor in small towns and need the connections with other pastors we have not historically been able to get.

Small town ministry is hard, not because one is as busy as urban pastors can become (though it comes with its own demands on time and challenges) but because it can be extremely lonely and isolating for the pastor and their family. One of the things that attracted me to BC was that one of the first things the head of the search committee said to me as we sat in Cracker Barrel in Minnesota after he had picked me up from the Airport was that he understood that they were calling a young family to a small town and that it could get lonely and that they were conscious of that and wanted to make sure I knew that they would care for us as I cared for them. So far, even before we arrive, they have done just that.

One of the reasons I chose the CCCC was their emphasis on pastoral care, when I was in the ABC they were just beginning to figure it out, but the CCCC emphasizes it. They understand that one of the crisis the American Church is facing is that too many of our pastors are burned out or ill-equipped or struggling with depression or mental illness. Struggles that are not unique to either Urban or Rural settings, that for a pastor be an effective teacher, leader, encourager and engage in effective and meaningful care of their congregations, they need to be cared for as well and be caring for themselves. As Christendom has disintegrated, it seems so has the idea that pastors are superhuman. Still, ministry in any setting is one of the hardest callings you can receive and one that requires the most humility and grace. Pastors often see people at their worst and sitting with that without proper spiritual formation or relationship with God, both leading to care by the spirit, through the word and the ministry of others to the pastor.

That being said, we cannot, nor should we have ever neglected the rural church. Not only was doing so neglecting a vital part of the body, but has also been an adoption of big city attitudes towards the rural communities. Namely, to overlook, look down on and demean the people who live in small towns but do vital work such as farming, trucking, refining and so on. Stanley just vocalized what many have acted out, showing how disconnected we can become when we focus on our own contingent. The Church, in contrast, is meant to operate as a global body with all parts and members communicating and working together for the advance of the Gospel in word and deed. That means we have to equally work within the cities and the small towns and make sure we know the needs unique to each. Especially in an age where the Church has lost its power and influence in most places. We no longer have the luxury of seeing to our own specific part of the world, our city our town.

We need to find a way to support all churches at the level of their need. Is a church struggling financially? A few churches that are not may be able to help them out. Is a pastor burned out? There are many places around the country and the world that provide comfort and rest for burned out pastors to come and recover. Pastors of larger churches can check in with pastors from smaller churches and congregations can, through their deacons and elders, take stock of their pastors needs and health, both physical and mental. We can work together to be the church as God designed it to be, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Who cares for all its members while caring to those outside, whether they live in big cities or small-towns?

Stanley, as he has admitted, is wrong to think that parents who attend small churches are selfish. If anything, they find themselves in a smaller group that is sincere and loving and cares for them in the ways they need to be cared for. More resources does not always mean right resources or better equipped. We need to invest in small town churches and small town ministry so that those who call them home feel connected and cared for by the body as a whole and so that the pastors who care for them do not suffer from the isolation that still causes many to burn out early in their ministries.

There is so much work to do, but the Spirit is working, let us be open to it.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.