What’s happening to Christendom, at least in the Global North (including Australasia)? We now find ourselves in the “Post Christendom Era.” Recently Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote “The two most important developments in the church of our time is the movement of western civilization into post-Christendom and the equally dramatic emergence of global Christianity.” Tennent goes on to say that Christendom today “produces vast numbers of nominal Christians.” He says its what Christendom does best. People call themselves Christians because that’s the culturally comfortable or normative thing to do. They do not light up the world with new Christians including their own children because they assume the culture promotes values that are inherently Christian and can just be caught naturally. Their legacy by default is godless secularism.
This is the scenario behind the decline of mainline churches and many evangelical faith communities as well. Tennent suggests that what’s missing is robust Christian identity, transformed Christian lives, a Kingdom vision for society, and a “deep commitment to catechesis.” Without these pillars, all Christian communities and movements in the West will continue to struggle with the inevitability of post-Christendom.
I agree with Dr. Tennent. But I also agree with J. D. Watt, the lead servant of the Seedbed* initiative. He quotes the Barna Group study on “Ten Transformational Stops” to say that we’re in trouble if we keep producing nominal Christians because we don’t ask the right questions. Rather than how do we grow the church, meaning in size, we are better to ask how do we grow people (starting with ourselves), meaning in holiness after the likeness of Christ. Just growing the church in size is to produce more nominal minimalist, so-called Christians, what John Wesley called “almost Christians,” “having the form of godliness, but lacking the power thereof.” (2 Timothy 3;5), and “low road Christians” not pursuing the high road of holiness.
We find ourselves in the West today in a post-Christendom world lacking the fire of an earlier day. It was William Booth who said, “The tendency of fire is to go out.” The church is meant to be a light on a hill, a blazing fire, not an ember surrounded by ashes. The church is in a low gear of mediocrity reproducing tepid, weak, nominal Christians and lacking covenant and commitment, power and potential to light up the world with holiness to the glory of God. We have met the “enemy.” It is that enormous part of the church that remains stuck short of fulfilling the Great Commission, “make disciples?”
The Church universal is not the enemy, but perhaps it is the church in the West that produces babes in Christ and abandons them to arrested development or infant mortality. We are not unlike the general who when surrounded by the enemy on three sides only responded with a command “charge.” We take on the church and post-Christendom and in the words of a friend, Andy Miller III, we shout “Forward to the fight!” What that means I’ll explore in a future blog.
*Check out Timothy Tennent and J.T. Walt on Seedbed at Seedbed.com