I am reading an article called “The Nothingness of the Church Under the Cross: Mission without Colonialism” by Ry O. Siggelkow. Two things strike me right away in reading this article, especially since I have been thinking about this myself in recent years:
First, the author says what is at stake is the very question of the truth of the gospel itself and the extent to which the presence of Christian mission and western colonialism marks nothing less than a denial of the gospel. Furthermore, any theological study, it seems, needs to also understand the theological conditions by which the gospel itself became “bound theologically, ideologically, and practically to established powers” (e.g., institutions, the state, educational processes, business success, and of course affluent and status-ed people—my list of “powers” not Siggelkow's; he doesn’t id the powers except for the implications of the word “colonialism”). The author writes that the question, then, of mission, today, is what is mission now in a post Christendom context. I would say, rather, now it is understanding mission, not so much in a post-Christendom context, but rather in a context in which the church and its institutions are seeking to only partially free itself from only parts of Christendom.
Second, in the long stretch of history we have seen the diminishing of what is evident in the NT, namely the parousia. Some call this the second coming of Jesus. I will call it the “apocalyptic expectancy and hope” (as does the author) of the imminent coming of Jesus. This expectancy and hope is solely lacking and, in some minds, has for all practically purposes vanished. So, we have exchanged the expectant hope of Jesus’ second appearing in the fulness of his kingdom with political visions (right and left, we all do this, even the woke). The “slacking of apocalyptic expectancy and hope” has made church leadership, and as a result, the church—at least in the western American church—dependent on the systems and structures of Christendom.
Those that rant against Christendom, however, are selective, nonetheless, as to which parts of Christendom (i.e., to which aspects of its systems and structures and institutions) are ranted against and those that are passively accepted and/or embraced. This is to some, a matter of survival, especially for those invested in such Christendom systems and institutions. Yet, as far as I can tell, the NT doesn’t teach us to do what it takes so the church survives; the NT teaches us to be church and expect the Lord Jesus to return–and to act, suffer, and endure accordingly. An apocalyptic gospel is always destabilizing, both for the institutional church (local or otherwise) and, as well, society (for which many/most Christians form their identity, seek stability, and pump up their status). No wonder a threat to Christendom is a threat to much of the church (and its institutions) and to us, our social and cultural us. In part, this is what made the world-turn-up-side-down at the birth of the church, at least until Constantine aligned the state and the church together. (Presto, Christendom was born!).
Some thoughts to make us rethink church.
*This post incorporates some of the words and phrases used by the author of the article and deserves a thread of footnotes. But the thoughts and conclusions are mine, of which I take responsibility for.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.