Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christian & Christmas

My attorney advised me to explain the difference between Christianity and Christendom. Since I'm not sure if he wanted this for his benefit, or to help me avoid any pending lawsuits, I'll take a stab:

For the purposes of this series, I would label Christianity as that pertaining to the genuine Biblical content of the gospel. You could call Christianity the Kingdom of believers. Though secular society prefers to basically call anything Christian that is willing to identify itself as such (evidenced by many definitions--including my dictionary--saying that Christianity is comprised of Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), I'm not using the definition in that sense.

Look, the Holy Roman Empire can label herself as such, but it doesn't change the fact that she was not holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. I'm not looking to identify Christian as whoever is willing to carry that label. By Christian, I am saying that which accurately presents Christ, particularly His death and resurrection.

By Christendom, I mean the culture that can be left in the wake. It may be a culture that is formed by genuine Christians, but I do not believe one has to be a genuine Christian to participate in Christendom. Christendom is removed from the doctrines of the faith and is simply an attention given to the actions of those who may/may not claim adherence to these doctrines.

Christianity: doctrine based

Christendom: culturally based

Can a genuine believer be a part of both? Sure, but his allegiance must always be to the doctrine, not the culture. Can a non-believer participate in Christendom without grasping Christianity? Unfortunately, I think this often happens. By missing the doctrines of the gospel and the necessity of faith, a person is deceived into believing they are a part of the elect simply because they "do the same things other do."

For instance, I am pro-life. I am a creationist. As a believer in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection as my only means to the Father, I believe these are faithful, Biblical perspectives to take. However, I do not believe they are essential perspectives that determine salvation. I believe someone can be born again yet support abortion and denies creation. I think they are wrong, and I think those issues are important, but the person could still be born again. I also believe someone else could be a pro-life creationist and be excluded from the Kingdom of God. Genuine Christianity should be so determined to point a person back to the gospel that we do not count it a victory when someone simply adopts the above perspectives. We want to see them won to Christ. However, Christendom is willing to stop at exterior by-products (some times Biblical by-products, sometimes culturally created ones). They are supporting the same causes, therefore they fit in our culture. I think this can have a damning effect.

I believe the following song is the product of Christian doctrine, not just Christian culture:


Brad said...

So, would I be faithfully summarizing your distinction if I said that Christianity is the doctrine and Christendom is the culture that the doctrine produces?

danny2 said...

my hesitation would be that the culture does not necessarily flow out of the doctrine.

chistendom can be formed just as much by the tares as it is the wheat.

am i making any sense?

Brad said...

You are.

It seems to me that culture always flows out of doctrine and that doctrine inevitably produces culture(whether Christian or otherwise).

Your wheat and tares reference seems a helpful way to think about the issue.

The seed of the word produces a culture, but there's more than one kind of seed being sown. Therefore, the resulting culture(Christendom) contains, as you say, both Christian and non-Christian elements.

Question is, then, can a culture flowing from both Christian and non-Christian doctrine still be called "Christendom"? In other words, how many tares does it take before we have to start calling the master's wheat a tare field?

Brad said...

Last line should read "master's wheat field".

danny2 said...

great question, brad. not sure there is a clean answer.

think of the wwjd braclets. for some reason, they were the rave in the late 90's. did Christians wear them? sure. did non-Christians? yeah, for some reason.

in fact, over time it became so mainstream that it was distorted (kids in the local high school where i pastored would say it stood for "who wants jack daniels?") but also looses the Biblical Jesus.

would it be possible that a herd of 12 kids could all be wearing wwjd braclets yet none of them be saved. probably more than we realized at the time. are those 12 part of Christianity? not in an exclusively Biblical sense, I'd argue no.

but are they a part of Christendom? it would seem for it is something loosely associated with Jesus.

i don't think it becomes an issue of counting the number of people in the movement. i think it becomes an issue of being closely knit to the gospel. if a culture results from people being Christian, we have to remember those results are Christian themselves, but merely the fruit of the doctrine. yet, if the cultural by-product is all we focus on, and neglect the gospel, it has ceased to be Christian and is simply Christendom.

take the 10 commandments for instance. the faithful thing in Christendom is to see it as a victory if the 10 commandments are displayed in our government buildings. victory comes simply by our society displaying something Biblical.

but Christendom (not Christianity) allows the display to be completely severed from God (and Moses' intent). What if I stand there self-righteously believing I've kept all those (or enough) rules? What if I simply see them as a code of conduct that would make our society easier to live in? Then it ceases to be Christian (for that is not the primary gospel purpose of the Law) and is simply a part of Christendom.

Brad said...

Thanks, Danny.

One more question, very simple, easy to answer in a paragraph or so, I'm sure:

Is "Christendom" something you think Christians should be specifically aiming to create?

danny2 said...

no. (even less than a paragraph)

Brad said...

Not bad. However...

Taking "culture" in the sense of "the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time," is not Christ instructing the church to create Christian culture when he commands her to disciple all nations, to baptize all nations, and teach all nations to observe his commands?

Is it possible to fulfill this Commission without transforming "the characteristic features of everyday existence" shared by the nations we're commanded to disciple?

Darby Livingston said...

Could we say that Christendom is about building just another earthly kingdom among all the other earthly kingdoms, while Christianity is about Christ building an outpost of Heaven on earth? In this way, we can see how true Christians can be caught up into Christendom and be both at the same time, but Christendom cannot be part of true Christianity.

danny2 said...

darby, well said. you should have written these articles, bro. would have saved everyone some time.


i think the key is to see we were called to make disciples, not "a culture of disciples." the culture will naturally flow out of it, but should not be our goal. (and we'll sometimes need to correct when that culture deviates from the discipleship process.)

Brad said...

A new set of "characteristic features of everyday existence" should not be the goal of disciple-making?

danny2 said...

is your goal to have your son treat his sister better?

or is your goal to have your son love Christ more deeply and thus treat his sister better?

the end result may look similar to some, but the first scenario can have disastrous effects if the second scenario isn't the main focus.

Brad said...

The goal, as Christ describes it, is threefold: 1) to make my son a disciple of Christ, 2) to baptize him [insert joke here], and 3)to teach him to obey Christ's commands (including treating his sister better).

I agree that the first of Christ's commands is foundational and, in that sense, deserves the primary focus, but that in no way implies that fulfilling the the third of Christ's commands is not also part of our goal.

Again, my question wasn't whether we should make the creation of Christian culture our exclusive or even our primary goal, merely whether it is, in fact, among those things for which we ought to be laboring.

And again, if culture is properly understood as the characteristic features of everyday existence, then I think, in light of Christ's command, that it's clear that the creation of Christian culture--in all nations-- is one of the things we ought to be working toward.

Where I'm sure we agree is that this cannot be accomplished apart from the transforming power of the gospel and that, furthermore, these effects cannot be maintained when all you have left are the cultural trappings, the original foundation of which has been long forgotten.

And this is what makes your observations about Christmas in America spot on.