Church-Planting Beyond the Borders of Christendom

I’m not sure if using the metaphor of Christendom and its borders is the most apropos? Maybe it’s better to say we are church-planting in a post-Christendom era of history? The weakness of that approach, however, is that there are lots of churches, and even more Christians, who have not left Christendom behind. I’m deeply opposed to “Christendom” type thinking and attitudes creeping in to the church planting work we are gearing up for in Victoria. The problem is, those attitudes and thoughts could even come from me if I’m not vigilant!

Our parent organization, the C2C Network, provides a monthly church planters’ “school” which includes an assignment of prior reading. In the reading for September, one article by John F. Thomas helped me to crystallize some thinking about the kind of church we aim to establish in James Bay. Consider this quote:

In general, a church must be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional liberal churches, and more deeply and practically committed to evangelism and conversion than traditional fundamentalist churches. This kind of church is profoundly counter-intuitive to American observers. It breaks their ability to categorize (and dismiss) it as liberal or conservative. Only this kind of church has any chance in the non-Christian West. (“Missional Community” by John F. Thomas)

As the corpse of Christendom lay decaying in the streets of North American cities in the early Twentieth Century, Liberal Christianity rose up, claiming the mantle of relevance and the freshness of authenticity. But it has long since been observed that the mainline churches who embraced Liberalism lost the ability to articulate the Gospel with anything approaching biblical fidelity.

Fundamentalism, it might be said, also stepped forward with zeal to preserve and protect biblical orthodoxy and an accurate Gospel message. But for those of us who have been part of this movement, our absence from the world while taking up arms on the battlefield of Truth left us speaking a different language, when eventually we stopped fighting, than the very culture we earnestly hoped would one day come to know the Truth.

Thomas, in his article, urges church planters to aim at building churches that are more intensely just and compassionate than mainline Liberal churches in their work for the city, and more zealous and orthodox in their Gospel clarity and evangelism than Fundamental churches.

I once served as a pastor for a small-town church where the default response to the gay couple who lived in town was to ostracize or at best ignore them; where the default reaction to an unwed woman becoming pregnant was gossip and quiet scandal. In both of those cases, I did little or nothing to model a Gospel-shaped alternative. So this article hit home for me–especially this part:

A significant disadvantage [in Christendom] was that Christian morality without gospel-changed hearts often led to cruelty and hypocrisy. Think of how the small town in Christendom treated the unwed mother or the gay person. Also, under Christendom the church often stood silent against the ruling classes’ abuses of power over the weak. For these reasons and others, the church in Europe and North America has been losing its privileged place as the arbiter of public morality since at least the mid-nineteenth century. (Ibid.)

Ouch. God has brought me out of Christendom. May He give us the grace in our new church plant never to drift back!