Christendom

January 17th, 2023

Definition of Christendom: “the part of the world in which Christianity prevails.”

Our deacon gave a homily (the Catholic word for sermon) at Mass a couple weeks ago. He talked about the need for evangelization. Evangelization is an essential part of Christianity. The deacon mentioned the “Great Commission” of Jesus to his followers from Matthew’s Gospel:

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19/20

The mission seems pretty clear cut. However, over the last two millennia, there has been a variety of opinions about how to make disciples. Sometimes, coercion has been used to evangelize non-Christians (e.g., the forced conversion and expulsion of Sephardic Jews from Spain in 1492). Often, preaching and persuasive arguments were used to convert others. Once in a while, Christians simply evangelized by setting a good example. St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said, “Preach the Gospel always. Use words if necessary.”

During his homily, the deacon mentioned that “Christendom no longer exists”. That seemed like an odd statement to me. It also seemed like he was pointing out the obvious. Christendom is a medieval word, and it sounds archaic to people of our times. He meant “Christendom” in the sense of a culture or society based on Christian values that are universally held. Europe before the Reformation might have qualified as Christendom, but that was a long time ago. Certainly now, in the United States, there is no such thing. Some people here still argue that America is a Christian nation, but the evidence points to the contrary.

The deacon spoke about Christendom in order to differentiate between two styles of evangelism: Christendom evangelism and apostolic evangelism. Christendom evangelism is what has traditionally been used to proselytize to the members of a society that is at least superficially Christian. Apostolic evangelism is the method used to convert members of a society that is pagan or secular. St. Paul is the classic example of an apostolic evangelist. He preached in ancient Rome, and he would feel right at home in 21st Century America.

Okay, so the deacon wants to attract more people to the Catholic Church. The pews are rather empty. He especially wants to young people to be part of the community. Most of the folks in church are old. That does not bode well for the future.

How to attract new people to Christianity, or bring back folks who have left the Church?

One method of evangelizing used by many Protestants, in particular the Evangelicals, is to depend on the Bible to attract and persuade nonbelievers. That technique works just swell in a Christendom environment where everyone has at least a passing knowledge of Holy Scripture. We don’t live in that world. Large numbers of people in America are biblically illiterate, and they have no appreciation for the Bible. They don’t think that the Bible is sacred, and they don’t even think it is relevant in modern society. To them the Bible is just another book, and not necessarily a very well-written one. The only people that will be persuaded by the contents of the Bible are those who already believe in the Bible.

Being Americans, we would probably use the methods of the corporate world to push Christianity. Maybe start a slick marketing campaign or make the liturgy more up to date. We would sell Jesus like we were selling an iPhone or a refrigerator. After all, religion in our country, especially with the advent of the Internet, is part of the free market. There are a lot of different spiritual traditions to choose from. Christianity is just another brand name.

“See how these Christians love one another”. – Tertullian, 2nd Century Roman

Tertullian, a Christian apologist in ancient Rome, struck upon the real reason that Christianity was attractive in his culture. It all boiled down to love. The pagans saw that Christians loved and cared for each other, and they longed to have that kind of community too. The early Christians did not need to sell Jesus to others. They embodied Jesus and his message. Love came first, theology second.

How does Christianity look in our culture? Do outsiders see how we love one another?

No.

As a Catholic, I sometimes don’t see or feel the love. During my lifetime, I have often experienced more compassion and concern from Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Buddhists than I have from my fellow coreligionists. I have never seen any qualitative difference between the morality of Christians and that of non-believers. Love is the litmus test. If Christians are just like everyone else, then why would anybody want to convert?

Evangelism is not about talking about Jesus. It is about showing Jesus to others, being Jesus to others.

That is what matters.


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