Secularist Atheism is Driving Us To a Second Christendom
In 2008, Mark A.Noll–an evangelical historian–penned an interesting essay, entitled “Reconsidering Christendom”. In its opening paragraphs, Noll pointed out that one of the great watershed moments in Western history occurred at 6.00pm, April 15, 1521 in the “city” of Worms, just south of Mainz. Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar, announced to the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire that his conscience would be held bound by Holy Scripture, as a higher authority than the deliberations of church councils and rulers.
Luther’s stand was rejected by his “adversary”, Johann Eck, the secretary of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. He asserted that Luther’s argument amounted to a dissolution of the authority of the Church, on the one hand, and a retreat into radical agnosticism, on the other. In his rejoinder to Luther, Eck stated:
But if it were granted that whoever contradicts the councils and the common understanding of the church must be overcome by Scripture passages, we will have nothing in Christianity that it certain or decided. [Mark Noll, “Reconsidering Christendom?” The Future of Christian Learning: An Evangelical and Catholic Dialogue, edited by Thomas Howard (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008), p. 24. Emphasis, ours.]
Eck was clearly reflecting the mind of Charles V himself, insofar as the very next day, the Emperor stated that Luther would not be allowed to prevail because he held an opinion that was “against all of Christendom”. In this view, Luther and the Protestant Reformation signified the end of Christendom–the visible reign of Christ upon earth–were they allowed to go forward. Which, of course, they did. And in which the fear of Charles proved justified. Christendom came to an end. It broke up, and broke down. Nevertheless, as the old saw has it, “But wait, there’s more!”
Noll’s definition of “Christendom” is loose, but we get the point.
By “Christendom” I mean a society in which the institutions of an inherited and respected visible Christian church provide the main ordering principles for education, culture, and much else; where government defers to the church for matters concerning family, personal morality, culture, and education; and where, in turn, the institutions and personnel of a Christian church provide legitimization for governments that carry out what are considered God-ordained tasks of preserving social stability and perpetuating the favored social position of the visible church. [Ibid., p. 32.]
As the relentless pressure of atheistic secularism has increased, and as Unbelief progressively takes visible shape in our courts, schools, and communities, Christians are finding that they have much more in common than Charles V feared they would. There is a diminishing number of Christians today who would find Noll’s definition of Christendom offensive or wantonly utopian. A growing number are realising that if we do not live and strive for such a Christian kingdom, we will be crushed under the imperialistic aggression of militant Unbelief.
For a growing number of Protestants this realisation is not merely a pragmatic response to secularist pressure, but is increasingly theological. Christians are rethinking the Bible’s teaching and revelation concerning the Kingdom of God and are concluding that this Kingdom is not a gnostic, intangible, pietistic, and invisible realm, though it certainly embraces and includes gnosis, intangibles, piety, and awareness of invisibilities. Christ’s Kingdom involves and includes bringing every thought captive, seeing every knee willingly bowed, and every square inch of creation reflecting the glory of God truthfully and volitionally. (Noll’s essay gives public, well-known examples of this re-thinking–which, he argues, is taking place both within Western Protestantism and Catholicism.)
Ironically, it is as Protestant consciences are held captive to the Word of God that they come to embrace Christendom or the visible extension of Christ’s reign upon the earth. Eck and Charles V certainly feared chaotic dissolution and an end to Christendom if Luther’s approach were to succeed. But these days it seems as if the rumours of the end of Christendom were greatly exaggerated. It is certainly true that the First Christendom came to an end. But the next two or three centuries will most likely see the recrudescence of a second Christendom–more global, world-wide, international, and catholic than heretofore imagined possible.
We believe Luther was right. Whilst consciences bound to the Word of God might appear, at first blush, to threaten a dissolution of the institutions of Christianity and represent a harbinger of chaos, what Eck and others overlooked was the Deep Magic of the Spirit of Christ binding an ever growing number of hearts and minds and consciences to the Messiah and His apostolic Word.
The Gospel is powerful not because it is some magical talisman. The Gospel becomes powerful in hearts, minds, and cultures when it comes in the Word and the Spirit. On this most solid of foundations Christendom will be built. But not at our command nor our contrivance, for the Spirit, as always, blows where He wills, and none can interdict nor gainsay His hand. Herein lies the ground and certainty of our hope.
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