Sunday April 30, 2023 | Kris Beckert
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
This sermon addresses what Christendom is and compares it to an apostolic posture. While many bemoan the fall of Christendom, could this actually be a good thing as it makes space for us to return to the apostolic posture?
Today, the Christian faith is no longer predominant as people abandon the faith, leave the church or see no reason to pursue it. Gone are the days of things like “blue laws” where stores closed on Sundays so that church could be a focus. We are experiencing the “Fall of Christendom.” How do we respond to this reality?
Guest speaker, Kris Beckert, addresses this question starting with the nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty. Interestingly, in the original poem, there is no reference to an egg sitting on the wall. Actually, it may have referred to a cannon that was named Humpty Dumpty that was positioned high upon a wall, in a position that was easily shot down. It was in a place that it was never meant to be and its falling was merely a symptom of the fact that it was out of its natural location. This illustrates something about Christendom. It is falling off the wall, but the reality is that it was never meant to be in the position that it was.
This sets us up to understand two postures of Christianity. The first is called the apostolic posture. It was the common approach of the first three centuries of the early church. While other religions were built around holy places, holy people and holy relics, Christianity had none of these. It grew in the margins, just as Jesus had modeled in his ministry. Instead of building buildings, setting up rituals and hiring clergy, early Christianity mobilized everyone to live their faith in their daily lives. We see this playing out in Acts 8:1-8.
The apostolic posture embraces the scattering of God’s people as sending. It is not dependent on structures and the power of humans but on the supernatural power of the Spirit. In the early church this led to persecution until the early fourth century when Emperor Constantine experienced a vision of the cross in the heavens with the words “In this sign, conquer.” Constantine’s victory led to his eventual embrace of Christianity. In 313, the joint emperors Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, a manifesto of toleration, granting Christians full legal rights. Christianity assumed not only a position of favor with the state, but it became the chosen instrument for political regeneration. This leads us to the second posture.
Posture number two is Christendom. Overnight, Christianity became the favored recipient of limitless imperial resources. Buildings were erected, prestigious clergy rose, the church employed power and coercion to accomplish its goals. We can see manifestations of Christendom throughout history since Constantine. It has been the norm. The church has aligned with worldly power and we must ask if this is representative of the self-sacrificial love of the carpenter from Nazareth?
As we are now experiencing the demise of the second posture, we must ask if this fall is actually a great thing. Does it make room for us to return to the character and posture of Christ, the Apostolic mode? This means four things for us:
We can bemoan the Great Fall of Christendom, or we can release it and see the adventure ahead. We need not hunker down or rebuild Christendom. We are called to embrace the scattering and being sent.