The Age of (Christian) Entitlement Is Over

This one has been bubbling around inside my head for quite a few years now. It started about 10 or 11 years ago, but has been brought to the forefront of my thinking by reading Scott McKnight’s ‘The Kingdom Conspiracy’. 
There’s a chapter in there that talks about the Roman Emperor Constantine, and the effect he had on Christianity by making it the official religion of Rome. That was a game-changer for the Church that Jesus disciples started. Until then, Christians were given a pretty rough ride, they were pretty much on the margins of society, and you didn’t join them unless you were absolutely convinced that Jesus really was who he said he was. It was a good way to get yourself arrested, jailed, or killed. 

In establishing the Holy Roman Empire, Constantine made Christianity fashionable, powerful, and politically, a force to be reckoned with. Church and state went hand in hand, and the Church, by and large at least in the West, has existed pretty comfortably since then. Yes we had the Reformation with Luther, Calvin et al, breaking away from Catholicism. But even then the State/church relationship still took centre stage. Lutheran Churches received the official endorsement of the German state. Calvin sought to establish Christian government in Geneva. That link between political power, and the Christian faith still held strong. 

The church has stood at the centre of society pretty much ever since that time. OK, there have been some ripples here and there, but largely we have reaped the benefits of Constantinianism. The church’s secure position in politics and society has meant that it has not had to compete very hard for its place, at least in Western society. Evangelism, discipleship and community don’t really have to be done when you’ve been at the centre for so long. 

And that might be a problem right now.

Is it possible that we’ve grown fat and lazy because we haven’t had to really fight for the space we’re in? And now we’re being squeezed out of that space. 

Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth that they are still spiritual babies who need milk, as evidenced by their continued infighting and squabbling. They need to grow up.

Mature adults don’t engage too much in infighting and petty squabbles, and they’re not interested in petty arguments that really don’t matter that much.

To borrow from Paul’s analogy, maybe that’s a problem with the Church, we’re still craving the milk of Constantinianism, and we need to be weaned off that bottle. We’ve forgotten what its like to be in the trenches. We’ve had it pretty good for so long that we’ve forgotten how to do evangelism and discipleship in a society that wants to bury Christianity’s exclusive claims. We’ve forgotten the vital importance of community. Practices that were ingrained within the Church in the New Testament have been lost, because, like Neo in ‘The Matrix’, lying on the bed, wondering why his eyes are hurting, we’ve not had to seriously use them. And now that the spiritual climate has turned against us, we need to relearn these and other habits in order to continue our witness, and continue the Missio Dei.

Maybe its time we grew up, and learned to engage with the world, to participate in the marketplace of ideas and argument, to know and defend what we believe, and take the blows when they land – because its not the first time Christianity has been under attack. Maybe in all of this we can hear the voice of our Lord, calling us to be the Church He meant for us to be. Not some child with an expectation of entitlement, not trying to achieve a utopian society by political means, but a genuine kingdom, with people living under the rule of their Eternal King. 

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About andy63

Auditorium/Facilities Manager at Kennedy Baptist College. Family man, Dockers Supporter, NFL and NBA tragic who loves the Red Bull Air Race and a good meal. A Christian who is grateful for grace and forgiveness and the fact that Jesus is alive.

2 Responses to “The Age of (Christian) Entitlement Is Over”

  1. Charles Taylor in his most recent seminal work ‘A Secular Age’ looks at how we are, to use the Pauline notion you refer to, on milk. Taylor uses the word naive, that we have lived in an institutional naïveté that has kept us from being relevant and authentic in a world that is crying out for a spiritual path. I believe Taylor is right when he suggests that the true secular impact is not completely about belief issues, it is the fact that Christianity is no longer imperative, it is merely a choice of many choices. Which I believe leads to indifference and self indulgence for many. And indeed ties in with your thinking. Constantinian acceptance lead to the desert movement which brought rigour once again. There are groups who are providing rigour but in hidden and small communities. My desire is to encourage more to explore the small authentic communities.

  2. Yes, McKnight actually refers to Taylor in his book

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