Decomposition of Christian power

December 7, 2008

church / culture / emerging church / pentecostal / charismatic / politics

To finish my series, I want to put the things I’ve looked at together a bit more.

I’ve tried to show how the problems in how historical problems in how the church has looked at politics, culture, and pneumatology have led, in some ways, to current trends in American evangelicalism. One could easily bring in other issues that contribute to this, and there are people who have. But I think these in particular are important indications of what I’m seeing.

It is well-documented in church history that Christianity gained political acceptance within the Roman Empire in the fourth century. Many have made the connection between this and the failure of Christians to love their enemies, their willingness to kill their enemies for anything from heresies to differing opinions, and their failure to challenge the powers of empire. There were exceptions, but these lessened in number and influence as the years went by.

It is also well-documented in church history, though to a lesser extent, that in the third and fourth centuries Christianity lost its emphasis, and then lost its willingness, to experience the supernatural in the lives of everyday Christians. There were exceptions to this as well, but these also lessened in number and influence as the years went by.

What I’m seeing, then, is that the church in this time period was willing to trade the power of the Spirit as well as the power of the Cross for the power of the State. We have yet to fully recover from this.

In recent decades, we have seen the explosion of the Pentecostal and charismatic church to numbers of over half a billion people and influence far beyond those numbers, and other movements have sought ways to speak to and challenge the power of the bomb, the legislative pen, and the judicial bench. Few, though, have combined these sides. Those that have, for the most part, have only done so for a limited number of years (as in the case of many Pentecostals who were pacifists in the early 20th century).

In light of this, one of my greatest hopes for the emerging church as it develops is that it will learn to reject the power of the State, and instead seek the power of the Cross and the power of the Spirit.