I am coming to believe that Constantinian captivity may be one of the most important concepts for church leaders to grasp. I am finding it necessary more and more often to lay down some kind of concept of the Constantinian captivity of the church before I can get to place I am trying to get at. I believe that this is a real challenge. Constantine merged the Christian faith with the state nearly 1700 years. That’s a long time to live with what Lee Camp refers to as the “Constantinian cataract.” This idea, when considered, impacts everything. This cataract has been allowed to effect our entire vision.
I found it interesting in the most recent edition of wineskins, Fred Peatross interviews Tony Jones, the national coordinator for the Emergent Village. When asked what exactly he believed the Emergent church is attempting to do, Jones had a fairly direct answer, “I’d prefer to say that we’re trying to recover the gospel from Constantinian and consumerist tendencies in modern, American Christianity.” Those two tendencies I have come to grips with over the past two years: consumerism and Constantinianism. If you have no idea what I am talking about here, essentially it is the belief that the church has been mislead and baptized by the surrounding culture and has allowed the Western concepts of progress, success, economics, and power guide the Church’s understanding of the same.
With concern to the commercial aspect, churches have become marketing firms. With concern to the Constantinial aspect, churches have become political lobbyists. Neither is biblical. [Both of these concepts have evolved into their current state, and I am simplifying here and jumping through oodles of history to where I can make a few comments about the current state of things as I see them].
In my ministry, I have seen both powers at work. The tradition of which I am a part (a cappella churches of Christ) I think has a leg up on the competition when it comes to the commercial aspects of our churches. After all, we don’t use instruments in our corporate worship, I mean, c’mon, any marketing person would inform us that that is no way to grow a church. However, a recent progressive trend to revamp our worship (much needed to be sure) has swung the pendulum to a place where we suddenly are overly concerned with the commercial appeal of our services, and the “progressive” worship movement has led to an overemphasis on the two hours were together a week. This is a trend that many are noticing and are quickly moving to avoid. This is a bear of a topic to deal with . . . but I definitely feel that it is the easier one.
As for the political state of the church and her allegiance to her country . . . here may be the most challenging of all of my ideology. Sometimes I’ll eve say something in this regard and think to myself, “Do they really know what I am saying?” This whole concept stems from a reevaluation of our understanding of power. I first was introduced to the powers in college but have read much more widely on the idea lately, and have been glad to see a resurgence in interest recently prompting more work be done there. This issue drives right between the two no-no’s of cordial dialogue – politics and religion. It fuses the discussion together so that everyone will get angry.
I just finished reading Megan McKenna’s book, On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross. A fantastic book. I got it from a bag sale and wasn’t sure how great it would be but I highly recommend it for a study of Mark. If you come from a moderate evangelical perspective, it will greatly challenge you. It was printed by Orbis Books. Definitely a link worth checking out. It was my first real reading from a liberation theology perspective (though I’m not sure you would classify her perspective as entirely that – kind of a mix between liberation theology and social gospel. I don’t sense that she takes it unhealthily in those directions.)
McKenna takes a very earthy and hands-on approach to the Gospel of Mark – two ways I would have never considered reading a Gospel before. She fills the commentary with many great stories and illustrations (not all great!) highlighting action in the Gospel of Mark. There are too many to share, and through the first three-fourths of it that is where I found the value. However, in her discussion of the cross and the resurrection I was invigorated by her perspective. It was the first extensive treatment that I have read through the crucifixion and resurrection from the perspective of the powers. And where else can we better root a challenge to Constantinian perspectives of the church than the cross? This quote from Martin Luther King Jr. got me really fired up yesterday. This is from his sermon entitled “But if Not” preached on November 5, 1967:
“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid . . . You refuse to do it because you want to live longer . . . you’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take a stand. Well, you my go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the Spirit.”
Yeah, you probably should go back and read that again. Don’t bother with any of the gibber jabber below.
The cross challenges everything we know about church growth, about spiritual growth, about success, about power, about duty, about direction, about leading, about serving, about everything! The cross does to us what it did to the disciples. It flipped them upside down.
That’s powerful stuff. That’s the life Christ has called us to. One of sacrifice. One of cross-bearing. Not one of fear and apathy. There aren’t enough churches out there challenging their people to act on their faith! They are concerned with being good, nice people. People can be good and nice without Christ (at least that’s what I was taught, not all good people are going to heaven, you know). But it was because they didn’t believe the right thing – that’s what I was told. But, maybe, it will be cause we didn’t do anything that will be the cause of our demise. Maybe we’ll stand before our Maker and when he asks what we have to show for the many gifts, talents, and opportunities he gave us, we’ll point to all the great “stuff” behind us and realize that . . . it didn’t make the trip. Hmm . . . didn’t Jesus say something about that?
I like the challenge that McKenna comes at us with in light of the crucifixion. Am I ready for this?
“So it is with the death of Jesus. God has clearly proclaimed to humankind that killing must stop, and any rituals that involve death, violence, humiliation, or the diminishment of human beings must be discarded forever. The followers of Jesus must faithfully refuse to kill, to be soldiers, to participate in the destruction of creation and the human race, to pay homage to any government or nation that extends its power by killing, by war, by bombs, or pre-emptive strikes. Disciples of Jesus must find the courage to refuse to bend or collude with any structure or group that discriminates, executes, destroys, or takes the life of others. They must speak out on behalf of victims and steadfastly stand with them, if only in silent witness. They must seek to share their pain and to be in communion with them. Otherwise, like the rest of Jesus’ followers, including Peter, James, and John, we too betray our Lord; we flee in faithlessness and add to the pain and isolation to the suffering and crucified people of God still among us. Our prayer must be: Lord, have mercy on us, for we are sinners. Amen.” p. 214 hmmm . . . i wonder how that would preach . . . wow . . .
Well, I got fired up on this one today. I guess I made up for not posting for a few weeks. Hopefully, I’ll have a better time at it around the holidays (that sounds a little backwards, but we’ll see if we can make it happen) Check out McKenna’s book. It’s worth the challenge to those right-wingers out there, especially.