I have been arguing off and on for a few years now on behalf of a cause I call mere Christendom, meaning that Christians need to recover an understanding of the need for a distinctively Christian civil order, and moreover, one that is not limited to just one nation. Our assigned task, remember, is to disciple all the nations, teaching them obedience to Christ (Matt. 28:18-20). That is the assigned mission, so what shall we call it when the staging platform of that mission is accomplished? I am proposing mere Christendom.
What I would like to do here is set out some of the basic outlines of this project, along with some rationale for urging the adoption of the next Christendom in such a modest and unassuming way. What on earth is meant by that word mere?
For many Christians, who have been affected by the problematic assumptions of secular dualism, any kind of mere Christendom project sounds far too theocratic and bossy. And for the fire-eating, broken-glass-chewing theonomists out there, all twelve of them, the idea of a mere Christendom sounds like we have a fatal compromise baked into the project from the get-go. Why not a root and branch Christendom? Why not jet fuel Christendom? Why not yellow cake Christendom? Why not black coffee Christendom?
Well, cool your baby jets. Give us a few centuries, wouldja? We’re postmill. We’ll get there.
“We’ve got to start by finding a ruined city of giants,” said Jill. “Aslan said so.” “Got to start by finding it, have we?” answered Puddleglum. “Not allowed to start by looking for it, I suppose?”
C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
The Secular Failure
Now running in the background of all this, I take it as a given that secularism can no longer give a coherent account of itself, and consequently the time is short. In defense of this notion, I merely point to the fact that they now consider the task of defining a boy, or a girl for that matter, to be a real stumper and well beyond their ken, and way beyond the capacities of any of their recognized philosophers and wise men. There are some thinkers out in the hinterlands who still remember that aspect of life, which is why we continue to have babies, but these hands-on thinkers are not really recognized by the Academy. They are just cracker barrel philosophers, like yours truly, who are simply trying to provide a bigoted defense of the breeders. They do not have the approved letters behind their names, those letters being L, G, B, T, Q, and +, which isn’t a letter, but work with me. That + may simply stand for Pedophile, or maybe Prig, or, if fat studies are in view, Plus Size. We don’t know. Nobody knows anything anymore.
My point here is that the approved voices—however much they know about how—do not know anything about where or why, and as John Bunyan might say, there’s an end on it. Their grand secular experiment is done for. Stick a fork in it—because it’s done. Nobody comes to their lectures anymore, and if anybody did, the Q&A portion of the evening would be excruciating.
So the naked public square experiment is coming to nothing, which means it will not remain a naked public square for long. It cannot—super-nature abhors a vacuum. That means that there will be common public worship in the public square, one way or another. The object of that worship will either be an idol or it will be the living God. For the thinking Christian—and try to stay with me on this—bowing down to any of the proposed false gods and idols is out.
If you doubt that this is in motion, as we speak, just take a look at the pagan death cult of existential identity that is being forced on us all by the wokescolds. It is morphing into a straight-up religion as we are watching, dumbfounded, and there is no separation between this church and state. They have liturgical processions, they have blasphemy codes, they have catechisms for the kids to chant, they have sacred days, they have anointed priests and priestesses, they have a massive guilt machine that they have already monetized, and they have icons that they leave votive offerings in front of. About the only thing they don’t have is the sacrifice of a garlanded bull at Superbowl halftime. Yet.
And precisely because there is no separation between this church and state, that means that every faithful Christian is a rebel by definition, an enemy of the state by definition.
While the secular liberal neutrality jive was still a thing, it was possible for Christians to kid themselves into going along because the whole thing was hidden under a gauzy non-committal air. It was particularly innocent if you looked at it with an Escondido squint. Nobody was being asked to bow down to anything in particular, and so it was possible for Christians to retreat into their conclaves and worship God there, with the windows tightly closed—just like Daniel did. Not sure about that part, but I do remember that Daniel did something with his windows, and the most reasonable thing for him to have done would have been to close them, wouldn’t you think? He wouldn’t have wanted all of Babylon to think that he had become a Christian nationalist. If someone point sout what Daniel actually did with his windows (Dan. 6:10), you can simply reply that this is not how your tradition interprets it.
But back to our situation. Now that the rival cultus is out in the open. Christians will be required to offer some form of obeisance to this grotesque idolatry. And mark it well, there will be notable evangelical leaders who urge us all to do exactly that, and moreover they will exhort us to embrace this compromise for the sake of maintaining a good testimony. Not only can we not tell the difference between a boy and a girl anymore, neither can we tell the difference between a good testimony and a bad one anymore. Believe it or not, those two failures of discrimination are first cousins. They are related. If they were people, they couldn’t get married.
Incidentally, the ancestor of all these failures of discrimination was the refusal to acknowledge that discrimination really ought to be a good word. It used to be a praiseworthy thing to be a discriminating person, and, Lord willing, there will come a time when it will be praiseworthy again.
Once secularism has died the death, acknowledging “nothing” in the public square will no longer be an option. You will either march in your company’s mandatory Pride Walk, or you will refuse. You had better refuse. When they ask you why, tell them that it is because you don’t want to go on any walk that is headed down to Hell.
So it can’t be “nothing” anymore, and we must reject all actual idols. The only remaining alternative is Christ—Christ acknowledged in the public square. But Christ acknowledged . . . how?
The Theocratic Temptation
I am building up to a defense of my use of the word mere. Walk with me just a bit longer.
One of the features of ideological thinking is that smart people get together to devise the ideal society, which they then propose to lower from the heavens by means of a celestial crane. That society will thus make its appearance among us, whole and entire, and it will be bright and shiny, and we are then supposed to drive it off the lot, like it was a high gloss new car. This way of thinking about human societies has been the cause of massive amounts of unnecessary churn and bloodshed. Ideology is therefore an enemy, and I include theological ideologies in this. I also include in this the theology that is correct on paper, but which ideologues are riding as though it was an ideology. If the horse is ideology, it doesn’t ultimately matter if the booted and spurred rider is a Trotskyite or a Calvinist.
So ideologies don’t cause all this mayhem because they are false (although that component can make it significantly worse) but rather because they are embraced, and propagated, with an ideological cast of mind. They are propagated by what Eric Hoffer once called the “true believer”—a person who simply needs to know what flag to fly and what direction to shoot. What I am saying is that there is a way of doing the right thing wrong. As my father taught me, there is a deeper right than being right.
But in the meantime, as followers of Christ, we must still usher in the kingdom. We must pray for the kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in Heaven (Matt. 6:10). We must understand the final result that we long for, which is the earth being as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14), and we must act accordingly. But we must also be willing to strive for the establishment of this kingdom while operating on God’s timeline, and not on our own. As Christopher Dawson once put it, the Christian church lives in the light of eternity, and can afford to be patient. When we buy into our own timelines, the results are almost always an ideological and revolutionary impatience. And after that, the bloodshed.
So we must pray and labor for the arrival of the kingdom, certainly. But it must happen on God’s timeline, and we must only employ God’s assigned methods. And that means that it is not going to happen all at once. The kingdom does not arrive like the 82nd Airborne. It grows like a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31ff). It works through the loaf like leaven (Matt. 13:33), silently, quietly, steadily, slowly. Christ commanded us to do this thing gradually.
It is not enough to get your eschatology figured out on paper. It is not enough to set your ideal biblical republic in order on paper. Ideologues write about their utopias. Evangelists start with their neighbors.
Look at the Great Commission again. We are to disciple the nations. The first step is to bring them to the point where they agree to learn obedience (baptizing them), and the second thing is to start at one end of all that Jesus required (teaching them to obey), and moving gradually to the other end (all that Jesus commanded). Submitting to Christ’s authority in principle, and not to some witless idol, is what I am calling mere Christendom. Once the nations have learned to obey all that Christ taught, and it is only a few months before His Final Coming, I don’t care if we decide to call it Full Tilt Christendom then. But let us wait until then.
So if we refuse the task of the Great Commission, we are being disobedient. But if we try to make it happen all at once, at one fell swoop, we are also being disobedient.
Why All the Caution?
This “slow and steady wins the race” approach is important to emphasize at all times, but it is particularly important now, in that the secular establishment, as we used to call it, has gotten a bad case of the staggers. They might collapse before we are ready to fill their shoes.
There were two other moments in church history when this kind of thing happened, and in both instances a lot of wonderful things resulted, mixed in with not a few negatives. Not least among those negatives was the blow back, the push back, the recoil reaction against the Christian blunders. There are actual reasons why the mere mention of a mere Christendom leaves many Christians aghast. Those reasons are not sufficient to carry the argument, but they are reasons.
Salem witch trials! The Crusades! The Thirty Years War! The Spanish Inquisition! Whatever we do, we can’t risk any of that happening again. And so, to prevent any of “that” happening again, we continue to applaud the atheism and agnosticism of our current civil affairs, in the blind and blinkered belief that we are somehow preventing needless bloodshed.
Now I am comparing evils here, not defending the Spanish Inquisition, but please realize that over the entire history of that Inquisition, which a couple hundred years, they judicially murdered about 32,000 people. That was bad, and wicked, and let us abhor it all, especially as it was done in the name of Christ. Religious crimes like that are the worst. Christians who have views on how politics should go must always remember this. Because Christ was the incarnate Jehovah, and because He was convicted on a charge of blaspheming Jehovah, this means that Christ was executed in the name of Christ.
So 32,000 is really bad. But taking the averages, that was a pace that Stalin could match on a slow afternoon. But the objection might come that it is no fair mentioning Stalin here, because he was a thug and a dictator and was not democratically elected. Okay then, let us turn to these United States, bloody up to the elbows. That is also a pace that Planned Parenthood could match on a slow afternoon, funded by the American taxpayer, with the full support of the current resident of the White House who was (as some say) democratically elected.
Not only so, but he was ushered into power through the help of a number of the cool kid Christians, who do not think we should ever again run the risk of a rerun of the Salem witch trials, in which a total of 25 people died. That’s the equivalent of a few hours on an average Chicago weekend. What are you embracing for the sake of what you are avoiding? I’ll give you a minute to sit down and think about it if you like.
Two Key Moments
Now in a time when it looks like we might have an opportunity to make a great advance, we should certainly do so. We should take true advantage of this moment, which is not the same thing as taking full advantage. We should take the opportunity. But we should also be careful not to drive so fast we outrun our own headlights.
So what were those two historical moments I referred to?
I speak of the reforms of the great Constantine, and I speak also of the Puritan movement in 17th century England. Both of these developments were wonderful, and a lot of good came from them, but both of them had a downside. In both cases, the prior establishment was ready to be done with trying to govern before the believers were matured enough and ready enough to do it in all wisdom.
The kind of mind that sees down to the root of things is also the kind of mind that is impatient with all those around him who do not see—as he does—down to the root of things. He is the person who wants to take full advantage of the situation that develops when his adversary collapses. This is not the same thing as taking true advantage.
I see that I will need to develop all of this more fully, and so I will end with a parable.
The Secularists had a once proud football team, with a pretty impressive record, but they had fallen on hard times. Their coaches used to understand the game, but now they had an entirely new coaching staff, appointed by the Diversity Office, and that is why everything had started to unravel for them. One weekend, the problems became fully apparent—and it was right in the middle of a game against their arch-rivals, the Christians. One of their starting defensive ends walked off the field, and was back in the locker room, sobbing. The second and third-string defensive ends, who could substitute for him, instead went back into the locker room to see what was wrong. The linebackers started to question the violence that was inherent in the system, and were on the sidelines, arguing about it with the water boy, who, for his part, was maintaining that he was not, as they called it, “a boy.” The defensive tackle had walked off the field because he remembered an ethnic slur from a dream he had once had, and it had troubled him. He was in deep conversation with the team of game counselors, and they were helping him work through it. Finally, everything got so raggedy out on the field that the remaining members of the team came off the field and just sat down.
This left the Christians in full possession of the field, and six plays later, they scored.