I was thinking about Christianity as an institution; as an establishment, versus Christianity as a Spiritual Commitment, and I ran across this short video.
All that blue area… how did that happen? Was it a result of the Spirit-driven success of missionaries? At first, with splotches of blue throughout Israel, Asia Minor (Turkey) and Southern Europe, I would say definitely so. (You’ll notice this is the only time in the video when any religion spreads in splotches, instead of smooth, thorough expansion. I think this is the difference between missions and conquest.) And although the modern-day spread of blue in Sub-Sarahan Africa is certainly exaggerated (Christianity is not nearly as predominant as that in this area,) I would concede that it’s primarily a result of missionary activity.
But what about the rest? Europe began as a mixed bag of scattered enclaves of evangelism, but its religion was sealed by the conversion of Constantine in AD 313, which mandated Christianity in the Byzantine empire, and then by Charlemagne and the rise of the Holy Roman Empire in the 9th and 10th centuries. By that point, Europe was Christian by default, not by conviction.
And the rest is pretty obvious. Latin America was overrun by gold-hungry Spanish conquistadors, who made a mixed attempt at missions and conquest, both of which employed forms of coercion. A third method was intermarriage, resulting in the overwhelmingly Cathlic Latino ethnicity.
By contrast, the original inhabitants of modern-day English-speaking countries remain largely unconverted, but their lands became Christian as they were displaced by Christian pilgrims and colonists. These sojourners failed to establish new anthropological centers for Christianity, instead simply founding a “second Europe.”
What’s my point in all this? Look at the Christianity we have today. Can we honestly claim that this is the Spirit of Christ at work in the world? In many cases it is, but is the preponderance of our religious establishment a true representation of our Messiah? Or is it more accurately a result of power-mongering, influence-wielding, and gold-digging?
Even in the latter case, God produces good from evil, and many of the most sincere Christ-followers I know have been introduced to their Savior by cultural means. But shall we do evil that good may result? God forbid!
I have always had a feeling that world-wide Christianity is not what we have made it out to be. Jesus counts many among his own, but I honestly doubt that he is touting that 2 billion number that we see bandied about. To follow Christ is to subvert the natural order, and I don’t believe it can ever gain establishment in society. It may, now and then, hold sway for a moment. But it always rubs too hard against the grain, until more worldly and pragmatic leaders regain power, dismissing the way of Christ back into the underground where it belongs.
There will always be a temptation to gain favor in the ways of mankind, to grow in influence, to produce a spiritual media-darling or a popular guru that brings comfort and popularity to our cause. We will always want to look for ways to be respected even by those who disagree with us. But Jesus warned us in Luke chapter 6, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat false prophets in the same way.”
The true prophets are not so well-liked (don’t think I’m necessarily referring to myself.) As the Spirit works in us, we will get the message through to some. But not all. And so long as we recognize this calling as the Missio Dei, a mission that belongs to God, not us, then we can thank him for that.
And press forward through the underground.