The British Historian Toynbee says that there are three explanations of the relationship of Christianity to civilization. First, as a destroyer of civilization. This is why according to Gibbon the Roman Empire collapsed. Christianity taught men to be more interested in Heaven than in earth, to be more concerned with the future than with the present. Consequently, when the barbarians attacked Rome, the Christians were not zealous for the Empire of earth so did not defend it.
Second, as a bridge. Christianity bridged the gulf between Roman civilization and modern civilization; that is, through the Church the finest elements of Roman culture have been preserved and introduced into our Western civilization. Third, as a benefactor. There are those who see how Christianity has influenced for good those nations called Christian nations.
We are not as interested in the influence of Christianity upon civilization, either ancient or modern, as we are in the influence of civilization, so-called, upon Christianity. To appreciate this, we must differentiate between Christendom and Christianity.
“Christianity is Christ.” wrote Dr. Griffith Thomas, and while this is true, it is necessary to amplify that simple definition. Christianity proper also embraces all who are in Christ. The mystical Christ is Christianity, the Risen Head and all the members of His Body on earth. Christianity is that which on earth is genuine.
Christendom embraces all who profess to submit to Christian teaching. Most of the Western nations are in this sense called Christian. They have allowed, and in a measure have been influenced by Christian teaching at sometime during their history. Christendom therefore is profession, not reality. It is an assumption to a Christian position without the acceptance of the essential Christian possession, Christ.
The beginning of Christianity dates from the coming of Christ. “When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4). The beginning of Christendom may be dated about 312 A.D., the days of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Under his policy of government he became very tolerant toward the Christians. His predecessors had cruelly persecuted them. Christianity under Constantine became fashionable. Christianized pagans entered the churches bringing with them their evil practices. Thousands all over the Roman Empire became Christian in name who were not Christian in fact; such is Christendom.
Let us consider the characteristics of Christendom from recorded history and from the Word of God. Let us look at Christendom in the past, present, and future. There are three words which attach themselves to these tenses of time.
Christendom in the Past: Perversion
It was the mixed multitude that went out of Egypt with Israel that caused the problems and sin among God’s people in the wilderness. It is very similar in the history of the professing Church. Very early in the era of the Church evil infiltrated through mixed membership.
A review of the early history of Christendom gives the impression that Christendom is simply Judaized Christianity; at other times, that it is Paganized Christianity. Both of these ideas are well substantiated by recorded history and by the Holy Scriptures.
There are five passages of Scripture which belong to Church history between the days of the apostles and the reign of Constantine: the Epistle to the Galatians, the Epistle to the Colossians, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of First John, and the Book of Revelation 2:1-17. These have much to suggest regarding Christendom in its two subtle forms.
Judaized Christianity: There was a concerted effort in apostolic times to pervert the gospel of divine grace with Jewish tradition. Among Gentile converts certain false teachers taught that faith in Christ alone was insufficient for salvation, that it was necessary not only to believe in Christ but to keep the moral law and to be circumcized, that these were works of merit. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is a strong refutation of this false teaching. In spite of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and the whole tenor of New Testament doctrine, Christendom to this day, generally speaking, teaches that good works are meritorious and essential to salvation. Thousands in Christendom believe that Heaven is gained by observing the moral law.
There were also false teachers among Jewish believers who taught that the sacrifice of Christ was incomplete for salvation and that it was necessary to perpetuate the ceremonial law and offer literal sacrifices for sin. The Epistle to the Hebrews refutes all such. Notwithstanding the emphasis in the Epistle to the Hebrews upon the one and once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, Christendom to this day professes to sacrifice the actual Son of God in the Roman Catholic mass.
Paganized Christianity: Not only did Jewish tradition have a baneful influence upon the teaching of the early Church, but so did Greek philosophy.
After the days of the apostles, a heretical cult developed called the Gnostics (the Knowers). Members of this cult professed to possess a superior knowledge. They believed that all religions, both Christian and pagan, contributed to full knowledge. They believed that Christ was the highest of all creatures, but only a creature. Furthermore, some of them at least believed in two gods, one over all things good, another over all things bad, and that the conflict between these produced all the trouble in the world. All that was good, so they claimed, was spiritual and invisible and all that was evil was physical and material. In matters of conduct, since evil was material and physical, it did not matter what the human body did, and that since the spirit of man was invisible, it could never do evil, it was always pure.
While the cults of Greek philosophy did not fully develop until after the days of Paul and John, their writings anticipated them.
Paul wrote the Epistle to the Colossians against Greek philosophy regarding Christ and emphasized the Headship and Deity of the Lord Jesus. John in his First Epistle refutes perfectionism of the spirit and shows that the emotion of hate is as evil as murder itself.
The passage referred to in the Book of the Revelation (2:1-17), in its futuristic interpretation, reveals that the Church in her early days was orthodox in doctrine but failing in devotion; that is, during the Ephesus period. The same passage shows how that during the Smyrna phase of her history, the Church suffered severe persecution under the pagan emperors of Rome, and that how during the Pergamos stage of her history she entered into compromise with the world. Pergamos means marriage. Constantine was the successful tool of Satan to accomplish the marriage of the Church to the world, and thus institute Christendom.
Christendom in the Present: Apostasy
In the New Testament there are two passages which describe humanity at two different periods of history. The first is in Romans 1:21-32 and the second in II Timothy 3:1-9. In many points there is an arresting similarity. The first passage gives a delineation of Pagan Rome at the beginning of the Church era; the second, a description of Christendom at the close of the Church era. The only real contrast between these passages is in the words, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
A comparison of these conditions could be disturbing for it proves that, with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of the Church, humanity has not improved; in fact, that it has deteriorated. To all its many sins, it has added hypocrisy. The characteristics of Christendom in the present are clearly revealed under many different phases throughout the Word of God.
In morals (II Tim. 3:2-4): Men are involved in low moral practices toward themselves (V. 2), toward their fellows (Vs. 3-4), and toward God (V. 5).
In heresies (I John 2:18): The word “time” used in this passage indicates a short measure of time, an hour: “It is the last hour.” John then gives us the features of this last hour. He predicts the coming of a personal anti-Christ, and then adds that during this last hour, this present period, there are many anti-Christs. He thus intimates that the close of this dispensation will be characterized by a great anti-Christian movement projected by many different leaders, miniature anti-Christs. There may be here a reference to the extensive cultic movement of these last times.
In spiritism (I Tim. 4:1-3): Seducing spirits and doctrines of devils may be identified by the test indicated by John, “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God, and this is that spirit of anti-Christ” (I John 4:3).
In infidelity (II Pet. 3:1-4): Men ridicule the predic- tions of Holy Scripture, and scoff at the Word of Prophecy.
In apostasy: The word apostasy originally had a political significance. In the days of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, we read, “Israel rebelled against the house of David” (II Chron. 10:19). The word rebelled in English is the word apostatized, and means desertion from him who formerly had governed them.
We have a modern example of a political apostate in Castro of Cuba. This man deserted the former policies that governed his own native country, and rebelled against those policies.
The use of this word in a religious sense may be seen in Acts 21:21, where James says to Paul: “They are informed of thee that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses (to apostatize from Moses), saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.”
An apostate according to the New Testament is one who abandons the belief in Scripture he had been taught, and in so doing actually rebels against the Lord.
In the New Testament apostasy is spoken of as a “falling away,” a forsaking (II Thess. 2:3), and means a specific defection from the truth of God. Such an apostasy is predicted as taking place before the appearance of the man of sin, the anti-Christ.
The Epistle of Jude has been called, “The Acts of the Apostates.” This seems quite descriptive for Jude has much to say about rebellion against the truth of God. He exposes apostasy and gives the genuine believer words of assurance.
Such then is the scriptural description of apostate Christendom at the present time.
Christendom in the Future: Destruction
The Church, that true expression in the world of pure Christianity envisaged throughout the New Testament as a chaste virgin (II Cor. 11:2-3) is indeed the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:24-31). The false church, Christendom, is pictured in the Book of the Revelation as an adulterous woman, a whore (Rev. 17:1-18).
Christendom will continue to function after the Church has been removed from the earth. She will advance her power and her prestige until she rides the back of the ten confederate kings, possibly all the Western Powers as we know them, and, in the saddle, she will have much to do in their control and government. Eventually, God will influence that great confederacy of the future to throw Christendom in her apostasy from the saddle of power in order to completely destroy her.
The Christian and Christendom
As we examine the characteristics and history of Christendom, this system of hypocritical profession, this expression of blatant apostasy, the question in mind is, What should be the attitude of the genuine Christian toward her? The Word of God gives the answer. First: “From such turn away” (II Tim. 3:5). A modern translation reads, “You must keep clear of such persons.” Second: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (II Cor. 6:14). Third: A call is addressed to suffering saints who will be on earth after the rapture of the Church (These possibly will be of a godly remnant of Jews.), “Come out of her My people, that ye be not partakers of her deeds, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).
Compensations: To separate oneself from mere profession and from open apostasy results in positive blessing. To the godly remnant of the future, separation will assure them of deliverance from the plagues that will descend upon the Great Whore at the time of her destruction. Today, separation from a system so hypocritical and God dishonouring will result in an intimate fellowship with the Lord. He says, “Come out from among them, … I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (II Cor. 6:17-18).
The Apostle John speaks further of this fellowship. He says, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:1-3). Our fellowship is not only with the Father, blessed as that is, but with fellow-believers because they too are members of the same family of the same Father. As we turn from apostate Christendom to fellowship more intimately with the Lord and other Christians the words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians seem appropriate, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect (mature), be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereunto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Phil. 3:15-16).
Tests on This Chapter
1. Distinguish between Christendom and Christianity.
2. What is meant by Judaized Christianity?
3. What influence from paganism affected the early Church?
4. Is there any concrete proof of moral evolution?
5. What characterized Christendom in the past, present, and future?
6. What figure of speech pictures the pure and true Church?
7. What figure of speech pictures the ecumenical organizations of Christendom?
8. What is the proper Christian attitude toward Christendom?
9. What is apostasy?
10. Does separation from the world have any present benefits?