WHAT IS A WORLDVIEW?
Each of us interprets the events of our lives and our external reality through the lens of a worldview. A worldview is a philosophy of life that runs very deep into our soul. A worldview operates at the level of our subconscious thought and it teaches us early to make major assumptions about life. It is how we are taught to think as toddlers by the actions of significant people around us. Our worldview is largely locked in by the age of seven. Worldviews are so well absorbed early in life that it takes a huge amount of effort to change from one worldview to another when older. It is like asking a fish to live outside of water. Water is all the fish has ever known. Fish are not taught about water, they can feel it from the moment they are born. Water is the only medium through which they can sense and interpret reality. That’s how it is with your worldview. Every person carries in his or her head this subjective mental worldview framework of how external reality works. This is why we are taught not to talk about religion and politics at parties!
A viable worldview must answer the six great questions of life. These are:
- What/who is the ultimate first cause?
- What is the origin and nature of the universe?
- Where did humans come from and what is their nature?
- What is the nature of knowledge/truth and how do we find it?
- What is the nature of right and wrong?
- What is the purpose of history and what is our destiny?
All the great religions, both supernatural (Christianity, Hinduism, Pantheism, Animism, and Islam) and natural (Communism, Humanism, Buddhism and Post Modernism) are worldviews. The difference between these two camps is simply the answer they give to the first question. All subsequent answers flow from their answer to that first crucial question.
It is a difficult task for any aspiring worldview to answer these questions in a watertight fashion. Hence, the development of a new worldview is rare. Once a worldview takes root in a culture it lasts for centuries and it requires an enormous amount of intellectual and social effort for the next worldview to dislodge it. Islam is attempting just such a shift at present, demanding more space and respect in the Humanist western world. It will be an interesting fight for a long time to come. Worldview shifts are always times of great physical conflict, political change, legal flux and social anxiety. To understand the current global wave of historical and spiritual events you must fully understand this concept of competing worldviews. A worldview teaches the culture who is in charge, it is all about power and authority.
The dominant worldview at the time of Christ was classical Greek-o-Roman Pantheism. The Greeks provided answers to the mystical aspects of life while the Romans provided the political, legal and physical framework. With the arrival of Christianity, the Empire’s worldview was increasingly challenged. Christianity audaciously claimed there was a higher authority than Caesar. However, the might of Rome did not go down without a fight. For 280 years after the resurrection Christianity was a subversive, hated, marginalised and persecuted worldview. At the same time, it was single-minded, determined and mentally tough, tougher than the mighty sword of Rome. For the early Christian, being martyred for their faith was not a disaster but a promotion. We see a perverted parallel to this in the rise of the Islamic suicide bomber today. In 314AD, with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the entire Empire. All other beliefs now had to submit to it or suffer the wrath of Caesar. A dramatic worldview shift was occurring. Sadly, though, compromise within the church with aspects of the Greek-o-Roman worldview over the previous 100 years had made it very easy for Constantine to “convert” to Christianity. There is no evidence he actually became a personal follower of Jesus. Further massive corruption of true New Testament Christianity was to follow his conversion. The result is what we today call “Christendom”, which is a fusion of New Testament theology and Roman culture. If you want a quick mental picture of what this means in practice simply think of the practices and structure of the Roman Catholic Church which is a religious version of imperial Rome.
THE RISE OF THE CHRISTENDOM WORLDVIEW
The following quote comes from “The Shaping of Things to Come”, Page 8:
“Christendom is the name given to the sacred culture that dominated European society from around the Eleventh Century until the end of the Twentieth. Its sources go back to the time when Constantine came to the throne of the Roman Empire and granted Christians complete freedom of worship, and even favoured Christianity, thereby undermining all other religions in the empire. In virtually an instant, Christianity moved from being a marginalized, subversive and persecuted movement, secretly gathering in houses and catacombs, to being the favoured religion in the empire. Everything changed! The Emperor had changed from being the principal persecutor of Christianity to being the chief sponsor of the church. With the edict of Milan, the age of the missional-apostolic church ended. Things were to be very different from then on.”
I prefer to date Christendom’s birth from 314AD. Even this belies the fact that it had been in incubation for some 200 years. Long before this date, the church had been on a slippery journey away from vibrant New Testament faith. One by one, pagan cultural practices were creeping into the church. The forge of history eventually hammered out a version of the faith that was part Christian, part Greek and part Roman. This is the faith that converted Constantine. He did not convert to Christianity as we read it in the New Testament.
The following is a short list of cultural practices that had already become part of the expression of Christianity by the time of Constantine’s conversion, or were incorporated shortly after:
1. In the Third Century, at the will of Constantine himself, the Sabbath day of rest began to be transferred to Sunday. Christian meetings had always occurred on Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), but Sabbath keeping was a separate issue in this era. Around the empire, the first day of the week was known as the day of the sun, or Sunday. This sun worship was part of the religion called “Mithraism”. During the first few centuries Mithraism was a fierce competitor with Christianity for the heart and mind of the empire. The switch to Sunday rest was clearly a compromise to make Christianity more appealing now that it was the official state religion. Consider this statement from Constantine himself from March 7th, 321AD, “On the venerable day of the Sun, let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.” (www.bibleprobe.com/sundayworship.htm)
2. Mithraism also included devotion to relics, kissing holy objects, burning of incense, worship of angels, the worship of martyrs, consecrating samples of bread and wine, virgin priests and organization under a high pontiff. All of these practices eventually became part Christian worship, with the process speeding up dramatically after 314AD. (www.biblestudy.org)
3. Mithra had his annual feast on the 25th of December, near the summer solstice.
4. By the end of the Second Century, the format of the mass had been developed. It was part Jewish temple service and part Greek mystery ritual.
5. At about the same time a hierarchy of bishops and churches was evolving. Traditionally leaders had looked to the church in Jerusalem for direction. With its destruction in 70AD, they now looked to the church in Rome for leadership. Within a few years of Constantine’s conversion, St Peter’s was under construction.
6. Easter is named after the pagan festival of Eastre, goddess of the dawn. This idol could well have connections with the “queen of heaven” mentioned in Jeremiah 7:1-20. The 40 days of lent are borrowed from 40 days of mourning for Tammuz, the lover of Astarte, a derivative of the word Eastre. The change in title from Passover to Easter was yet another compromise to please a wider audience. (www.users.aol.com/libcfl/easter.htm)
7. The exaltation of Mary was simply a continuation of the popular fertility cult of Dianna of the Ephesians (Acts 19:23). Mary’s elevation to the title of “mother of God” came in 434AD at the council of Ephesus. (www.religioustolerance.org)
8. The single person temple orator, or sermon preacher, was a trademark practice of the Greek philosophers. Jewish teaching methods centred more on discussion and dialogue. (www.churchinfocus.org/modules.php?name)
This list is a small sample of the errors that were creeping into the early Church during this era. As early as 250AD, leading thinkers, such as Porphyry, were accusing Christianity of abandoning its roots to widen its appeal. The birth of Christendom was the last great creation of the ancient Roman Empire before it began a process of fragmentation.
Why did the early church abandon its roots so quickly? The cause can probably be found in the Jewish wars. Many of the Jewish aspects of early church life came to be rejected, and then despised, after the three Jewish rebellions from 67AD to 135AD. Until then, Jews were a respected people throughout the Empire. Many Romans admired and followed Jewish practices (Matthew 8:5-13, Acts 13:16). After the three rebellions, Jews were considered difficult, superstitious and of no benefit to the empire. For this reason, gentile Christians and church leaders of the Second and Third Centuries deliberately distanced themselves from nearly all of the Jewish cultural practices that formed part of their new Christian religion. Instead they sought legitimacy by adopting the intellect ideas and cultural practices of the dominant Roman culture. This is a very similar problem to what we have today where most of the modern western church has embraced evolution in order to seem intellectually credible to the surrounding Humanist culture. A dominant worldview will have all sorts of strange influences on minority worldviews within its influence.
THE MIDDLE AGES
For the ten centuries after 314AD, the relationship between the Roman state and its new religion slowly developed into a highly structured interdependence. This was symbolised by the special tie between the Pope and the rulers of the “Holy Roman Empire”. The church grew in influence because of its tight relationship with temporal political power. These twin pillars controlled the culture entirely. They formed the central command structure of a largely static Europe. This was Christendom at its height. It was a social and spiritual paradigm requiring all citizens within Europe to come to the church to understand themselves, their place in the world, their social and legal structures, their politics, their salvation, their economics, and their knowledge. The power of the state protected the church. The church legitimised the state’s power through the “divine right” of kings. The church was often funded by the state as well. Monarchies were naturally under the authority of the church, while the church, in return, had its own army and vast landholdings. The relationship between throne and alter was tight. Architecture, as usual, reflected the governing worldview with cathedrals dominating all major cities. By the end of the first millennium Christianity, which began in Asia, had morphed into the “White man’s European religion” and had totally abandoned its roots. The only connection to New Testament Christianity was the Bible itself, although nobody could read it, as it was never allowed to be translated out of Latin. The masses were led to believe that what they had was real Christianity.
This new deal worked to benefit church and state enormously. Both became so culturally comfortable with Christendom that only spiritual and cultural evolution could now be tolerated. There was no more room for New Testament spiritual revolution. Christianity had moved from being a dynamic, politically subversive, cosmopolitan movement for spiritual and cultural enlightenment, to being a politically exalted religious institution with its stagnant social structures, hierarchies and formalised sacraments. It was also landlocked into continental Europe. There was no need for further evangelism because everything was “perfect”. Historians call this “The Middle Ages” largely because of the slow social progress of the times. The only challenge to Christendom was Islam with its unsuccessful determination to conqueror Europe via Spain and then Constantinople.
Beneath the iceberg of Christendom the current of ideas was still moving. During this period, men like Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) were busy resurrecting Aristotle’s ideas and introducing them to Church institutions of higher learning. His notion of natural law as an extension of divine law was introduced innocently enough. Hundreds of years later, it was to be taken to its logical conclusion by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, who used this concept to argue for the beginning of an age of reason and an end to the age of revelation. The consequences for Christendom were devastating. Authority could now exist inside the mind of men and squarely outside of the divine mind or the church. This evolution of ideas from the religious to the secular can be clearly seen in the evolution of artistic styles and topics at the Uffizi Gallery of Renaissance art in Florence.
After several hundred years of such incubation, Greek Humanist thinking openly challenged Christendom’s intellectual stranglehold when the Renaissance (revival of Greek thinking) burst onto the scene in the Fifteenth Century. The thinking class, using Aquinas’ ideas, began to see the world through new and different eyes. They continued to see the spiritual world as sacred, but the physical world was now an independent realm of reality. Thus was reborn on a large scale the dualistic distinction between sacred and secular, between natural and divine laws and spheres of reality. This concept so thoroughly infiltrated the intellectual world that it is now perhaps the pre-eminent aspect of modern Humanistic western culture. Without this concept the rise of modern evolutionary atheism would have been impossible. It is also the reason why mainstream church leaders largely ignore economics, science, law, politics and other hard social issues. These realms are now under the control of the Humanists.
The Protestant Reformation challenged both Christendom’s tendency to accumulate and abuse power and the Renaissance’s dualistic rationalism. Luther’s superior Biblical understanding of the spiritual world split Christendom in two. He correctly identified the abuse of Biblical teaching and took the first tentative steps toward taking the church back to its New Testament theological roots. The spiritual snow ball he formed and launched down the hill of time continues to gather momentum today, especially in the developing world. On the other hand, he failed to address the culture of the day from a Biblical perspective. He swam in the same cultural “water” as his opponents. He had never stepped outside Europe to get an objective view of his culture.
The decline of Christendom accelerated with the Enlightenment in the Eighteenth Century. With the claiming of empires in far off lands, Europeans were exposed to people who clearly thought differently to themselves. Christendom received its greatest challenge with the publication of Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” in 1859. This blatantly Humanist publication openly denied the Biblical worldview’s position on the origin of life and the purpose and destiny of humanity. With its acceptance by the Humanistic intellectual elite of Europe, who were desperate to find a champion to get them out from under the oppression of Christendom, it was then only a matter of time before the other great tenants of Scripture were challenged. The history of the Twentieth Century became the funeral service of Christendom.
Today Christendom is absolutely dead politically, socially and intellectually in mainstream Europe. Humanist culture has virtually washed Europe clean of its Christendom roots. Contemporary Europe describes itself as “Post-Christian” or “Post-Modern”. Humanism is now the dominant worldview in Europe and in all other countries influenced by western culture, with the possible exception of parts of the United States. Ask any person on the street in Paris or London and most of them will answer the six worldview questions of life from an evolutionary/naturalistic/atheistic framework. Universities have replaced monasteries to become the custodians of this new worldview. It will now take hundreds of years to dislodge Humanism, and it is the Muslims, not the Christians, who are trying hardest.
Europe today is largely dismissive of, and openly hostile to Christianity, especially despising evangelical expressions of the faith. Until the recent rise of Islam, Humanists correctly sensed that evangelicalism was the only real threat to their cultural dominance. Several countries have already declared evangelicals to be mentally ill or a sect. Others, such as Sweden, have put restrictions on evangelical meetings or locked up clergy for reading Bible passages about homosexuality inside their own church. Apart from the Middle East, Europe now has the lowest percentage of evangelical Christians of any continent on earth.
With the triumph of the Humanistic worldview has come with significant suffering and grief. The two world wars were fought within a rapidly secularising Europe and resulted in about 80 million deaths. The great depression was created when western governments and bankers ditched the gold standard and created socialist currencies. The rise of Nazism and Communism resulted directly from the adaptation of evolutionary ideas about the nature of humanity. Their historical legacy is horrendous. Today the western humanist world lives on borrowed time, as evidenced by the slow moving train wreck of the global financial crisis. This has resulted in a fading materialistic and welfare paradise where family life has declined, marriages have collapsed, abortion skyrocketed and birth rates have plummeted. Of the sixty or so countries in the world with the lowest birth rates, most belong to the Humanist block. The western world is now morally bankrupt and lacks a vision for its children and its future role in the world. These collapsing birth rates are the key reason why Islamic immigration to Europe and the west has taken off in the last 15 years. The west desperately needs young workers. The clash of cultures is most evident in France, the home of Humanism, where the race riots of 2005 and the simmering debate over the public wearing of “Islamic” dress codes bode ill for the future. The culture of Europe is shifting under the feet of the white majority and they are increasingly electing far right politicians to help them reclaim some sense of identity. The answer to their need is to return to true Christianity. However Europe was sold a perverted version of Christianity 1700 years ago so their interest in Christianity is almost non-existent.
THE MODERN CHRISTENDOM CHURCH
The western church is in cultural and numerical crisis. Be they catholic, Anglican or any of a dozen other denominations. But they still cling to the cultural trappings of a worldview that was birthed 1,700 years ago. The world has moved on but the Christians are stuck in cultural mud. The western church is having great difficulty moving away from this old and decaying worldview. This is the paramount reason for the current decline of the western church. The church is perceived as irrelevant, disconnected with mainstream values, distant, moralising, money hungry, power hungry, and abusive of that power, defensive, pompous, or a combination of the lot! Studies suggest that over 85% of Australians will no longer enter a church building when invited because of these perceptions. In Europe, the figure is higher.
Ironically, it was during the decline of Christendom that most of the Catholic and Protestant missionary movements were launched. Christendom’s mindset was transplanting itself into many other cultures of the world, even while it was failing in Europe. This perverted version of Christianity sailed with captains, colonisers and crooks all over the New World. European church dress codes, building styles, hierarchical priesthoods, standards of worship and music, religious symbols and language were all dumped on unsuspecting nationals from Port Moresby to Peru, and with heartbreaking results. Indigenous expressions of faith were largely suppressed or ignored and the church in the developing world is now grappling with the issue of exactly what Christianity is and isn’t.
Just as alarming is the love affair the western church still has with the Christendom mindset. Western society is now “over” Christendom. However, this is not the case within the western church or much of the global church. As a paradigm for understanding the world, Christendom still exerts an overwhelming influence on today’s church. Our theology, structures, styles, methods of operating, and especially our relationship with our surrounding culture are powerfully influenced by the Christendom worldview. We still expect the people to come to us instead of going out and serving them. Constantine’s revolution still exists in our minds. We have not yet made the adjustment back to a subversive, culturally leading edge missional movement. We must, or we will fail our Lord.
Christendom’s legacy can be seen everywhere in the modern church. Our dependency on “sacred” buildings is a millstone around our necks. Our demand that people come to our space for salvation through evangelistic rallies Alpha courses, special services, seeker sensitive services etc, tells people we still think we are the centre of the culture. Our rigid hierarchical power structures of professional religious executives, with their attendant personality struggles, is patronising to today’s observer. Our emphasis on knowledge-based training in isolation from the surrounding culture reinforces our cultural isolation. Our sacred-secular thinking leaves the big ticket issues of culture and life off the church agenda. Dualism reigns supreme. Our sad lack of church growth testifies to the church looking backward instead of forward. Intellectually, we are defensive and culturally our structures speak of a holding position. Very little of this is Biblical in nature.
The Humanist worldview has the modern church quivering like a tadpole in a cultural backwater. The great institutions of society; law, education, economics, science and government were wrenched from the churches control early last century. Humanism has left Christendom with influence only in personal and family life. Church sermons everywhere reflect this catastrophe. Intellectual defeat has also given rise to the teaching of defeatist eschatology. The popular pre-millennialist belief constantly expects the imminent return of Christ to whisk all believers away from the forces of Humanism that are set to dominate the earth. This is Christendom’s feeble way of dealing with cultural and intellectual defeat: So God designed it all to fail! This teaching is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe your enemy has won you will not try to retake positions lost.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Amazingly, inside the heart of most non-Christians still exists an intuitive understanding of what a follower of Jesus Christ should be like and act like. They instinctively know how a church should operate in its community. This is because the church was designed to represent the values of God, and God has placed this yearning for Himself in the hearts of all humanity. Many sincere non-believers around the world are literally longing for Christians to leave their mental and physical bunkers, embrace them, value them, love them, share life with them and then win them to Christ through acts of kindness and positive cultural engagement. They like the Jesus they read about in the New Testament. They want us to act like this Jesus, not the Jesus of Christendom. When we finally do make this switch they will welcome us with open arms.
There is hope for the body of Christ, but the type of thinking that will solve the problem is of a different order to the type of thinking that created the problem. Christendom is a golden calf, an idol we have created that allows us to worship God and then live as we please. However, the church does not belong to men but to God. The rock of the revelation of the real Jesus is the foundation of the future growth of Christianity (Matthew 16:18).
I will wrap up this essay by listing below some of the intellectual character traits of modern Christendom thinking so you can see if you have been taught to think “Christendom”. It is my hope that you will begin to move from this worldview back toward the Apostolic view of church and start working toward expanding the kingdom of God within your sphere of influence.
|Apostolic Age (AD32 to AD 313)||Christendom Age (AD314 to AD 2000)|
|No dedicated buildings, meetings were usually in the home. The church was the people (1 Cor 16:19).||“Sacred” buildings are absolutely central to the power structure and the meaning of the word “church”.|
|Lay leadership with most training being practical and on the job (1 Tim 3)||Professional leadership by an institutionally ordained clergy with highly intellectual training. \|
|Leadership based on the fivefold ministry gifts (Eph 4:11-14).||Pastoral and teaching gifts dominate while the evangelist, apostle and prophet largely disappear. Administration dominates ministry.|
|Grass roots decentralised movement (Acts 8)||Centralised and hierarchical command structure|
|Services were centred on communion, which was celebrated as a community meal (1 Cor 11:20-22).||Services became highly, ritualised, formal, symbolic, and disconnected with the real world.|
|A culturally adaptable and servant-minded movement (Compare Acts 2, where Peter spoke to Jews with Acts 17:16-34, where Paul spoke to Greeks).||A culturally stagnant institution only interested in maintaining its central place in its host culture. It expects people to come to it. Mission was unnecessary, everyone was born a Christian.|
|Holistic, bringing the Kingdom of God to all aspects of life, not just “church” (Matt 28:18).||The Church is the kingdom. All else is “secular” and irrelevant.|
DO YOU ATTEND A CHRISTENDOM CHURCH?
Does it expect salvations to occur during church services?
Is the building where you meet God?
Are people encouraged to invite others to church instead of going to them?
Are you meeting in a dedicated building with religious symbols on it?
Is there a large emphasis on product development to attract people, for example, children’s programs, parking, decorations, music styles and lively preaching?
Does it have a distinct hierarchy?
Are pastors spending nearly all of their time managing their church?
Is there a series of hierarchical leadership positions in the congregation? Do people compete for these positions for all the wrong reasons?
Are your church leaders trained in an institution separated from society?
Is their training mainly intellectually based?
Is there a denominational corporate structure above the local church?
Are there a strictly limited number of people who are allowed to speak at services?
Does the leader deliver a 40-60 minute monologue telling everyone how to live?
Do most people sit passively in church, receiving instead of giving?
Is the pastor a religious professional while the rest have to support him/her?
Does the pastor act like a big chief instead of a servant?
Is it dualistic?
Does the church mainly operate on weekends?
Is the corporate worship experience more important than what happens in homes?
Does dedication to God equate to giving all your time to church activities?
Are believers encouraged not to interact too much with non-believers for fear of backsliding?
Is turning up more important than personal growth in God?
Does the pastor rarely, if ever, talk about employment, politics, world events and other “secular” areas?
Do most people think the Christian walk is about reading the Bible, praying, going to church and not much else?
Is there a lack of concern toward those going to Hell, even though the church pays lip service to their plight?
Is there a detachment between the church and social problems in its neighbourhood?
Is there a separation between the issues taught about on Sunday and the struggles most of the congregation go through during the week?
Are most people’s “ministries” defined as tasks performed inside the church congregation.
Would one of the twelve apostles recognise and approve of what you do?
Is communion celebrated as a token or a meal? Is it celebrated at all?
Is there an emphasis on pastoral/ teacher roles in leadership to the neglect of the evangelist, prophet and apostle?
“The Shaping of Things to Come”, Michael Frost & Alan Hersch
“Understanding the Book of Revelation”, Kevin Davis
“Backward Christian Soldiers”, Garry North
“Europe: 1815-1945”, Anthony Wood
“Essays on Ethics and Politics”, Gordon H. Clark
“God and Government”, Gary DeMar
“Bringing in the Sheaves”, George Grant
“Operation World”, Patrick Johnstone