These are notes from an adult Sunday school class taught by Dr W. Robert Godfrey at Escondido United Reformed Church, California, this month. You can listen to the teaching at Abounding Grace Radio.
We have come to a time of dramatic change in the West. We are experiencing the end of Christendom. But it’s important to distinguish between Christendom and Christianity. Christianity is believing in Jesus Christ according to his Word, following that Word. Christianity has always flourished in whatever political situation it finds itself, under monarchs, under oppressive regimes, and is not identified with any political or social scheme.
Christendom is somewhat identical to what we understand about the word “kingdom”. A kingdom is what a king rules over; he has lordship over a realm. Christendom is the idea that Christ rules in the political and cultural sphere, a rule that is acknowledged in law and cultural dominance.
Christianity moved from being illegal to legal in 325 under Constantine, and then to becoming the only legal religion in 380 under Theodosis and remained unchallenged as Christendom for around 1100 years.
The first substantial, effective challenge to Christendom occurred 500 years ago, when Martin Luther gave his famous “Here I Stand” speech at the Diet of Worms. His conscience was bound to the Word of God, and he was defending Christianity as it was revealed in the Word. Luther challenged the lords and rulers of Christendom with biblical Christianity.
For around 1100 years people lived with the assumption that there was no difference between Christendom and biblical Christianity. But Christendom began to unravel for the next 500 years. Further, there was challenge after challenge that grew stronger in the 16th and 17th centuries, became violent in the 18th century with the French revolution, along with a series of intellectual challenges to follow in 19th century.
Christendom, however, still ruled and survived all of these assaults in the West. For instance, at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, she continued with the anointing of holy oil and swore to be the protector of the faith. But Prince Charles has declared that he will be the protector of the faiths, the “s” being a hugely significant addition.