Homeless Christianity: The Church Militant or Triumphant? Part I

This past week, Faith and I delivered our daughter, Joelle, to Waco Texas for school and I once again experienced my ambiguity concerning Texas. The brand of Christianity I inherited was Texan Restoration Movement and this remains my point of departure, though departure is most definitive of my faith journey. James Robison, the Texas evangelist, came to our high school in the late 60’s and this determined my path. This Christianity came fused with nationalism and cultural peculiarities, such that I have been trying to sort out New Testament Christianity from Texas religion ever since. The task to move from a religion of triumphalism and supremacy (e.g. white supremacy and protestant supremacy) to the militant faith of the New Testament, something I could not have articulated at age 13, immediately posed itself.

When asked to pray publicly at this tender age I prayed, among other things, “for the people on the other side of town.” I meant it as a condemnation of our all white middle class congregation. (I may have struck a chord: Cecil, the preacher, remembered this prayer 45 years later.) A scene I witnessed outside a meeting where Pat Boone was speaking captures the pervasive sense of Christian entitlement. A man and his young son holding a sign protesting the meeting (it may have said something like “God is Dead”), threatened with violence by two young thugs, meekly left. I have no memory of the meeting but I will never forget the sick feeling this scene produced. I did not yet know of Constantine and Christendom but I was confronted with and identifying/identified with a civil religion which presumed power (public and private). Augustine and Aquinas worked out the theological logic of burning heretics and, unbeknownst to me, I was witnessing the residue of the logic of Christendom.

To feel safe, settled, and secure, in the institutionalized, nationalistic, patriotic, faith of our fathers is the problem and lesson to be learned from the rise and fall of Christendom. Christendom, the confusion of the City of Man with the City of God, would immediately identify the Kingdom of God with the institutions, social arrangements, hierarchy, valuation system, and security, which earthly power can provide. Kierkegaard concludes that  Christendom, the form of Christianity of his own Danish Church, is “a forgery, a falsification, opposite to that taught in the New Testament.” In his Attack on Christendom, he concludes that Christianity does not exist in Denmark.

On the other hand, it appears he continues to fellowship, take communion, and see himself more as an “irritant” to the Church rather than a reformer. Kierkegaard stated that “from an ideal Christian point of view, there is no such thing as an established Church but only a militant one.” His point, as indicated in the subtitle of this quote from Practice in Christianity is “For Awakening and Inward Deepening.” According to Howard Johnson, Kierkegaard conceived the church to be composed of “individuals,” people “standing before God as he is revealed in Christ,” who know themselves “judged, forgiven, restored to fellowship, taken out of ‘the world,’ and sent back into the world as witness for service.”[1]

While the individualism of Kierkegaard may sometimes appear overstated, what he seems to be driving at is the disestablished sensibility, the sheer nakedness of recognizing that there is no fully and finally established City available to us. Kierkegaard’s relationship to the Danish State Church contains all the ambiguity I feel toward the reality of the Restoration Movement. It is a failed, falsified, forgery, but to imagine one can reform, restructure, or restart, is to miss the militant nature of being a Christian.

This seems to fit the message of the New Testament that we have no enduring city, no ongoing social arrangement, no secure cultural identity, as it is offered in earthly institutions. We are to be aliens and strangers, homeless, devoid of institutional security, and this unsettled condition enables us to detach from the city of man (to not enjoy the pleasures of sin and the riches of Pharaoh) so as to identify with the City of God. Certainly, Christ came to establish this City but to imagine that we possess it in its fullness is to miss the “now but not yet” striving toward the heavenly City.[2] In this sense, Christendom is the perennial temptation, but the question arises as to what exactly replaces it.

[1] Howard A. Johnson and Niels Thulstrup, eds., A Kierkegaard Critique (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1962), xxvi–xxvii.

[2](Inasmuch as Christian Church amillennialism tends to equate the present circumstance of the church with the Kingdom I would prefer the sensibility of premillennialism, if not the doctrine itself, in which the inadequacies of the present manifestation of the Kingdom are to be expected.

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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

2 thoughts on “Homeless Christianity: The Church Militant or Triumphant? Part I”

  1. Paul, when you mention premillennialism I am assuming you are referring to a historic premillennialism, not the dispensational variety. The problem with the church in America is that it is so entrenched in the culture without realizing this is the case. A return to a biblical, highly relational community is what is needed to correct the errors of my/our ways.

    1. I do not hold to any form of premillennialism I was simply suggesting that we import into amillennialism an attitude of recognizing the incomplete nature of the Kingdom that is established.

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