Last week I wrote a couple of introductory posts on the topic of Christendom, providing a broad overview as well as a brief history of how it began. This post will look at some of the good things that resulted from this era, and the next will examine some of the negative results.
I believe Christendom has done a great deal of harm to the church. That said, it is undeniable that Christendom has positively impacted the world. Stuart Murray, in his 2018 book Post-Christendom, which applauds Christendom’s demise, wrote, “The transition from Late Antiquity through the ‘Dark Ages’ to the medieval world is incomprehensible without the contribution of Christendom. Its achievements were remarkable, as is its cultural, literary, and religious heritage”.
(Murray’s book is a great place to start if you want more details on this topic.)
While I will list some of the positives below, I will note a concern after some.
The End of Persecution
An immediate of this new relationship between the church and the Roman Empire was that the persecution of Christians ended.
Note: Sadly, within Christendom, the church often filled the role of persecutor. Crusades, Inquisitions, witch trials, and the list sadly stretches on.
One of the characteristics of the early church was its compassion for the least of these. With their position in the Roman Empire, their charity was now backed with abundant resources.
From caring for the poor to establishing hospitals, orphanages and schools, the church used its power and money to serve the marginalised of its world.
In his book A Secular Age, Charles Taylor wrote, “The present-day welfare state can be understood as the long-term heir to the early Christian church”. This is one of the great benefits to the world from Christendom.
Note: Today, many of the charities begun as efforts of the church, are now run by government organisations. This has led to some denying the importance of benevolence and charity by the church as this is something for governments to do. Sadly when caring for the poor and marginalised is discussed, it is written off as “woke” and “a distraction from the gospel”.
The Abolishment of Slavery
Benjamin Lay, William Wilberforce and multiple other Christians were leaders in abolishing the legal slave trade.
Art, Music and Literature
So many of the great works of music, art and literature over the past 1700 years were inspired by the church.
Note: I do wonder how many of these works, while clearly masterpieces, have influenced us to have wrong views on things from God, Heaven, Hell, the devil, angels, etc.
Architecture, Science, Diplomacy, Lending, Publishing
I grew up being told that the church often stood against progress in science, among other areas. However, much of the advancement in the areas above and more was inspired by the church and sincere followers of Jesus.
Because of what Christendom was, how long it lasted, and how deeply connected it was to every aspect of life, it is difficult to imagine what our world would be like had the church not held the role it did for almost two millennia.
While acknowledging that, I do make some notes on the positives above. I am not trying to minimise some of the incredible accomplishments of Christendom. But the notes indicate that even some most positive results also have consequences.
The next post will focus more on three specific areas where I believe the church and its mission were harmed by Christendom.