Missional Musings 5

Some more loosely connnected thoughts on mission and post-Christendom Ireland

The legacy of Christendom in Ireland I would argue has not been a happy one. In saying this I’m not saying Christendom was an unmitigated disaster for 16 centuries – that would be pretty arrogant as well as naive!

And in this sort of ‘big picture’ stuff, there is great potential for sweeping generalisations.

Nevertheless, I think that as Christendom developed and expressed itself in Ireland it has had several seriously negative consequences that pose profound challenges for a renewal of church 21st century Ireland. The table is a summary of what I’m talking about. Overall, the point is that in Christendom the church failed to be an alternative counter-cultural community witnessing to the transforming hope of the kingdom of God.

One comment on how Ireland was assumed to be a ‘Christian society’ and how it led to ‘gospel immunity’. By immunity I mean what Lesslie Newbigin talked about – that Western society has had ‘just enough’ Christianity to make it immune from the real thing. For many in Ireland ‘Christianity’ has been ‘tried’ and found wanting – especially in relation to the terrible misuse of power so awfully described in the Murphy Report.

The Negative Legacy of Christendom



Little or no personal faith / commitment

Lack of conversion / discipleship


Huge resources and centralized bureaucratic structures

Enforced belief

Social pressure; convention; ‘involuntary Christians’; religion and education in Ireland – religion as an identity marker

Lack of grace

Conformity and pressures of how to behave

Illusion of a ‘Christian society’

Assumptions ‘all members’ – ‘gospel immunity’

Misuse of Power

Beyond accountability. Abuse; Self-interested institutions; corruption of power.

Denominational conflict

Long legacy of religious wars; negative identities; Catholic vs Protestant history. Intolerance.


3 thoughts on “Missional Musings 5

  1. Think you are right in this… however, whilst the overall “syndrome” may be termed Christendom, each of the proximate negative legacies have a more direct cause… some political, some cultural, some because the church is wedded to out-moded models of engagement. I think it would also be interesting to see a similar grid looking at any positives from 1700 years of Christendom.

  2. Good idea David. I wanted to qualify the criticism a bit because IMHO there is a fair bit of hubris in some contemporary writing on the church – that ‘we’ now see things clearly and can point the way to a better way from the bad old past.

    However, I recall asking a bunch of students which Ireland they would prefer to live in – Christendom or post-Christendom, and the unanmious verdict was post-Christendom. I think that sentiment is replicated in society in the Republic – virtually no-one wants to go back to the way things were.

  3. i think the challenge is for us not to repeat the same mistakes or make different ones in our zeal to get it right,mistakes have been made and we have no excuse to repeat same,but then again we are human

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