post-Christendom (6) holy distinctness

This post continues to unpack the argument of my paper “Sex, Truth and Tolerance: some theological reflections on the Irish Civil Partnership Bill 2010 and challenges facing Christians in a post-Christendom culture”

An opposite stance to cultural transformation is what John Stackhouse labels as ‘refuse all entanglements’. It leads to a vision of ‘holy distinctness’, of a definite Christian community living in contradistinction to the rest of society.

Think some forms of Pentecostalism and older Anabaptist communities like the Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish. The Anabaptist tradition finds its most eloquent voices in the writings of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas.

‘Holy distinctness’ advocates criticise cultural transformers as pursuing a vision that is both unrealistic and undesirable.

It is unrealistic in that the cultural tide that swept the church into power and created over a millennium of Christendom culture in the West is fast receding. If Christians imagine that it can be stopped or reversed, they will be disappointed.

It is undesirable in that, while it is certainly a gross simplification to say that everything to do with Christendom since Constantine was a disaster, untold damage has been done to the authenticity of the church’s witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ by boundaries between church and state becoming blurred.  Again, you just have look at the contemporary legacy of Catholic Ireland for an example.

Back to the Irish context; here is one example of a negative ‘holy distinctness’ response to the Civil Partnership Bill


Aontas describe themselves as a ‘partnership of Bible-centred Churches, organisations and individuals who have come together to co-operate in advancing the Gospel of Christ in Ireland.’A strongly pietistic attitude suggests that they are best located within a ‘refuse all entanglements’ approach to culture.

Aontas issued a public statement, ‘The Civil Partnership Bill and the Christian’. ‘Holy distinctness’ themes are clear in Aontas’ self-understanding as a ‘prophetic voice’ to ‘a relativistic age’, declaring ‘in this present darkness the unchanging will of God.’

The statement displays little expectation that fallen Irish culture can be transformed according to Christian values, acknowledging that ‘Christian opposition to the Bill will most likely not succeed in stopping this measure being adopted by the Dáil.’ Nor does it propose ‘that the Government should seek to impose our views on anyone.’

The main aim appears simply to fulfil a ‘moral duty to declare the Truth’ and ‘not fail in our duty to be salt and light.’ In contrast to an agenda of cultural transformation, the Aontas statement appears to reflect a ‘holy withdrawal’ attitude to the world.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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