No Fear of the Future


No Fear of the Future
BZ shares some Lohfink

Today in our leadership team small group we were talking about what the future of Christianity might look like in Western culture. We discussed what a disaster the Constantinian attempt at state-sponsored Christianity had been and how the Western church is still trying to recover from it. We specifically talked about Western Europe and the future of Christianity in the 21st century.

This evening as I was reading from Gerhard Lohfink’s Does God Need The Church?, I came upon a passage that speaks somewhat to this question.

Of course, it’s out of context, and I offer it without comment, but still I hope that some of you may find it encouraging as I did.

So, without further I ado, I give you Lohfink.


Today the parishes, at least in Europe, have scarcely any power to resist the pagan models of the surrounding society. Pastoral care is more and more specialized toward the “edges” of life. Faith has become private and modest.

In spite of all this the history of the Church should not be read as one of decline, as if it had slowly but surely degenerated, especially since the Constantinian shift. The development toward an imperial Church and finally toward a state religion was almost a matter of necessity, given the constellation of late antiquity. Perhaps the Church had to take that road. It was a grandiose attempt to create a Christian “empire” and thus to unite faith, life, and culture.

Only a careful look at the people of God in the Old Testament, their experiment with the state and the collapse of the experiment, could have preserved the Church from repeating the old mistake. But it was not possible in late antiquity or in the Middle Ages for people to read the Old Testament so analytically. Political theology was, instead enraptured with David and Solomon. Only the history of the modern era shattered the dream.

Today the experiment is truly at an end and can never be resumed, for it left people no chance to make a free decision for faith. And what it hoped for—the solid unity of faith and life, gospel and everyday, has a much better basis in the community Church, the form that emerged from the Jewish synagogue.

Meanwhile the Church is living almost everywhere in the world subject again to persecutions in the midst of a new paganism. It will only survive in that situation if it returns to communities constituted according to the New Testament, not in false romanticism of the primitive Church but under the conditions of the third millennium. The word “return” is not really the right one in this context. What is wanted is a new dawn, but now with a much better knowledge drawn for history.

We know today that as long as the faith was not the state religion (and later civil religion) the Christian communities through their very existence had an enlightening and even “de-idolizing” effect. The critical probe of the their faith affected everything. They claimed to be forming an opinion of their own, and still more, to be developing their own way of life. This touched attitudes toward life and death, eating and fasting, wealth and poverty, festivals and daily life, but also toward power, even the fundamentals of the polis and the empire. To whom loyalty is owed, loyalty is given. To whom resistance is due, resistance is given, if necessary to the point of martyrdom. A Church that dares a new exodus in this sense need have no fear of the future.

(Gerhard Lohfink, Does God Need the Church?, pp. 217, 218)


A Church that dares a new exodus need have no fear of the future.



(The artwork is Exodus by Lesley Anne Cornish.)