It is the world more than the church that is liberating Christianity from Christendom, though tentative steps toward that surgery have been taken in Catholicism since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
The assertion of spiritual, ethical and intellectual autonomy on the part of individuals and societies, with a concurrent exodus from Christendom in its Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant forms is, perhaps, a harbinger of the death of Christendom. Good riddance.
What is the church to do without Christendom's structures of power? If we must overcome a millennium and a half of doing things one way, how might we do that? Where might we find alternative models and assistance? The answer for the 21st century is likely to be found in Asia.
Granted, Asia has its own corollaries to Christendom, among them Hidutva in Hinduism, the Caliphate in Islam and Maoism in Chinese communism.
In its colonial empire, Iberian Christendom imitated Charlemagne, following up its 15th-century expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain and the introduction of the most infamous of the inquisitions to monitor those who had been forced into Baptism.
But, other than the Spanish imposition of Christendom at the point of a sword in the Philippines (as also in Latin America), the church in Asia has been comparatively untouched by its curse.
By the time other major European powers exploited Asia, they did it for the most part in the name of the idol Mammon rather than an idolized church. The British in South Asia, the French in Southeast Asia and the Dutch in Indonesia were more interested in acquiring profits than souls.
Those imperialists' lack of the political, military, philosophic and spiritual ability and will to impose Christendom on Asia means that its influence here is, for the most part, vestigial. That is especially so in those places like Japan that were never subject to Western powers and where Baptism never paid financial or social dividends through access to European overlords.
The choice to be baptized was, in varying degrees, and sometimes absolutely, a free act of faith motivated by a desire for heart's ease in God.
And that choice is made in a context of powerless minority. There is no social pressure forcing one to become a Christian. On the contrary, whatever pressure there may be is directed toward not taking the radical step of baptism. Often, even today, that pressure takes the form of outright persecution.
As secularism becomes the increasingly dominant religious posture in the West, Christians there are likely to find themselves more and more like those in Asia. Without societal or culture support for, encouragement in and even expectation of a Christian commitment, such commitment must either deepen or die. Only personal faith, not Christendom, will support it.
The drying stream of missionaries from the West should be reversed. That does not mean a continuation of the current practice of importing priests from Asia (and Africa) to maintain the institution in the West in the face of a decline in clerical numbers. It means humbly opening the church in crumbling Christendom to allowing Asian ways of teaching and even leading.
That will require abandoning the paternalism and racism that Christendom fosters, the attitude that the church in the West is the real church and that the church elsewhere is real only insofar as it mirrors the West.
Conversely, Christians in other parts of the world must overcome the sense of inferiority that has been inflicted upon them for not being sufficient examples of Christendom. They must also discard whatever vestiges of Christendom mar their own ways of being church.
Asian Christians remind us that the church is a community of those who have chosen to follow Christ as presented by Scripture and Tradition and who have lived that faith through history, seeking, sharing and celebrating heart's rest with and for the rest of the world. That seeking and sharing take place in humble service, in respectful dialogue and in openness to the Spirit of God working outside the limits of Christendom, or even of Christianity.
At the 1998 Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops, the bishops of Asia pointed out that there was no significant input from Asian voices in the central decision-making structures of the Catholic Church. That resulted in a few token changes, but over time even those tokens faded away.
Pope Francis has begun bringing men (and only men, so far) from the margins of Christendom into the leadership of the church. That is a beginning, but much more must be done. However, we cannot rely upon popes or the central administration to break the bonds of Christendom.
Each of us must examine ourselves and the way we live our faith to see how widely and how deeply we have been a part of Christendom. Then, we must begin the long and difficult process of freeing ourselves from that thralldom. Asia's Christians can be models, and growing heart's rest will be the sign that we are succeeding.
To read the first part of 'Asian Christians can save Christianity' click here.
Father William Grimm, MM, is publisher of ucanews.com and is based in Tokyo.
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