Today we remember the life and death of Justin, Martyr at Rome in 167. His biography in Holy Women, Holy Men begins with these words:
"Toward the middle of the second century, there came into the young Christian community a seeker for the truth, whose wide interests, noble spirit, and able mind, greatly enriched it."I engage in a lot of conversations with people who love the Church, especially clergy, who worry a great deal about the future of the Church. Yesterday in a lectionary study group that is important to my own ongoing learning we stated it clearly however: the Church and Christendom are not synonyms. In fact (as has been well-documented!) we are in the midst of the end of Christendom, or as some prefer to call it, "Constantinian Christianity." The Church's privileged status in western culture has come to an end, or is at least very near the end. But the Church existed before Christendom and will continue beyond it, albeit in different forms. The Church is not about the "structures" of Christendom but about being the Body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to do the work that God has given us to do. That mission will continue long after Christendom is dead.
What will the future Church look like? Some have said it will look a lot more like the early Church, pre-Constantine. I hope that whatever it looks like, that we can more intentionally focus on attracting people like Justin Martyr. To do so, however, means helping the Church itself to become more open to truth wherever it may be found, more interested in the questions, more engaged with the world, and more willing to move over and share authority. A "dumbed down" Church will not ever be enriched by those who, like Justin, are seekers of the truth, with wide interests, and noble spirits, and able minds.