Close your eyes and imagine what you would consider the golden age of Christianity:
- Was it in the earliest days of the church, when the Apostles and all the followers of Jesus had all things in common?
- The middle ages, during the high point of Christendom?
- The heady days of the Protestant Reformation, when men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin recovered the gospel from its near total abandonment?
Or maybe it was the days of the Great Awakening in North America in the 18th century, the second Great Awakening in the 19th, or the renewed revivalism of the 1950s and 1960s? Or the early days of the seeker movement, or even the emergent/emerging movement(s) of the later 20th century and early 21st?
We all have these times in our minds, these eras we’d love to get back to if we could—as though they were moments where we had it all figured out. But the important thing to remember, and this is something I was greatly encouraged by in my recent reading, is there is no golden age of Christianity.
At least, not yet.
Remember, the early church everyone seemed to want to get back to for a long while? Don’t forget that while they had all things in common, they were also horribly persecuted, and had all kinds of doctrinal disunity, sexual immorality and other misconduct known among them (particularly in Corinth). So yeah, we didn’t have it nailed then. Christendom had many wonderful qualities and great gifts it gave to the world (including universities), but it was also in this age that the Roman Church traded heavenly gain for earthly prestige and power. The Reformation, for all its positive benefits, also saw continued splintering and internal fighting between its most powerful voices (to say nothing of the violent fighting between Roman Catholics and Protestants). And in later years… Well, you get the idea, right?
There has been no golden age of Christianity. But there is one coming—but is not one we can run back to, or we can progress toward. It is one that will come through God’s power, in God’s timing. So even as some of us fear what is to come, as we see the West shed its last vestiges of its Christian heritage, and the increased persecution of Christians in the Middle East, we can still have hope—and are right to have it. The golden age hasn’t come yet. But because of the hope we have in Christ and his resurrection, we know it will come.