Thoughts on Being A Peculiar People

Rodney Clapp’s A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Modern Society is a project challenging the Christian church to renews its stance as a peculiar people. The church has enjoyed a close knit relationship with the state since Constantine mandated Christianity a state religion. Since that time, the state, and much of Western society, has reduced the value of this relationship with the Church. As this process continues, Christians are left to embrace a culture that increasingly finds little use for their institution. Mourning the loss of benefits associated with a longstanding role as chaplain to the state, many in the Church feel helpless and left to wonder what role the Church can have in a pluralistic society. Clapp’s work offers a solution that stands opposed to that of many in mainline Christianity.
A primary role for Christianity in society, Clapp observes, is that of tradition. For that reason it is difficult, perhaps more emotionally than anything, for society to completely alienate the Church. So, the church becomes an empty service provider called in to complete routine, traditional tasks when needed, or when felt as an appropriate thing to do—a concept Clapp defines a sentimental capitulation. Through this incorporation of liberalism, Christianity has been deduced to an inferior, privatized form of religion. Also, Clapp concludes, going against its heritage and contributing to its cultural devaluation, many in the Church have lobbied rigorously for a renewed tie to the state—entrenchment. These two solutions had done little to benefit the Church. Clapp argues the solution is for the Church to do what society will not: alienate itself from society. More specifically, in a process of radicalization, the Church should stand apart as a separate institution governed by its own culture of faith.
How does the Church respond to the rising mistrust, apathy and disregard society holds for Christianity? Finding middle ground in this argument seems futile. Walking the line of church-and-state is burdensome if holding tight to either position Clapp suggests many Christians impose. Perhaps that helps explain the difficulty the Church has faced in maintaining its viability. In a direct and, I suggest, motivating way, Clapp challenges the church to be the Church. This separation is not a novel, elusive or individual effort. For centuries before Constantine the church stood this way.
By reestablishing this model of livelihood Christianity can assert itself as an authoritative entity on its own—without depending on the support or endorsement of the state. With this autonomy the Church can demonstrate its faithfulness to God and mission of the Gospel of Christ. Christianity induces further estrangement from society by trying to relish and reincorporate ideals of times past. In reality, this pursuit exhibits a misguided trust and devotion towards the state. The model of radicalization presented by Clapp offers the Church an opportunity to realign its purpose to that established by her Lord. The words of 1 Peter 2:4-5 come to mind as I consider this opening. We, the Church, have the tremendous calling and occasion to be the living stones standing as a spiritual house.

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