1c: What I believe in:
But the reason I dislike all these things is because of what I stand for. I intended to be brief, but I have been working on being more thorough, so thank you for bearing with me. I think it’s important to know what you’re standing for far more than what you’re standing against.
And here it is:
1. God matters for more than my salvation, my soul and my desires, an assembly that makes me aware of this is likely teaching me well.
The first thing that really learning the faith taught me was that, I am singularly unimportant in the grand scheme of things and I should get used to it. However, learning this gave me some insight into true importance, into what really matters. God matters, his plans matter, his books, matter. His life matters. His people matter. It is only as a contingent of all of this that I begin to have any importance whatsoever, and my importance can only be chief after I have necessarily accepted and appropriated all the aforementioned.
When it comes to churches, most American churches do not cultivate this awareness, instead they champion the individual, something mind you, that the biblical authors do not do. The churches in the south and Midwest are particularly fascinating in their ability to be nonperturbing in their radical departure from any semblance of orthodox/universal Christian faith.
Churches have come to look like banks, like businesses, and self-help centers. They pride themselves on being relevant to me, tailoring to my needs, and making sure that they help Americans do the one thing that unites this culture, avoid the feeling of impending death. It is no surprise that funerals are marked by cremations and sentimental arguments about a better world, another life, an instant heaven.
A Church that does not challenge my fundamental assumptions about my own importance and the importance of my faith’s place in the world as a political action, as a spoken declaration that Love is possible, that war is absurd and that violence is sickening is not a church I want to associate with. Any church that has no great tolerance for the forefathers of the faith as active voices in the way we shape our lives is not a community being shaped by the common story of us all.
The thing is, for me, I must denounce the oligarchy of the living, so that I may make room for the dead. There is no death in Christ, and treating the saints that have gone before as unimportant details rather than essential ancestors is a shame on my part.
2. The institutional church is not a monster, it is a reality, but one that we should embrace despite failures, and here are some reasons why:
a. despite institutional abuses by persons in leadership, the institutional church has the capacity to embrace a multiplicity of forms, including monasticism, and political campaigning. House churches have no such capacity and can only breed homogenous mini-cults instead of a truly universal Chrsitianity.
The early Church did not mutate into a truly universal body, but out of a theological commitment to the universal Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, these churches within the first 100 years and an episcopate with bishops in place, and a fundamental understanding that their mission was to develop a new nation and peoplehood based on covenant participation in and through Christ.
b. I believe the creed. I believe the creed tells us to build a catholic church, a universal church, a church that is recognized in all times and in all places as the one church through her unified voice and witness. A house church cannot stand with the Church if she is busy thinking that only her splintered and fragmentary knowledge is the true gospel.
c. everything needs structure, and the structure of the institutional church, while imperfect and open to abuse is far less prone to it than say, no formal leadership structure.
another history moment: from the earliest days teh apostles sought to establish a body of believers that respected their authority and the authority of those they placed in power. The institutional church is not another animal, it still has teh same DNA as the early church but now it is the butterfly to the growing animal that was the early Christian communion. The Church unified to prevent heresies, and to prevent abuses, and it is not a bad idea to have done so.
In this country we have so called “conservatives” who run around defending the constitution, and touting the declaration of independence and would violently defend it, given the appropriate circumstances. However these same people, based on an ignorant and childish view of history reject the founders of the Church. What I am saying is, if you’re going to defend your country’s founding and charter, the least you can do is take your faith as seriously.
d. The institution of the Church is all we have to go on, and if we would restore Christianity, it will not be through abandoning her. Just like the renaissance revived the classics, so too we need the saints and the church fathers, the creeds, the sacraments and our dogmas, the spirit and the liturgy. These are all things developed in and through the structure the Spirit set in place. The institution provides a means to understanding what sort of relationship we must have with this God, because surely it’s not our opinions that matter so much as his work in and through our communities.
e. We need historical unity as well as visible unity, which means looking like one church. If what we have in the scriptures and the tradition are a record of people’s interactions with the God who is called Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then we must make sure to align ourselves with this scripture firstly and the tradition it has inspired as two voices working toward the same end. The uniting of the churches on a common path towards the goal that is new creation.
f. The institution of the Church is not bondage, but freedom.
3. I believe in the Church.
Ultimately I believe in the people called by God, I believe in the witnesses in time, space and history. I believe in the apostles, and their successors who shared the self-same spirit.
1. Despite our best efforts to redefine the church as this person that person, a transcendental reality, this isn’t the biblical interpretation laid out by the apostles or their followers, and for good reason.
I am not the church. I am not the sole criterion of history. We are the Church all of us together, and yet it exceeds us, it supersedes us, it is an ideal and a reality at the same time. It challenges those inside
2. I believe in the Church’s experience.
I believe that the book that was redacted and handed down holds key evidence about the God Christians worship through this Jesus of Nazareth. I believe that the oral tradition from the church and the written tradition from the gospels work together to create a single voice. This voice is a record of the Church’s experience of this god, and everything He might mean to this community. As such, it is imposed on me to accept this record of experience and under its judgment if i am to stand as a character in this story.
As such, I do not believe Christianity began with the reformation, nor do I believe that today is the most important moment in church history. I believe that for 2000 years great men and women have drawn near to this difficult God, and have had various experiences, all contributing to a common voice, a single record, a spoken word to us about what kind of God we are interacting with.
I think it is ridiculous to try and shape our contemporary churches from the scant texts we have in a few new testament letters, but if we embrace these texts with others from the time period, we see a more coherent picture of not only their worship, but what all Christian worship practices should look like. When we look across time we see that protestant churches, house churches and the like are only further splintering away, they refuse to stand in judgment, the shirk accountability. But this is the great challenge of Christianity, the type of honor it lends to the dead.
It takes true faith to stand under the judgments of the ancient Church and to let her judge us in her fullness without reservation, examining our practices and confessions, but without doing so there is no Church, and there are no churches, only a disorganized self-help collective who attributes their self improvement to a higher power.