Monday, February 11, 2008

Why Ecclesiology is a Rough Subject

As soon as one decides that the nature of the Church is a first-order rather than a second order question (see here), things begin to get very difficult. One can no longer say that the constitution, identity and practices of different Christian communities amount to a matter of preference. If one believes that one's life in the Christian community (what kind of life, and what kind of community) will impact the nature or extent of one's connectedness to Jesus, then comments like, "I go to x church because I like the music and you go to y church because you like the education program ceases to make any sense. Preferences, no matter how fastidious or well-meaning they are, are not the reason for the Church's existence.

For better or worse, I always need a reason.

I find that when I am no long prepared to speak about preferences as a theological category, I quickly have to start pinning down what the concrete attributes are of those concrete communities that are connected to those communities started by Jesus. As I work these things out, I find a two-edged sword.

1) If I really get hardcore about this, I'll have to face up to the real and potential inadequacies of my own (adopted) tradition. The Roman, Eastern Orthodox, and Reformed Christian traditions all have particular criticisms of what Anglicanism would seek to be, even at its best. I have to do business with those criticisms, and I might well find my "spiritual home" lacking.

2) In the same way, if I were to write about this journey, I would have to admit the ways in which I believe other Christian traditions to be lacking. I've not often been shy about this, but I don't believe that it's necessarily an edifying discussion to have. Surprise, even the folks to look to me for encouragement or challenge in the Faith (in this space or otherwise) are not eagerly awaiting any pronouncements on which churches are real churches. I'd probably end up sounding like the Pope, but with different conclusions, i.e., the requirements for being understood as fully and properly "the Church" are ABCD, and while it's nice that you've got BCDE over there, if you don't have A, you're Christians but don't experience the life of the Church in its fullness. I suspect the Holy Father and I would just pick different letters.

I might talk about what I think those letters consist of later on, or I might not. We'll see.


Anonymous said...

so if you find your "spiritual home" lacking in a major way (like out of communion with Rome), do you go to the "real one" or stay to positively influence the current one?

Kyle said...

If there's such a thing as a "real church," and you find you're not in it, it makes no sense not to go there. Mind you, I've not discovered that I'm not in it - there's nothing I'm dancing around or hinting at in all of this.

Jared Cramer said...

ok, semi-related. i was talking with a dissatisfied evangelical friend about the church. we were talking about the many points of doctrine on which we agree, i then said, "you just gotta find a real church that has an actual connection to the apostles, a connection that's more than, 'yeah, we read their stuff'"

i thought you might appreciate that. :-)