Sunday, January 21, 2007

A response to the Second Comment of Nato on the Reformation

Quoth Nato:

The key thing that the Reformation began the process of was to make clear the distinction between:

1. Church as Institution / Organisation / Structure, with truth mediated by a single divinely appointed, infallible 'priestly' human authority (i.e. the Pope);

2. Church as Body/Organism/Relationship (certainly the focus of NT Teaching), with truth freely available to all and mediated by Christ alone, through Scripture alone. The priesthood is made up of all who believe.

I think if you will look at history, Nato, you will find that the distinction between Church as Institution/Organisation/Structure and Body/Organism/Relationship has been very clear in people’s minds for a very long time before the Reformation and the relationship between the two has been the vital dynamic in all Christian societies.

I’m not seeking to defend the words ‘infallible’ or ‘i.e.’ in your definition of Church as Institution, but to attack the words ‘through Scripture alone’ in your definition of Church as Body of Christ. The words ‘infallible’ and ‘i.e.’ define the difference between the Roman Catholic church and all the other Christian churches, while the words ‘through Scripture alone’ define the difference between the Protestant churches and all the other Christian churches. But there is much more to Christianity than us and youse!

What you ought to do is find a Copt to talk to. You will find that they adhere to the same conception of authority in Christianity as Roman Catholics do, despite having been in schism for around about 1500 years. All the Eastern Churches share with Western Catholicism the conception of authority as lying in the chain of personal relationships that constitute the hierarchical bit of the One Holy Catholic Apostolic church. By holding to this Apostolic tradition, I think they have struck something like the right balance between the inflexibility of Islam and the ‘reed blowing in the wind’ mutability of Protestantism.

You will find that the Copt is pretty similar to a Catholic. I think I have written this somewhere here before, but when I heard a Coptic Priest speak when I was in Devil Bunny City I was struck by how much more Catholic he was after 1500 years of separation than Luther had been after five. Among other things, you will find the traditions of prayers for the dead and veneration for the Mother of God, which Luther dispensed with, going strong in the Coptic community.


Marco said...

I am just going to "ramble" on a bit more at a slight tangent. I am going to contrast Italy, in which over 95% of the population considers themselves catholic, and catholicism is the "established" religion, and the US in which there is a majority of Christians but they seem to be spread in a fairly wide array of denominations. I am asserting that in the US, "evangelical" denominations tend to "mop up" loosely committed individuals of all ilks, and make them strongly committed once converted - while in Italy, the religion tends to be passed down from generation to generation in a nominal sense, but individuals are quite uncommitted to it. For instance, abortion was "legalised" via a referendum, which wouldn't have passed muster with the catholics in the US. Thus to conclude, in the US with evangelicals and variety in full force, the small proportion of the population with loose inheritance of nominal religion, tends to be "mopped up" by evangelicals to bring or keep them in the Christian fold.

Dr. Clam said...

Hmm, what do you see as the main difference between a a multidenominational society like the United States and a multidenominational society like Australia? Because I don't see the same dynamic operating here.
And can you isolate a non-European example of a country with an established Church where religion is in terminal decay? I think Europe is exceptional in its washed-uppedness and is beyond hope until it is depopulated and resettled by immigrants from elsewhere.
And I guess I would like to ask my Uniting Church question again, as I am curious: taking the Uniting Church as the unit of study, rather than society as a whole, how do you think the decisons it has made over the last few decades will impact on its future viability?

Marco said...

Quick response:
Australia - The same dynamic is happening in Australia to some extent. The catholics in Australia seem to be as zealous as those in the US, and more so than in Italy. Evangelical style churches are mopping up the uncommitted like nobody's business.

The Uniting Church will neither easily expand nor shrink due to factors outside of its theological bent.

Marco said...

Some more response:
I didn't say religion was in terminal decay in Italy. There is just a dearth of evangelism going on at the moment, leading to a larger proportion of loosely committed followers. The vaccuum left behind seems to generate secular activists of other kinds. It is hard to say exactly how zealous individuals in Iran are, but I would think the same pattern is happening there as in Italy. Of the handful of Iranians that I know personally in Australia, all show little committment to islamic religion. The reason why I think - there is little exposure to "evangelical" style Islamic recruitment in Iran. There is much more outside of Iran.