Megachurch

Megachurch

Rock Island, IL.

A dispassionate observer standing outside the Christian tradition might be capable of looking upon Catholicism and Orthodoxy—and maybe even upon that beautiful but much-beleaguered and now failing experiment that began with Henry VIII—and say, “here is something stately and demanding and maybe even useful.”

Such an observer, if he be at once philosophically astute, minimally versant in Church history, and not entirely hostile to religion, might be able to understand why people take sin and guilt seriously; he might say that the idea of theosis—perhaps even the fact of it—is really quite interesting, and that an apophatic or a sacramental disposition is, truth be told, reasonable enough.

He might, without any inclination to take on an obedience himself, allow that deference to a spiritual advisor opens onto a certain kind of liberty not available in any modern appropriations of the term. He might even go so far as to say that if only this religion could be a bit more vigilant about the dangers of wielding power and protecting revenue, and if only it could somehow manage to avoid the abuses of centralization and bigness, it could easily be regarded not only as a social boon but also as an intellectually rigorous system worthy of the men and women who embrace it—and commensurate with their dignity as human beings made in the image of something larger than themselves.

He might not be capable of all this, but then again he might be.

I limit these opening remarks to what our friends in Canterbury are quick (too quick, in my opinion) to call the “three branches” not because I dislike the Lutherans who employ me or the Dutch Calvinists who tried to educate me or the Methodists who taught my grandmother to regard likker as the devil’s tea. I’m simply predisposed, personally, to apostolic succession, to old rites, and to what I’m going to have to go ahead and call the traditions with the deepest historical roots. For once I’m not actually trying to piss anyone off, though I’m sure I already have.

But I have often wondered what this same dispassionate observer would make of those versions of the faith, if “versions” they may be called, that have sprung up either in contempt or in ignorance of tradition—or in contempt and ignorance both. I’m talking about those places, built on a kind of shopping-mall plan, that avail themselves of the word “church” without any regard for its meaning–rather like those who help themselves to connubial privileges without ever uttering the terrifying words “I do.” We know what the hostile observer makes of First Church of the Sprawl. But what would the amiable, if distant, observer make of it?

By “it” I have in mind, for example, a place called “Bible Harvest Chapel,” which is a kind of movie theater retrofitted to a former big box electronics store. I went in it once to see in what ways I might be oriented to something beyond myself. The first architectural feature I saw directing my thoughts heavenward was a Starbuck’s-style coffee shop.

Welcome to Bible Harvest Chapel; would you like to try our Lord’s Day Special?

Was I to dip my fingers in a double-skinny caramel latte and make the sign of the dollar? I didn’t know for sure. The place hardly resembled a chapel. And although there was once a harvest on that spot (for the big box store-cum-ecclesia was built on a cornfield), no one there rejoiced to bring in the sheaves, not even in that robust manner of your hearty Baptist congregation cycling through the hymns it agrees to sing. Even that kind of hymnody, which isn’t quite up to the standards of what Tradition hands down, had been replaced at the Church of the Electronic Jesus. Indeed, the hymnals were flat-screens on the walls of the “sanctuary,” and across these screens strolled the lyrics to songs the drummer kept time to as the guitar-players jammed. The singing was literally off the wall, and I wanted to gyrate my hips before the Lord, as King David had of old.

Recitation of the creed, incense, daily lessons, sacrament: no signs thereof.

And the parking lot, now desertified by asphalt, was full of Lincoln Navigators sporting, at about eye level, “W ’04” bumper stickers . American Christians shopping on Sunday morning. The last great synthesis. Full acculturation. Full interpenetration of marketplace and faith. Marketplace as object of faith, with Jesus and Jeep Liberties for all.

Or, rather, full absorption of the faith by the marketplace—and the obliteration of history.

For that, I think, is what our dispassionate observer must conclude. “I don’t feel the need for religion myself,” he would say, “but these people have taken a fairly good thing, as religious things go, and turned it into a cartoon.”

I suppose that for a while now I’ve had the urge to articulate—more fully than can be done here—something along these lines, but it wasn’t until a recent rising of the gorge that I felt the need to produce a full-blown and astringently sour gastric emesis: I heard a child of good and well-meaning mega-churchers announce that he would not be trick-or-treating because Halloween is Satan’s birthday.

Drunk Pumpkin

I never thought it possible that Christians could ruin a holiday more completely than they’ve ruined Christmas—or misunderstand more fully the words “Halloween,” “holiday,” and “Christmas.”

But they can, and they’ve done it by checking out of history. Forget the long-standing practice of observing feast days and the fasts that precede them, about which even Keats, the author of “The Eve of St. Agnes” (a poem about rumpy-pumpy) knew. The eve of All Saints is now Satan’s birthday, and history, as Henry Ford said, is bunk.

If you find yourself in bars, as I sometimes rarely do, and if you find yourself in heated conversation therein with people hostile to religion, as I often do, you may have a strong desire, as I always do, to establish a widely agreed-on way of distinguishing between what you believe and what Colorado Springs believes. Well at long last I’ve done it:

If someone were to shorten the field by forty yards, widen it by twenty, give you thirteen downs to advance twelve yards for a first down, and award you six points for doing so, you’d rightly object to his calling this new game “football.” You’d say to him, “that one’s taken. Find another name.”

I think the same applies to that fairly old, solid, and stately religion known as “Christianity.” Those who have altered the faith beyond recognition should come up with a new name for what it is they’re practicing. I suggest “Krustianity.”

It has that sort of marketable ring to it that should appeal to Krustians. Breakfast cereals are certainly a possibility, as are Action Figures, such as Pastor Ted and the male hooker he’s trying to convert. The Family Krustian Book Store could make a killing, and each Sunday Krustians everywhere could confess, with gestures, how fun it is to stay at the YMKA.

Meanwhile, those of us attempting faithfulness to that thing organized around its bishop and committed to preserving both Word and Sacrament won’t have to put up with so much grief in our bar fights.

{ 92 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Bob Cheeks November 4, 2009 at 8:43 am

Jason, I am so proud of you for your new “no piss-off” policy, though your going to have to lighten up a bit on the animadversions.
As you know there’s a reason (or two) why folks fled the Catholic Church and abandoned popery seeking a church less observant of costume, accession, and ceremony and more concerned with the reality of the Logos. And, just a little reminder here; Jesus spoke Aramaic (at least Mel Gibson said He did), not Eyetalian, or Latin, not to mention Russian or any of the Slavic languages.
However, in my oft expressed desire for inclusiveness and in my hunger for diversity, I must confess to missing the traditions and rites of the Catholic Church of the 1950′s. Sadly, there’s no Catholic Church in my area that celebrates the Mass in Latin and the “new” Mass much resembles what you’ve described thusly, “If someone were to shorten the field by forty yards, widen it by twenty, give you thriteen downs to advance twelve yards for a first down, and give you six points for doing so, you’d rightly object to his calling this new game “football.””
And, to be honest, I have no desire to sing “kumbaya” with a bunch of abortion and homosexual “marriage” supporting Catholics who’ve driven to church in their Volvos and Volkswagons, proudly displaying “BO, he don’t stink!” bumper stickers. Nor do I have any desire at all to celebrate the concept of co-redemption expressed by certain perfervid Catholics.
So I would suggest that you don’t let these “grocery store” Christians bother you. Some of them are from broken homes and broken hearts. Their children are oft raised by their mothers. Most of them are without benefit of a college education, many are hillwilliams, poor blacks, drug addicts and alcoholics and wouldn’t fit in the company of more affluent folks, at least some affluent folks. I know this because these people are friends of mine. They are people that every once in a while, I’ve been privileged to help and people who have taught me more about being a Christian than any priest, preacher, or theologian.
They may roll in the aisle, they may (God forbid) raise their hand in praise of the Almighty, they may shout “Praise Jesus”, but please remember that every one of them truly believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word, and the Savior of mankind.
Not too bad for “grocery store” Christians!

avatar Ryan Davidson November 4, 2009 at 8:44 am

You clearly aren’t going to make any friends this way–it seems fairly evident that you don’t care–and there’s a good case to be made that this kind of snarking isn’t likely to produce the kind of results you want, but those things aside… fair enough. Fair enough.

avatar Caleb Stegall November 4, 2009 at 8:57 am

Oh good, it’s about time the religious wars arrived on the Porch. Hold on while I go grab the claymore I keep above the door that my ancestor Captain Brown of the Derry Regiment, hero of Bothwell Bridge, wielded at the Battle of the Boyne to cut down the traditionalist cur.

Do you like apples?

Of course, Peters makes many fine points, and as to the specifics, I wouldn’t disagree with the criticism of the Evangelical right and their Mega-Mart Churches and Discount Store Faith. I have made these critiques myself on numerous occasions. Hey Jason, did you try out the bathrooms for warnings against stehpinkeln?

But still, declaring anathemas used to be much more serious business. How about the low church gelicals whoring themselves to the state and the market for worldly power and wealth? Er, I guess that may not work out so well for certain traditionalists.

Or how about blasting away at their blasphemous doctrines per Trent, and at least we could come back with the whole whore of Babylon and anti-Christ stuff? Then we’d be back on even footing.

I think that while Jason’s fine critique gets the religious tree it misses the class forest.

And besides, speaking of Halloween and traditionalists, it would seem that the rot of mass culture and consumerism is an equal opportunity colonizer.

avatar Steve K. November 4, 2009 at 9:10 am

Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

avatar Caleb Stegall November 4, 2009 at 9:20 am

So I would suggest that you don’t let these “grocery store” Christians bother you. Some of them are from broken homes and broken hearts. Their children are oft raised by their mothers. Most of them are without benefit of a college education, many are hillwilliams, poor blacks, drug addicts and alcoholics and wouldn’t fit in the company of more affluent folks, at least some affluent folks. I know this because these people are friends of mine. They are people that every once in a while, I’ve been privileged to help and people who have taught me more about being a Christian than any priest, preacher, or theologian.
They may roll in the aisle, they may (God forbid) raise their hand in praise of the Almighty, they may shout “Praise Jesus”, but please remember that every one of them truly believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word, and the Savior of mankind.
Not too bad for “grocery store” Christians!

Cheeks, you warm my heart. I’ll sling my claymore by your side anyday!

As I hinted, these matters are far better addressed through the lens of class than they are through the rubric of old religious grievances.

avatar Empedocles November 4, 2009 at 9:52 am

Caleb, can you elaborate on this more? Why would one class be attracted to the strip-mall church rather than the traditional church?

avatar Dale Nelson November 4, 2009 at 9:59 am

Jason, this is not the place for a discussion of apostolic succession — I certainly realize that.

Since you mention the topic, though, you might be interested in Hermann Sasse’s essay by that name, in We Confess the Church (also in the We Confess omnibus), for a well-informed take on the matter from an adherent of the Lutheran Confessions. It’s meant a lot to me, for one, over the years.

Back to our regularly-scheduled programming.

avatar Dale Nelson November 4, 2009 at 10:03 am

Years ago I was sitting, shaggy-haired and cross-wearing young man, in a Klamath Falls laundromat. A she’s-had-a-hard-life skinny blonde walked in, took one look, and muttered, “Obviously a Krustian.”

I treasure the memory.

avatar Albert November 4, 2009 at 10:20 am
avatar Ryan Davidson November 4, 2009 at 10:40 am

Empedocles, the people most likely to attend the kind of evangelical/pentecostal mega-”churches” described by the author tend to come from the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. Most of them don’t have much in the way of education, even the ones that have money and/or went to college. The minority that does go to college tends to go to either technical schools or miniscule fundamentalist Bible colleges, none of which have much in the way of cultural influence. As a result, though Evangelicals and Pentecostals represent a huge fraction of the country’s population, they represent a tiny fraction of the country’s population that possess a post-secondary degree that bears the name of an even marginally prestigious institution. Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism and their various interminglings contain a disproportionately low percentage of those who could be construed as “elite” by any well-recognized metric.

On the other hand, the picture for Reformed, Lutheran, and Episcopal–basically your confessional Protestants–is quite different. Incomes and education levels are much higher, across the board. There aren’t all that many blue-collar Presbyterians or Episcopalians anymore. Haven’t been for at least half a century.

I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine that the same sort of thing is true of the Catholic tradition as well, the author’s grumbling notwithstanding: those Catholics who are most likely to take the theological aspects of their faith seriously are those most likely to be well-educated.

This, I think, is what Caleb is getting at, and he’s right: this does merit closer analysis.

avatar James Matthew Wilson November 4, 2009 at 11:16 am

Albert’s link to the news story on Catholic prelates in other countries offering “alternatives” to Holloween amused me, when I came across it last week.

But, to pass that by and respond to Jason’s bete noir: presuming for a moment that Holloween were “Satan’s Birthday,” would we not be just in celebrating it insofar as it reminds us that God has made all things, and he has made them well? As with so many of us, Satan had a very promising beginning, but sold his inheritance for a bit of worldly glory. Cf. Paradise Lost.

But, Jason’s more pedantic point is that the “ween” is an “eve” and an “eve” is the evening before one of the six days of the year (not including Sundays) all faithful Catholics are obliged to make their way to mass — in this instance to give thanks for the Saints. It is the Presidents’ Day of our one lasting citizenship.

avatar John Médaille November 4, 2009 at 11:42 am

I certainly agree that modern fundamentalism represents such a clean break with the past that it cannot be called Christianity. Perhaps the suugestion of Michael Budde and Robert Brimlow is appropriate: it should be called “Christianity, Incorporated,” or rather a Christianity that is the lapdog of the corporations. I think this kind of religion is really an adaptation to Enlightenment individualism, and therein lies its appeal. Personal interpretation, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, etc., are really appeals to the predominant cultural individualism, wherein religion itself becomes no more than consumer product, a personal utility for a purely personal salvation, unmediated by priest, sacrament, tradition, or sacrifice.

avatar Caleb Stegall November 4, 2009 at 11:49 am

Medaille, that is outrageous. Do we really want to have this fight?

avatar Micah November 4, 2009 at 11:51 am

This dispassionate observer might see one of these suffering people going to the strip mall church. He has a Lincoln Navigator, along with a host of other bills and expenses, because that’s what it takes to hold things together. He works in a meaningless, but respectable, white collar job. He is not privileged enough to “opt out” without destroying his life and family. Yes, this church is full of pompous hypocrites, but at least they say “hi” to him, unlike the Episcopal Church down the road, where everyone is a life-time member and on social security. Their only concern is getting their benefits paid until they die. He knows his children will inherit this wasteland, and faces the bitter reality that he has nothing better to offer them. So, he attends this one voluntary association that fits in his schedule, and prays for mercy and grace. This dispassionate observer might want to tell him that he is not alone.

avatar John Médaille November 4, 2009 at 11:57 am

Caleb, it seems to me that you always want to fight. But as G. K. Chesterton observed, the problem with a fight is that it interrupts an argument. I’d be glad to have a discussion with you, if that is possible. I’ll even have a argument with you, if it’s over the issues. But your personal emotional state is of no interest to me.

avatar AML November 4, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Speaking only from experience, I would suggest that there might not be as much to the class argument as Mr. Stegall is suggesting. I am Catholic and was home schooled for a few years. During the years of my home edumacation, I was largely surrounded by evangelical/non-denominational protestants. One family was founding a new mega-church. This little project of theirs has some major money backing it and its congregation is populated with some of the weqalthiests people in the WORLD. One of the big draws is a coffee shop and food court, just as Peters describes it. This is not the kind of thing I see blue-collar people attracted to. There are several other mega-churches in the area and they are located in posh suburbs. I don’t think Peters is railling against evangelicals or pentecostals or low church protestantism so much as against this modern phenomenon of the mega-church.

The one thing I find encouraging about these places is that occaisionally their members think to themselves, “There has got to be something more to Christianity than this,” and wind up finding there way to the Catholic Church. However, I think it would be safe to say that in some places the Catholic Church tries to emulate the apparent success of the megachurches and ends up in the situation Mr. Cheeks describes above.

avatar Caleb Stegall November 4, 2009 at 12:23 pm

As GK also observed, indifference is an elegant name for ignorance, and both are pompous displays of false impartiality. And again, that one sees vast things from the valley, and only small things from the peak.

My point is that here on this Porch, as BK has observed, we’re in the hospitable valley, and even though you are a guest here, your own peculiar brand of Romanist distributist fundamentalism as proclaimed from the peak is both quickly wearing out the welcome and threatens to expose rifts that are not important yet are dangerous.

avatar John Médaille November 4, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Caleb, I have not faintest idea of what your post has to do with anything I’ve said. If you wish to debate the issue of whether fundamentalism is an adaptation to individualism, I am more than happy to do so. But some basic courtesy on your part would certainly help.

avatar Luke November 4, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Oh, let’s just start a roast and have everyone submit the most egregious shortcomings of their fellow Christians (or should I say, fellow confessors of Jesus Christ’s Lordship?). That would be such good fun. Moreover, let’s criticize from the Archimedean point of the “rational man on the street” so that we don’t have to actually engage in theology – heaven forbid! Yes, this will surely further both the cause of Christ and local living….

As a long-time lurker at FPR, I have often thought that it would be a fruitful place to explore the theological grounds for “local” political and economic action – my mistake.

Luke

avatar Caleb Stegall November 4, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Caleb, I have not faintest idea of what your post has to do with anything I’ve said.

And here we arrive at the heart of the problem.

But some basic courtesy on your part would certainly help.

You’re working with a strange definition of courtesy. Despite my long history of discourtious criticisms of various Christian sects, I don’t recall ever having simply read a huge swath of people out of the Faith alltogether with such sweeping condescension. And I would never even make the critique if I were a guest on someone else’s stoop. My fundamentalist granny taught me that much.

avatar Bob Cheeks November 4, 2009 at 12:50 pm

This is way tooooooo good!

avatar Caleb Stegall November 4, 2009 at 12:58 pm

John, here is an example of a similar critique that, while hard hitting, does not presume to throw people off of the boat.

avatar John Médaille November 4, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Caleb, your complaints get more obscure with each post, since the point of Jason’s post was that this fundamentalism was not Christianity, but needed a new name: I think the same applies to that fairly old, solid, and stately religion known as “Christianity.” Those who have altered the faith beyond recognition should come up with a new name for what it is they’re practicing. I suggest “Krustianity.”

I think it a bit late in the conversation to complain about the subject of the conversation.

As for “condescension,” it is a strange complaint from a person who uses the term “Romanist” to describe Catholics, a term meant to be condescending, and worse. For your further enlightenment, we do not worship Rome, we worship God, and we know the difference between the two.

I suggest that for some of your critiques at least, you begin not by looking at the computer, but by looking in the mirror.

The point of my post was that fundamentalism is an adaptation to individualism. If you have a comment on that, I will be happy to discuss it. There are other blogs that are more appropriate for hurling insults at “Romanists,” but I do not participate in them.

avatar Steve K. November 4, 2009 at 1:56 pm

This is going to be a difficult discussion to pull off without acrimony but I hope it can be done. I am certainly interested in it – I do not believe it you can have culture without the ‘cult’ and the parlous health of Christian religion and witness in the USA today is a major reason why we have a radioactive anti-culture in the place where a culture should be. I have seen other posts here in the past touch on religion and certain folks in the combox express their displeasure that religion is discussed at all, so

I am Catholic (a Latin-mass-going Catholic, an unfortunately necessary qualification given the de facto schism in the American Church today, as Mr. Cheeks alludes to, the other side of which IMO finds itself within the bounds of Krustianity), but I would not paint with a broad brush and write such a huge swath of people out of the Faith. However, maybe it could be pointed out that perhaps there are even fewer resources for those of the Faith outside the traditional, sacramental Church to resist succumbing to the zeitgeist? Certainly Catholics are not immune to this, but AmChurch got where it is now by largely turning its back on the tradition, cutting itself off from the living tradition that could protect against the depredations of modernity.

Maybe it is fair though to ask what contributions certain strains of Protestantism made to forming “Krustianity,” and which ones; perhaps as the flip side of the “Protestant work ethic” which receives some credit for the industrialization and disparate wealth of Protestant countries (Northern Europe) vis a vis the Catholic and Orthodox countries?

avatar Steve K. November 4, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I failed to complete a sentence in my first paragraph, it should read, “I have seen other posts here in the past touch on religion and certain folks in the combox express their displeasure that religion is discussed at all, so it is nice to see the matter taken up on the Front Porch. Just hope we can avoid virtual bloodletting…”

avatar Caleb Stegall November 4, 2009 at 1:59 pm

uses the term “Romanist” to describe Catholics, a term meant to be condescending, and worse. For your further enlightenment, we do not worship Rome, we worship God, and we know the difference between the two.

Exactly. Two can play at this game. Hence my original rhetorical question about whether you really want to have this fight.

I think it is better for all involved not to have it.

avatar James Matthew Wilson November 4, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I am not sure that John’s original comments were particularly controversial. Are historians and theologians not agreed that the Reformation is bound up with what Jacques Maritain called the “advent of the self?” Is not the line of debate whether modern anthropologies of the individual are accurate or good — rather than whether Protestantism is bound up with those anthropologies?

Even so stout a Catholic as myself is not too busy slavishly worshipping Mary, being controlled by priests, impressing women into nunneries, and conspiring to usurp legitimate temporal authorities while singing the sweet hymn “Error Has No Rights” to read a little Karl Barth. Barth’s “Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century” gives a — so say the least — thorough account of advanced individualism’s presence and role in post-Reformation Protestant thought. See particularly p.99ff, where Barth gives a compelling, and disturbing, account of the rise of Pietism. According to Barth it is Pietism rather than Protestantism per se that mutated Christianity into a sect of pure individualstic inwardness, and, if I am recalling correctly, the Pietist influence was not insignificant in American Christianity, particularly Evangelicalism. Even on its first appearance, it showed a particular adaptability to spiritual experience as commodity, and certainly provided a fertile bed for the modern megachurch with its consumer-aesthetic liturgy and its prosperity theology. This all is part of the legacy of Protestantism, and Barth represents an admirable instance of a Protestant confronting that history and correcting its heretical content. Did I miss something in John’s comments that departed from what Barth would himself willingly have said?

In my experience, the Megachurchites are prosperous upper-middle-class folks at once intensely pious, subject to Bibolatry, and much at ease in the consumer culture of Zion. They are hardly the wretched of the earth — or rather, those same wretched of the earth — I hear others describing. So, if we’re to approach this subject by class rather than ecclesiology, we had better figure out first which demographics and whose churches it is everyone’s assailing.

For my part, I’m not assailing anyone, but only making what I hope will be a helpful citation. I’ll save my Eucharist Procession of “mandarin” argument and righteous judgment for a day when I have my monstrance polished and my halo fastened on straight (Which should be next Thursday, in case anyone was wondering).

avatar Kevin H November 4, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Maybe as the previous comments suggest, there is much to be said for excusing misinformed conduct due to the reasons for such misinformation. However, I have to agree with the author that when these misunderstandings bring a pox even unto houses that do not deserve to be termed diseased, especially when it can be found in these houses more proper understandings that may cure the illness, it become extremely frustrating and difficult to look upon those who (although not at fault) invite such a pox on all. This is especially the case when as Mr. Cheeks (kumbaya and BO bumper-stickers) and Mr. Stegall (in a farcical interpretation of the “costume” of the Mass) point out, such houses constantly deal with grievous misunderstandings from within as well.

Trying to frame these questions in terms of class may work to a certain extent for the present moment when to the majority it appears that there is no other authority than that before their very eyes. Does this really hold up, though, if another authority, with legitimate claim, were to exert itself? Would those who denied such authority then still be able to excuse themselves because of said “broken homes?”

What I think is being pointed out is that without distinction, it is difficult for these “grocery store Christians,” although believers they may be, to ever realize that there is something beyond the Save-a-Lot.

avatar Albert November 4, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Is not the line of debate whether modern anthropologies of the individual are accurate or good — rather than whether Protestantism is bound up with those anthropologies?

Good question, Mr. Wilson. I would hope for the former, but it seems a bit ambiguous.

I do think that criticisms tending toward the latter might best be reserved for one’s own house. There are, after all, plenty of Protestants and Catholics both that suffer from the flaws so vividly illustrated in the original post. That was the point of my own little quip of a link.

avatar Howard Merrell November 4, 2009 at 3:19 pm

A few comments and questions (some relate to the original post and some to comments, but since I only have a limited time to hangout on the porch, I’ll put them all in one comment-post):

To whom it may concern: I lead a congregation that has for years called itself a “church.” Thankfully (after reading the article) we do not meet in a big box. Though honesty compels me to confess that we would like to fill our box necessitating building a bigger one. To my chagrin I find that, having no steeple, Gothic arches or stained glass windows we may have been using the title inappropriately. (You can’t imagine how relieved I am that I am that we don’t sell or serve Starbuck’s coffee—though some younger ladies once used Dunkin-Donut brand for our breakfast. We kept the bag hidden.)
I am very sorry. Please excuse me for not making my apology in Latin, Russian, or Elizabethan English. I suppose I could do it in the Elizabethan, but I do that best while wearing wool tights, and Wal-Mart is all out.

Could someone please tell me where to write so that I can correct the egregious franchise infringement being perpetrated by my, now, without a name, group. Is it in Rome, Canterbury, Moscow, or Rock Island? I would suppose that a picture of our building would be required, together with a roster of the kind of cars folk drive to our house of worship. I don’t suppose they would care about what we believe would they. I would suppose that any of these locales would be full of vibrant assemblies of believers—surely those benighted Fundamentalists who send missionaries to such places are mistaken—so if I get my request anywhere close, the locals, blessed as they are to dwell in such historically appropriate light, will get my request copied onto parchment and delivered to the proper cloister.

I need to know, what is an acceptable bumper height for worship? If worshippers deflate their tires to achieve an acceptable altitude is that acceptable?

I was under the mistaken impression that churches (Please excuse the unauthorized use of the term.) ought to go back to the New Testament for their definition. Would that not constitute the “deepest historical roots”? Forgive me—Keep in mind I do sometimes drive a Ford pickup truck, which is nothing more than a de-chromed Navigator with the back-seat chopped off–that mistake. Should I be going back to the Reformation, Constantine, Augustine, just when and where is the appropriate historical target?

I don’t suppose that Jesus challenging the traditions of His day would have anything to do with this discussion, would it?

Can we get by with building a steeple or do we need to erect flying buttresses? Do you know of a supplier for buttresses?

Do you have any explanation–maybe it is just my misunderstanding–for the fact that Jesus, though he said He would build His church, never built a building nor did his Apostles, nor to my knowledge any of His followers for a couple of hundred years? No doubt, I missed something.

At first I thought that maybe the alien observer Mr. Peters spoke of, had come to earth having already been infected with some of Peters’ prejudices. I am sure I was mistaken. Any honest alien would come to the conclusions in the article, unless of course he arrived in an SUV. Now there is the start of the plot for a horror film. No charge.

Does the content of the songs being sung matter, or is it only a matter of whether they projected or printed?

By the way, I think that a little investigation would indicate that great many sheaves are being brought in by those who worship in boxes, big and little, lacking in the architectural features that you find so necessary. Do these folk get at least a little credit for attempting to obey the Lord’s parting command?

I went on a quick tour of the Vatican Museum and the cathedral in Ulm, a few years ago. I would assume based on what I observed there, with the commentary provided in Mr. Peters’ post that big boxes, or an endless succession of small and medium boxes are fine, as long as they are filled with an obscene amount of priceless works of art.
I don’t suppose that pictures from the preschool Sunday School department would measure up?

avatar Kevin H November 4, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I think Mr. Merrell’s comment exhibits perfectly, despite the fact that in the present situation I tend to side with him, the problem of our inability to recognize the possibility of an alternative authority. In not being able to recognize authority other than our selves, we are helpless against those things that tend to destroy communities that might be much more hospitable to front porches. Lacking any type of commonality we lack any agreement of limits, and thus true liberty which springs from those limits.

Even those different sects of Christianity who planted their flags (or grew out of those planted) on these shores recognized a center and common authority (albeit differing ones). To this centered authority, they built elaborate structures because, despite not always being of great means, that to which they built the structures represented the Order and Meaning of their lives. As the comments point out, there is no going back, but there is a right ordering of things.

avatar John Médaille November 4, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Mr. Merrell, your post goes to the heart of the question: Where is the authority? You would like to resolve the question by merely citing the NT as the authority, but is it not fair to ask if that merely begs the question? This for two reasons. The first is that the canon of the NT must depend on some other authority, since nowhere in the NT is its canon defined. Can the Church be co-extensive with the NT? Surely not, since the the Church is older than any of the documents in that collection. Somewhere, there must be an authority which says, “this is part of the canon and that is not.” Without such an authority, can their be a Church? If one relies on the authority of the early churches, then the content of the Bible varies from place to place. If on the authority of Rome, then there is no final canon until the 5th century; if on the authority of Luther, than none till the 16th century; if on the authority of the fundamentalists, then there is no canon until the later editions of the King James, since the 1611 edition included books that were later excised. Hence, the question of authority cannot be avoided.

But even after there is agreement (or agreement to disagree) on the canon, one is still faced with the problem of interpretation. That brings us back to the subject of Jason’s post. Is that authority a personal charism of each and every reader, or is there some communal authority? If the former, have we not just divinized radical individualism? If every plowman is endowed with equal rights of interpretation, can their be a real religious dialog? But if the plowman ought to defer to some other interpretive authority, then we at least discuss the grounds for the various claims to authority.

Caleb, I see. You called Catholics a bad names because somebody called…What is it that somebody called you? You never did explain, in all those posts, the source of your dyspepsia.

avatar Dale Nelson November 4, 2009 at 4:49 pm

To disaffected Christians and Krustians and to adherents of neither (?) faith — be assured it is quite possible for Christians of differing denominations to enjoy one another’s company, have good discussions, etc. I think, for example, of my experience with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship when I was in college. We got along quite well. I think one thing that probably helped was the pervasive influence of C. S. Lewis. If you read some of his published letters, e.g. to Bede Griffiths, who converted to Roman Catholicism from the Church of England, you will see him handle tactfully the incipient friction of a would-be controversialist.

In the spirit of those conversations of former days, I will suggest to John Mèdaille, if I may, that “authority” seems to me something of what used to be called a “wax nose,” back in the day. I imagine it is as evident to folks within the Petrine Communion as it is to those without, that Rome’s doctrine on ecclesiastical authority has been no guarantee of actual doctrinal or ethical stability. One need only set side by side the publications of, say, Ignatius Press on the one side, and of Paulist Press on the other. Both reflect main streams in American Roman Catholicism, but, dear me, what a difference — as between, say, a nun devoted to giving Jungian retreats with non-Catholic feminist colleagues, and a traditional Catholic homeschooling family.

avatar Tony November 4, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Um, I don’t presume to speak for Mr. Stegall, but “lapdog of the corporations” would be enough to give me dyspepsia.

avatar Caleb Stegall November 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm

John, you said fundamentalists (i.e., protestants) weren’t Christians. How Mr. Wilson can find this uncontroversial is beyond me.

I can consent to the proposition that the magesterial traditions are wiser about the uses and sources of communal authority, and I have made that argument myself many times, and even discussed church authority on this site in the context of the “failure of Christianity.”

But I’ll be damned if this lowland Scot turned free soil prairie sod buster presbyterian Calvinist will consent to live under a dictatorial church anymore than I will a dictatorial state.

And closer to matters at hand on this site, the very idea is, frankly, unAmerican. That you would push in this direction isn’t surprising, I suppose, after you slandered Murray Rothbard and tried to excommunicate Tom Woods from the Catholic Church for being too liberty minded, but for the record, your Porch ain’t my Porch.

Give me that old time religion anyday. Its traditionless tradition recites a lineage going back further now than that from Augustine to St. Peter and it tells me its own stories, which are my stories, of faith and sacrifice and binds me to a deeper magic, a deeper authority, than the tightest grip any prelate ever had, and it reminds me of my birthright, purchased in blood and toil, to turn into the brisk prairie wind and snort the free air and chew a little Kansas dirt and know it is good and it is mine.

You wonder often where we might find the spiritual substance in a people sufficient to challenge the kleptocracy of corporate statism … maybe nowhere anymore, but if there is any fertile ground, its in these people, the ones you deride as fundamentalists. They are the only ones with a usable past to provide sufficient enough strength and resolve to push back the Leviathan. We have done it before.

Looking to Rome carries its own coherence, its own wisdom, and its own benefits. But at least in the American context, it won’t work to accomplish the political ends you desire. Now that might be a discussion worth having.

avatar Luke November 4, 2009 at 5:21 pm

John,
Two comments:
1) No one escapes the dilemma of interpretation that you appear to view as the sole domain of Protestants. If the councils (et al.) help us interpret scripture, they do so as traditions that themselves require interpretation. That this interpretation is no simple matter is indicated by the multiple, sometimes contradictory, interpretations of this tradition (e.g., Vatican II and the social encyclicals).
2) With regard to the formation of the canon, you seem to imply that the canon depends upon the authority of the church. Without serious qualification, this seems to distort the relationship between church and scripture. The church does not create the canon, but recognizes the inspiration of these texts, or in the words of Vatican I: “These books the Church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority…, but because, being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the Church.” See also the Instruction Concerning the Historical Truth of the Gospels, which also emphasizes the authorship of God and not “the creative power of that [early church] community.” A “churchless” or even “traditionless” Bible is a figment of the imagination, but let’s not combat it with another.

All best.

avatar John Médaille November 4, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Caleb, All protestants are fundamentalists? That will certainly come as news to Rowan Williams. I suspect it will come as news to most Presbyterians.

Okay, you don’t like a “dictatorial church” (whatever that means). I didn’t know the conversation was about your likes and dislikes; I would never have entered such a conversation, one because the subject of your likes is of absolutely no interest to me, and two because there is no accounting for tastes. De gusitibus non disputandum est. Are their other possible topics of conversation apart from your personal preference scales?

As for whether a “church” built on radical individualism can be called “Christianity” or “Krustianity,” well, that is a legitimate subject for debate, and one dependent on neither my feelings nor your own.

The rest is canard (what a surprise.) I have not “excommunicated” Woods or anybody else, since that is a canonical and judicial function. I have said he is wrong to say the Church lacks authority in matters of economics, and I will continue to say that.

avatar Howard Merrell November 4, 2009 at 5:59 pm

I need to go to Prayer Meeting in a few minutes. That is part of our tradition.
A couple kwik comments.

Mr. Medaille’s (By the way, being a person oriented to verbal communication it helps me to know how to pronounce a name. Would you help me out?) comment is precisely right. It is a matter of where the authority lies. I say NT. Others of you want to give tradition an equal or nearly equal standing.

The comment that having a body that does our interpreting for us does not answer the issue is also right on. A reading of the gospels would indicate that the same problem existed in the time of Christ. “What did the interpreters of Moses mean when they interpreted him?” Sermon on the Mt. “You have heard it said . . .” Jesus was not arguing with Moses but with those who claimed to speak for him. That has to be balanced with Matthew 23:2-3 & following, but a balance can be found. Also the argument related to divergent views of divorce–Hillel and Shammai, Matthew 19–is along this line

As to the canon: I substantially agree with Luke. (I totally agree with LUKE.) “The church does not create the canon, but recognizes the inspiration of these texts, or in the words of Vatican I: “These books the Church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority…, but because, being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the Church.”

History would indicate that there is much more agreement on the canon in the early church than disagreement. But others in the field of Bible Introduction, & Church History have sorted that out better than I can or have time to right now.
The church is the recognizer of the canon, not its creator. Obviously, we must look at history, etc. to decide which of today’s voices is right. Roman Catholic, Protestant, LDS, etc.

Kevin H. refers to an issue raised earlier, and again I think it is a proper ID.
Takin a look in the mirror and knowing that one has a responsibility to judge proper authority is not the same as claiming to be that authority.
I don’t think Martin Luther was claiming autonomous authority when he made his speech at Worms (or is it Wurms?)

If a lawyer can write a deed so that others can read it and tell who owns the property, surely God can–yes, I hold to verbal-plenary inspiriation–cause a document to be written so that people applying normal rules of grammar can arrive at its meaning.

I reread my post. I was perhaps more strident than I should have been. I think if someone puts themselve in my place they would see the insulting nature of the original piece. I think it was intended as such, and in this context that is good. I desire dialogue. I am willing to be convinced if I am wrong. But quoting what a council or tradition says won’t do it.

avatar Russell Arben Fox November 4, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Well, damn. Came to this thread late; maybe I’ll just back out the way I came in. Not sure what a Mormon could add to it anyway. Looks like good fun, though!

avatar John Médaille November 4, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Luke, I don’t see any difference in your #2 and what I said; somebody has to say “this is inspired and this is not.” And I don’t think I said that interpretation was simple; I merely said it wasn’t personal. There is a personal sense of interpretation. That is, if I read the Bible and come the the conclusion that liquor is the devil’s tea, than I am prohibited from drinking. But this is a personal conviction not binding on any other Christian; I can’t go beat up on Jason for having a beer. That is a judgment that can only be made by the community acting on competent authority. My personal interpretation binds no one but me.

Tony, I’m afraid that arises from my own personal experience. In the life of a salesman, one is required to attend any number of “motivational seminars” where a simulacrum of “Christianity” is used as a motivational tool. Of course, this “Christianity” is not really permitted to ask any real questions, such as “does this product represent a real good?” “Is it harmful?” “Under what conditions was it made?” “Does it harm the environment?” etc., all questions one might expect a serious Christianity to pose to a commercial product. We can argue doctrine all one likes, but you cannot contest someone else’s experience.

avatar MMH November 4, 2009 at 6:38 pm

My, it’s getting hot in here. And in my naivete I thought it a rather commonsensical little screed against an easy and complaisant point of view that, while only tenuously connected to Christianity, still goes by that name. The only point I thought someone might take exception to is the dig at conservative Christians who react to the secularization of holidays. While I agree that the reasoning may be faulty regarding Halloween, I think these people are actually onto something real about the way it’s celebrated. I like trick-or-treaters and give out candy with the best of them, but I have noticed that in recent years the emphasis in certain circles really has been on the macabre, the bizarre, and the unwholesome. You don’t need to believe it’s Satan’s birthday to find it questionable.

But to return to megachurches, as more than one person has pointed out, it seems that most “Megachurchites are prosperous upper-middle-class folks… much at ease in the consumer culture of Zion” (James Wilson). What I have not found is the intense piety James mentions, and it’s precisely this lack of piety that I find so off-putting–not the de facto lack of piety, something from which most of us suffer, but the lack of recognition that piety is necessary.

avatar Dale Nelson November 4, 2009 at 6:57 pm

I should supplement what I said above to John Mèdaille. John appears to me to be saying that non-Roman Catholic Christians (except for Orthodox?) should become Roman Catholics because of the issue of authority; the (Roman Catholic) Church has and is the authority for pronouncing what Christians are to believe. But when I survey the empirical Roman Catholic Church, I see an institution which, if I were to join it, would require me, personally, to make a great many choices about what is to be believed. Let’s say I convert to Rome. Now, do I identify with that stream in American Roman Catholicism represented (in my view rather attractively) by traditional homeschooling Catholics? or do I identify with the Edward Kennedy social Catholicism? or with the Jungian-feminist nun kind of Catholicism so evident in books from Paulist Press? Or some other type? I would say that the differences between these groups — all of which are “Catholic” and persist in the presence of the church’s authority — are more profound than the differences between many Protestant bodies, which Mr. Mèdaille appears to regard as a chaos of conflicting truth claims due to the inevitable deadlocks over what the Bible says. I’m saying they appear, without Mr. Mèdaille’s “authority,” in many cases to do a better job of keeping Christian truth in view than his church does /with/ its “authority.”

Please read what I have said as a statement of opinion and observation. I’m sure what I have said is not the last word. But it’s quite a shock for a curious Protestant, such as I have been, to trun from the pages of, say, John Henry Newman, to the empirical Roman Catholic Church. Mr. Mèdaille may say that the traditional Catholic homeschoolers whom I find so attractive are “good Catholics” and the Jungian nuns and Kennedian cultural Catholics are not, but then these latter folks would have their own take on the matter and, NB, their own ideas about “Church authority.”

Isn’t it so?

avatar Bruce Smith November 4, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Sometimes with ideology you get something different from what you expected. Calvinism’s theory of Pre-Destination according to Richard Tawney and Max Weber helped give capitalist individualism an enormous boost. What better way could you have than to amass some surplus value to signal your Fitness for gene reproduction and salvation and both at the same time!

avatar Dale Nelson November 4, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Actually we didn’t discuss things in quite this way in those Inter-Varsity days… my bad. I guess.

avatar Mark November 4, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Wow. Where to start.

For one this, Peters wrote a great post. And while what I really feel is pity or disappointment for those sincerely trying to follow Christ, I share in the aggravation of being lumped in with megachurchers under the title, “Christian.”

That being said, the subsequent discussion has been disappointing. It seems certain parties have some significant axes to grind and that it’s something that would be better done in private. You know, when the family starts arguing on the front porch, the more civilized go inside or take it out back.

This is a very important discussion. And in the context of a community all committed to the intersect of faith and public life, it is, like it or not, always brooding beneath the surface of every other discussion.

So it’s sad that so much dirty laundry has to aired to have a discussion about this. All this talking past each other is hardly the work of a good witness to the rest of the world.

avatar Mark November 4, 2009 at 7:53 pm

On a more substantive note, I would add that the problem with discussions like these is that people attack the topic like it’s an intellectual exercise in pedantic masturbation, forgetting that people’s identities are wrapped up in their faith history, and that if you want to effect meaningful change (versus merely proving a point), you have to be delicate. In fact, Christian charity requires it.

avatar Keljeck November 4, 2009 at 7:54 pm

What is fundamentalism? As far as I can understand the “church” that Mr. Peters describes is not fundamentalist. If I were to define it by the description it would be hyper-pop evangelical. To me a fundamentalist is one who holds to the “five fundamentals” or any sort of fundamental against encroaching modernity, while giving into the arguments and language of modernity. Hyper-pop evangelical, to me, is Christianity, Inc. Drive the people in by being slicker, more exciting, and less demanding.

But I don’t think that hyper-pop evangelicalism can be simply brushed away as being in the bosom of corporations. The Church was once in the bosom of Constantine. I hardly feel that the salvation of Christians in that time was in doubt, which seems to be suggested here. I have family who have sadly given themselves away to pop Christianity. My cousin is currently studying at Moody to be a “youth pastor.” While I sometimes question the true depth of his faith (out of my weakness), I know he has made true sacrifices for it. He may not yet see Christ in the bread and wine, but he has surely shown Christ’s love in his own flesh while working missions in Mexico.

In short, I see the spirit working through these Churches, part of the one Church, despite the attempts of corporations to dumb it down. I have also seen the rich traditions of the Roman Catholic Church blind people to the richer joys within when I went to Catholic school.

And just to reveal my own biases, I’m United Methodist. Which, if you want to look at things from the perspective of apostolic succession, I’m twice or thrice removed depending on your tradition.

avatar Kevin H November 4, 2009 at 7:55 pm

I want to clear up what I think is an important distinction between my and Mr. Medaille’s (perceived) responses. Notice that I tied my criticism of earlier comments to their total disregard for the necessity of any authority under which could be found commonality to draw limits and thus extend and agree upon the proper ordering of liberty. While “Romanist” myself, I recognize what was pointed out a few times here, the difficulty of joining the Catholic tradition with many of the traditions that have grown up in these United States of America. This is why it may be better to talk of alternative “authorities” rather than one authority, and by this I don’t necessarily even mean different churches (although that obviously becomes central to the discussion as it relates to the original post by Mr. Peters). Actually, Mr. Peters himself recognizes such different authorities as he opens his piece. The problem with every man as his own church, as is pointed out in the post, is that there is nothing that keeps the church from becoming simply an outgrowth of the prevailing winds. I agree with Mr. Stegall that it is from those whom we are discussing (and some of us deriding) if at all, we are to challenge the secularist impulses that lead to the overreach of Leviathan, but I think the last election shows that by the nature of their “grocery store Christianity,” this same group can become subject to aiding Leviathan much more easily than those with a stronger foundation in an alternative tradition.

avatar John Médaille November 4, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Dale, you’ve read into my words a lot more than I’ve written. I haven’t mentioned Catholicism, or the pope, or anything like that. I am addressing the issue of whether there can be a self-consistent personal authority that doesn’t just collapse into individualism. In this context, I am not at all interested in the purely sectarian issues. I am interested in the question of whether any kind of individualism can be made consistent with Christianity. That, I think, is the nub of Jason’s post.

avatar John Médaille November 4, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Howard, you agree with Luke, and I agree with Luke, and you and Luke and I are all agreed. But it still doesn’t solve the problem that that somebody (or somebody’s tradition) has to say, “This is inspired and this is not.” Note, I am definitely not trying to get into a “Catholic vs. Protestant” argument here (for which this is not the appropriate venue) but a communal vs. private authority discussion. My contention, is that a “private authority” cannot but resolve itself into a Krustianity rather than a Christianity.

Your original claim (correct me if I am wrong) is that the problem of authority could be solved simply by referring to the NT. But in fact, the problem of the NT can’t even be solved by referring to the NT, since the NT makes no mention of the NT. One has to appeal either to a tradition or to one’s personal authority. I don’t see a third course, do you?

The name, by the way, is pronounced may-die; no stress, no L’s. Rhymes with Versailles. Its an odd name (even among the French), but has always stood me in good stead; nobody can pronounce it, nobody can spell it, but nobody can quite forget it. It came in handy when I was in politics, in my misspent youth. It’s even served in my misspent old age.

avatar Dale Nelson November 4, 2009 at 10:09 pm

John Médaille — thank you for your gracious response; and you’re right about my having read in too much in what you said. My remarks tended to divert a more worthwhile discussion into a well-worn channel.

Sorry!

Also apologies for misplacing the accent mark on your name.

avatar Tom November 4, 2009 at 10:56 pm

“Note, I am definitely not trying to get into a “Catholic vs. Protestant” argument here (for which this is not the appropriate venue) but a communal vs. private authority discussion.”

Geez, why didn’t you just say that before at your 11:57 a.m. post? That certainly would have avoided the degeneracy the followed…

avatar Bob Cheeks November 4, 2009 at 10:58 pm

The movement of the Son of God in history, articulated and differentiated in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, illuminated the truth of man’s existence as “engendered in the saving tale of divine incarnation, death, and resurrection.” Consequently, the movement of Jesus in the metaxy of the in-between of existence is opposite of the human experience and rather than asking the questions, announces the truth of the experiences “enumerated” in the gospel as answers to those questions that become noetically luminous in the reality that extends beyond the in-Between.
We must understand that the reality of existence is symbolized, ontologically, as both human and divine. A metalepsis, conceived as love in freedom, existing between God and His creation, man.
The ‘true’ Christian seeks to live in the love, experienced in freedom, of God. In this act of abnegation, of surrender of self in love and in freedom to the Absolute (to use Schelling’s word), the true Christian understands that ultimately there is no doctrine sufficient to symbolize this love. No doctrine is necessary, no authority is required…there is only the changed heart of the lover of Jesus.

And, our friend John (17:3) says:
And this is life eternal:
To know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

avatar Joshua Alexander November 4, 2009 at 11:35 pm

if there is any fertile ground, its in these people, the ones you deride as fundamentalists. They are the only ones with a usable past to provide sufficient enough strength and resolve to push back the Leviathan. We have done it before.

The appeal to power, here, in the context of a discussion on authority is fascinating. I wonder whether our current Leviathan wasn’t nurtured in the waters of that “usable past.”

avatar Fr. Jonathan November 5, 2009 at 10:22 am

Jason,

Thanks, from an Orthodox priest with an Evangelical family, living in a Roman community, and serving sympathy to a lot of aching Anglican friends here in Pittsburgh.

Truly thanks, with no hidden sardonic subtext, because the “Krustian” truncation of “40-yard Christianity” is actually abetting the progressive gods unmoor people away from the land (and Trinity) and hasten them toward the gnostic gas of limitless expansion and consumption.

My old-line Pentecostal associates have no use for the mega-church religion, which has no understanding of grief or joy. The showtime-church avoids unease and seeks fixes of fun and frenzy. It has replaced hope with the wan shades of Republican and Democratic optimism. It has ripped out the Nicene Creek and has embraced psychotherapeutic rituals of self-esteem: no wonder there is no “felt need” for sacrament.

This argument in the comment section has turned ignoble. None of you would want to actually defend the megachurch experience, which is just as separated from the Reformation as it is from the church of “costumes and customs” (a comic note). I look for the Nicene Creed and some acknowledgement thereof to find fellow travelers: I see it here on the Front Porch in spades (do not pardon the pun) — but it is sorely missing in the dead marshes of mega-church-ianity.

Shame. The critique was leveled against denatured Christianity. Not against people who still sing the old 100th.

avatar J.D. Salyer November 5, 2009 at 10:32 am

A well-written post, both funny and containing many good points.

However…..

I suspect the ensuing unpleasantness was inevitable from the very beginning, once we start trying to decide who is or is not truly worthy of the term “Christian”.

Is it logically impossible that someone could be a very *bad* Christian — i.e., be a Christian and also be foolish, tacky, etc.?

avatar Howard Merrell November 5, 2009 at 10:46 am

It looks like this is about wound down.
Thanks to all of you for a profitable discussion.

John Medaille,the NT is not totally silent about the NT. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes from Luke and calls it scripture. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul’s writings as scripture. The evening before He was crucified Jesus predicted the giving of further truth. The predictions are consistent with what we have in the rest of the NT. Not nearly as difinitive as I wish it were–certainly no table of contents–but I don’t think we can say that the NT makes no mention of the NT, either.

I’m trying to sum a couple of things in what will likely be my last post on this. As to canon, authority, Christianity – Krustianity:
Isn’t it true that all of us must make an individual decision based on authority? If we are wise, we will allow the voices of the past–call it tradition if you will–to inform us in that choice. I see sufficient evidence to conclude that the NT is the Word of God, by witness of the NT that would then bring in the OT. The wisdom of the past helps me there. I regard it as witness to what that authority is–the NT.
Others in the discussion are prepared to outsource the decision to a greater degree than I am. They see an authoritative body that speaks with authority on matters of where the final authority lies and how that words therin are to be interpreted. As has been illustrated by the fact that even those lines of faith that most depend on such an authoritative spokesman (or men or persons) have divergent streams in their tradition, it is clear that even here an individual choice is required. If nothing more than a choice to yield to the authority, an individual choice must be made. In that sense all faiths, or religions if you will, are based on an autonomous choice. What I am attempting to muddle toward is that we all exist on a spectrum. None of us are totally free of a faith based on “Private authority,” nor are we free of the witness of those in our stream who have come before us–specifically, in my case, those between the NT and me. I am not prepared to grant them the authority of the NT, but they bear witness to it, and help me understand it.
Thanks Mr. Medaille (and others)for making me think. As to whether the position I have attempted to articulate makes me a Krustian, I don’t know. I’m still trying to live in such a way that I become a visual aid to help people understand what it means to follow Christ. I’ll succeed or fail on that basis.

I have given up trying to understand Bob Cheek’s posts. I read him like I listen to Spanish. On a good day I can listen to a whole message and conclude something like, “He was talking about Paul.” If I caught the gist of part of what he was saying, he said that our relationship with the Lord is a matter of the heart–pietistic, in a sense. It is dangerous to agree with someone when I don’t know what they are saying, but I think I agree with what I think he is saying–at least to a point. Paul spoke of the “Spirit Himself testifying with our spirit.” (Romans 8:16) Part of my assurance as regards the authority upon which I base my faith and life–maybe much more than I want to admit in this cognatively oriented arena–comes from that basis. The NT has a self-authenticating element to it. The Holy Spirit, Who ultimately is its author, bears witness in my heart that this is my stuff, here, pay attention! (By the way, Bob, I assume that you can order a hamburger, and communicate what you want on it. If you really have something to say, you might want to, on occasion, speak to we hamburger folk. I will gladly admit that you know more words and have read more books than me. So, there is no need to prove it with me. I might profit from what you have to say, if I could understand it.)

I am enough of a Fundamentalist (By the definition the word had based on the controversy of the early 20th Century,I am one) to say “Amen!” to Joshua Alexander’s post. Though I have no idea which Leviathan he refers to. I’m still trying to figure out Job’s. I figure, though, if the beast has been nurtered in the waters of the usable past, let’s quit feeding him in the present–and I guess the present is always usable. Which is what I am going to do right now.

avatar E.D. Kain November 5, 2009 at 11:07 am

This entire thread is like reading a bunch of people talking directly past each other. I think the issue here is both one of taste and something a little deeper. Certainly it isn’t one of “class” per say, because the problem with consumerism and Christianity runs the course of many different socio-economic classes.

Megachurches are typically peopled with middle to middle-upper class types, maybe not the most educated, but certainly not impoverished or ignorant types. Megachurches are well-funded, after all.

Then again, there are the much less well-to-do followers of televangelists and the parishioners of other evangelical/fundamentalist stomping grounds who are far less wealthy, but exhibit similar levels of fervor and departure from tradition – of fundamentalism, if you will.

And it’s true that both the wealthy megachurches and the poorer fundamentalist churches are both a little more of the “happy meal” variety than your average Catholic or Episcopal gathering, less grounded in tradition, less tied to the old ways of the old Church.

This alone may offend the aesthetic tastes of some, but it is the embrace of greed and the denial of solidarity and the rise of the atomized individual that really rubs many megachurch critics the wrong way. It is the glossy exterior of consumerism that seems to have infected these churches that really upsets our sense of what is proper and meaningful in Christianity. A sense that these things cheapen it somehow. (Ironically, it was the trappings of Catholicism which similarly aggravated the more puritanical amongst our ancestors, and for similar reasons I think….)

It’s a fair critique, I think. A politicized religion is certainly a cheapened experience – so why not one that is overly infected by other worldly things like the celebration of wealth and meaningless materialism? Then again, I’m less appalled by the idea of a renovated theatre or electronics store becoming a church. I know a Presbyterian minister who is operating out of a school gymnasium at the moment, for lack of money and a building. The Church is more than the building, after all. It’s more than the location or style of said building.

Certainly where there is greed and artificial salvation standing in for the good stuff, the stuff of substance, we should call it like we see it. Phonies and frauds abound. But I think we should be wary of conflating our tastes with what is good and true. God reaches people in different ways.

avatar Bob Cheeks November 5, 2009 at 11:26 am

Howard, dude, I got regular English but every once in a while…well, I just can’t hep myself.
I understand that to be a Christian one must ‘experience’ the Logos. If we don’t ‘experience’ Jesus, well it don’t mean nothing then, now does it?
You can ‘experience’ the Lord, God in the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, First Assembly, Presbyterian, Methodist, ect, ect…and even in the corporatist-statist conspiracy that is the ‘megastore’ churches, as long as that church teaches that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, was born, crucified, died, and rose from the dead, and that He and He alone is the means of salvation.
My guess(and it’s non-Biblical speculation on my part) is that God Almighty might even let other folks into paradise predicated on conditions that He hasn’t bothered to tell me about. I am a flawed sinner, a man that is lacking, but even in my grievous state I would ner set myself to judge the soul of another.
To be a ‘real’ Christian, one’s ‘heart’ is changed, we become the lover of God.
So,Howard, I’m figuring you and I are pretty close and I trust you’ll forgive me my Voegelinian enthusiasms.
Can I get an Amen?

avatar Kevin H November 5, 2009 at 11:35 am

I have been unimpressed by a number of the replies here to this particular post because it seems to me that most have missed the point of the original post itself. Mr. Peters opens with the words of dispassionate observer “here is something stately and demanding and maybe even useful.” How did this develop into an argument over what is “Christian” and what is not. It seems plain to me that Mr. Peters (though acknowledging his bias toward apostolic succession) is much more concerned about what type of challenge the two differing views of a “church” can offer, and asking whether one particular type of “church” can, in honesty, offer any type of challenge at all.

Mr. Merrell, I really want to say that I appreciate you making contributions of some great value due to your particular perspective on this topic. It may say something about what Mr. Stegall pointed out earlier that if there is to be a challenge to the modern Leviathan (in the Hobbesian sense) then the ranks may be drawn from the well of churches similar to yours.

Unfortunately, although I usually think Mr. Cheeks is spot on, he may have been in the wrong grocery store aisle on this one. His language is often difficult to get through because of its Voegelinian influence, but I assure that the getting through and understanding is worth the effort.

avatar Marianne November 5, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Theological squabbling between fellow believers brings out a childish squeamishness in me that I find truly embarrassing. I feel like a little girl who has overheard her parents bickering in the kitchen late at night, a scene to be interrupted with a mournful “Mommy, Daddy, don’t get a divorce! Please!!”

Ah, but such a plea is far too late in this case. Divorces that are half a millennium old are not the kind that heal by girly pacifism. Unfortunately, that’s all I’ve got to offer. Plus a bit of comfort in recognizing that the Christian tradition of internal debate stretches back all the convoluted way to the Apostles themselves. And thank God they did have it out! We descendants of the rabble Gentile masses must be infinitely grateful for the fiery spirit of Saint Paul in standing up to the Judaizers. And all of us who believe in the divinity of Christ should say a prayer of thanks to St. Athanasius for his tireless campaign against Arianism. Above all, Thank You, Dear Lord, for endowing people with the courage to argue!

One of the main problems today with getting down and dirty on issues of Church and Jesus is that there is no agreed upon forum in which to do so. The early church had the ability to summon Ecumenical Councils (as do we Catholics and the Orthodox still, though in our own uniquely frustrated ways); these days punches are pulled instead in semi-anonymity at countless online gatherings the world-over while “real-life” attempts at ecumenical problem-solving invariably devolve into professor-types swapping lectures or, even worse, morph obscenely into a somewhat Christian version of a UN round-table.

Theoretically speaking, if all serious Nicene Christians (Fr. Jonathan is right on about the Creed being a reasonable starting point. Hi, Fr. Jonathan!) were somehow able to organize themselves for the purpose of denouncing rampant and dangerous heresy, I believe the modern health n’ wealth mega-churchers would be easily outed as modern Gnostics– not that there would be any unified church body from which to cast them. Nonetheless, it would serve our Gnostics well to hear themselves called what they are. They are suffering under a delusion, a grave falsehood that prevents them from understanding the most fundamental gifts of Our Lord. Repentance and sacrificial love are hidden from them behind a great fog of pseudo-therapeutic babble; they’ve got to be told to get rid of the fog and behold the hard and blinding light of Christ.

avatar D.W. Sabin November 5, 2009 at 12:26 pm

As an apostate and occasional recreational pagan currently engaged in staggering through Augustine’s “City of God” (his own feuds with “hut-dwellers” illuminating here) I intend to keep my mouth shut here but roundly agog as I read.

Still, at least we know there aint no shrinking violets on this messy porch…nor mute ones neither.

avatar Howard Merrell November 5, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Bob,
Amen

avatar Russell Arben Fox November 5, 2009 at 12:53 pm

at least we know there aint no shrinking violets on this messy porch

Agreed, D.W. But then, give me a loud argument amongst people who respect each other over a quiet withdrawal into outward politeness but inward contempt anyday.

avatar John Médaille November 5, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Howard, While it is true that some NT texts are referenced by others, two things are clear: one, these references are only to a few books and hence not enough to establish the canon, and; two, it begs the question of whether the referring books are themselves canonical. Note, I am not here interested in the question of who has the “best” canon, a question I couldn’t answer from my own knowledge in any case. I follow a particular canon not because it is mine, but for the opposite reason, that it isn’t mine: it is from the Church to which I have sworn allegiance; the last thing I want is “my canon.” I want and need somebody to “dictate” to me (to use Caleb’s term.)

In all this I am merely saying that in accepting any canon you are already accepting some communal, some ecclesial decision. It is not, and cannot be a “personal interpretation.” Further, the problem of references determining the canon becomes somewhat problematic when you consider that, according to the United Bible Societies’ edition of the Greek text (considered the standard by nearly all translators), there are quotes, verbal allusions, or parallels to the Ascension of Isaiah, the Ascension of Moses, Enoch, 1-4 Maccabees, Susanna, the Phenomena of Aratus, Cleanthus, Epimendes, and Meander. No canon includes all of that.

In picking up any text of the Bible, you are already ascribing to a tradition. Hence the questions cannot be answered by mere reference to the Bible apart from tradition. Hence, mere individualism fails. That is not a sectarian question, even though it challenges any sect based on individualism, whether consciously or no, whether indirectly or directly. It is simply a consequence of the fact that in baptism we are members of the Body of Christ. This Body is a real body, a real organic unity, and not just a collection of individuals in “fellowship.”

avatar D.W. Sabin November 5, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Now Fox, just because I might relinquish this battlefield to its combatants don’t mean I’m being polite nor concealing any inward contempt. I tend not to conceal my contempt, preferring to let it out for frequent walks, barking away and un-curbed….hydrants trembling.

avatar GAS November 5, 2009 at 3:47 pm

A Parable of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Romanists

Once upon a time there was an old Vicar who looked at the world around him and saw much calamity. He had heard of a young , bright theologian by the name of Ratzy and inquired of him. “Son, there is much calamity in the world. Is there any new philosophy we could employ to help remedy the problem? As you know the Church has often employed the use of pagan philosophies to speak to the world. Augustine employed Plato and Aquinas employed Aristotle much to our benefit.” “Why yes”, said the young Ratzy, “there is an exciting new philosophy called Existentialism. This philosophy glorifies difference. Instead of fighting over one universal motif this philosophy allows for a plurality of motifs. This will fit nicely with our Social Justice ethic.”

So the old Vicar sent the young Ratzy on a mission to incorporate the new philosophy of Existentialism as a branch in the old tree of doctrine. The branch flourished. The Priestly class eagerly suckled on the sap of existentialism as did the as did the political leaders from the old tree. Soon the political leaders were able to establish a political tree of Existentialism known as Identity Politics. It too flourished. The political leaders eagerly sought groups whose differences were formerly despised but now they could hold up as a project of Social Justice and employ the State to force recognition of their differences.

As time went on the young Ratzy grew in power and stature in the Church until time when he was old that he became the Vicar. During this time many of those from the old branches began to dislike the new branch. “We do not like their differences”, said the old branchers. Even old Ratzy realized that the new branch was bearing much bad fruit. And while he tried to trim the branch back still it flourished.

So old Ratzy thought to himself, “The sap of existentialism has seeped into the entire tree but maybe there is a way we can use this sap to get to those old Protestors“ (those Protestors who had left the old tree lo those many years ago). “We know that many still hold to universals and we will hold up the Church as the one universal.” So he sent his minions to implore the old Protestors to accept the old trees differences. “Please do not despise our difference”. they would exclaim. “Your old universal claims are outdated come back to the old tree which is the one universal claim”. “Your old Protests are now considered intolerable for they oppress us.” Old Ratzy himself invited the Angler priests to join the old tree despite their difference.

To this day the sap of existentialism is used against the old Protestors.

avatar eutychus November 5, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Thanks for another fine post Jason. I enjoy your contributions a great deal.

And for all you other fine folk whose lengthy posts I am scrolling past, I am sure what you are writing makes sense and all, but really? Maybe if Caleb didn’t immediately auto-respond to ever post on the FPR in his gun-totin’-YEE-HAAAW-don’t-f**k-with-m(e)y-intellect manner, discussions like this might not break out. ;)

Oh, and Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Nature and Destiny of Man is fine reading for all of you still engaged in this interminable “dialogue”.

avatar Russell Arben Fox November 5, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Maybe if Caleb didn’t immediately auto-respond to every post on the FPR in his gun-totin’-YEE-HAAAW-don’t-f**k-with-m(e)y-intellect manner, discussions like this might not break out.

I think that was a compliment, Caleb. Or possibly a warning. Or both.

avatar Luke November 5, 2009 at 5:23 pm

John,
If I might point out once again that I think you are misframing the canon issue. By using words like “establish” you seem to be implying that the church “norms” the scriptures, whereas the relationship is exactly the opposite – the scriptures norm the church. The church utters “Amen” to the Word, and to speak of the church “establishing” or “dictating” the canon is just as distorting as it would be to speak of the church “establishing” the “Our Father…” with its “Amen.”

Yes, this means that the church is where this “Amen” is uttered, and, yes, it was uttered by the church before the writing of the NT, and the NT, in fact, preserves part of the apostolic church’s “Amen” to the Word. However, that the NT emerged as the church’s “Amen” and was recognized only subsequently to be the written Word, however, does not change the fact that scripture now norms the church’s “Amen”.

Also, a plea to all, if this is to be a theological discussion, we need to cease treating “personal” and “individual” as synonyms. The only communal faith is personal faith, which by definition (person as relational being, a la, Father, Son and Holy Spirit) cannot be “individual” faith.

avatar John Médaille November 5, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Once again, Luke, I don’t disagree with what you have said; in fact, I can’t find any difference from what I have said. But it still leaves us with the same problems. For example it does nothing at all to help us resolve the differences in canons. Everybody says their canon is only an amen to God, and it is quite possible they are right. So long as the canon isn’t chosen for ideological reasons, the differences are not that important. After all, “all scripture is useful,” even the non-canonical ones. But it will always come to a communal decision, not an individual one. The only space left for the individual is to accept or reject that decision.

You are certainly correct about the distinction between “individuals” and “persons”; God is tri-personal, not three individuals. However, that distinction is not often made in this context, and the average “personal interpreter” means something like, “I don’t need no stinking church or priest to tell me what the Bible means, I can read it for myself!” Indeed, what else could “every plowman can interpret the Bible” mean? (Not that Luther really believed that; it was mainly a stick to beat the pope with.)

I have been reading the Bible–as a professional theologian and in Greek (more or less) to boot. But the more I read it, the more help I need in reading it. I really can’t tell you much about it, but I can certainly testify that I need a lot of help to tell you anything at all about it.

avatar Tom November 5, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Maybe if Caleb didn’t immediately auto-respond to every post on the FPR in his gun-totin’-YEE-HAAAW-don’t-f**k-with-m(e)y-intellect manner, discussions like this might not break out.

Yeah, and maybe if John pulled the giant holier-than-thou stick out of his saggy pompous a**, they wouldn’t either.

avatar Bob Cheeks November 5, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Tom,
Your brevity is appreciated; your eloquence sublime.

avatar Steve K. November 5, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Wow, today was a busy day on this thread, sorry I missed it. Thank you for the great post, Fr. Jonathan, God bless you. Are you the same Fr. Jonathan from the Second Terrace blog? If so, I am a fan – I think a lot of Front Porchers would enjoy it if they aren’t familiar with it.

avatar Bruce Smith November 6, 2009 at 5:21 am

Out here in the steamy jungle of Krustiana it can be seen that the phrase “turn the other cheek” has taken on a completely different meaning.

avatar Marianne November 6, 2009 at 10:59 am

If Fr. Jonathan isn’t going to sound his own horn here, then I’ll do it for him: Yes, the Fr. Jonathan above is most certainly the Fr. Jonathan of Second Terrace, which is the one blog (ack! It seems almost disgraceful to use this pesky little neologism here.) on earth that doesn’t suffer in my mind from the taint of the internet. It is manna from Pittsburgh!

Front Porchians would do well to read a little, or preferably a lot, of Second Terrace.

avatar Chuck November 7, 2009 at 4:08 am

Ah, what marvelous, entertaining dialogue in the true spirit of Shakespeare, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. But it does prove one thing.

After 2000 years, after anathema and cursing and excommunication, of burning books followed by burning people, we can be certain, of a certainty and without doubt, that the Gnostics were right and the credal folk had it all wrong, and still do.

avatar cecelia November 7, 2009 at 12:53 pm

The term “romanist” is associated with a brutal, ugly, nativist movement called the Know Nothing Party which among other charming things burned down convents killing the nuns who were unable to escape the flames. While the word has lost some of its sting as Catholics, despite the efforts of folks like the Know Nothings, have found their place in American society, it is no less despicable now than it was back then when it was used to intimidate, objectify and exclude Catholics. I would hope it would find no place in a discussion here.

It would further seem to me that having had the experience of being subjected to the many forms that plain straight ugly bigotry takes, Catholics would be sensitive to others who encounter such attempts to demean them. While I too have qualms about the latte sipping, big screen mega churches I never the less recognize that their are many paths to salvation and sometimes “to each his own” is good advice.

avatar V. Maro Grammaticus November 8, 2009 at 1:26 pm

The break-out of religious warfare on the Porch moves me to take up my halberd, don my “I luv Torquemada” t-shirt, and declare my unwavering fidelity to Rome, authority, tradition, and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

It also moves me to wonder what compromises a traditionalism rooted in Catholicism will have to make in a country so infused with the liberty-above-all ethic of Protestant populism in order to put forth a socio-political agenda that is both correct and plausible.

Or, how the devil do you reconcile git off my porch individualism with the sacramental view of order and authority put forth by “throne-and-altar” Catholics?

Do I sniff a defenestration of the Front Porch?

avatar Bruce Smith November 8, 2009 at 3:13 pm

In case you hadn’t noticed the the liberty-above-all ethic of lapsed Protestantism recently screwed itself on Wall Street!

avatar Perplexed November 11, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Oh, dear.

Christians shouldn’t be so unkind to each other.

As is made clear in “Dominus Iesus” among other writings, the Catholic Church does consider Protestants to be Christians. In that document, which reserves the term “churches” for Catholicism and Orthodoxy and refers to Protestant denominations as “ecclesial communities,” those ecclesial communities are referred to in the context of “divisions which exist among Christians.”

Two thoughts on that:
1. Protestantism cannot represent a division among Christians unless Protestants are Christians. So the Catholic Church sees Protestants as Christians.
2. If I were Protestant, I would probably find the whole “ecclesial communities” thing irritating, even if it is unavoidable within the logic of Catholic ecclesiology. Since I’m Catholic, I’ll just try to soften the blow by giving Caleb permission to call me a “Romanist” if it makes him feel better. His prose is so beautiful, it’s impossible to imagine getting mad at the guy, even if some of our ancestors did slaughter each other at the Boyne (hopefully they’re all long since in Heaven by now, laughing about the whole business).

A thought on “Krustianity”:
I value a solemn (preferably Latin) liturgy myself. But if megachurches are providing people (be they the wretched of the Earth or the Babbitts of Zenith) with a more welcoming, close-knit community, and a more visceral, concrete experience of the presence of Christ in their life, then I pray that the Holy Spirit sends us in the liturgical churches the humility and courage to learn from all that’s best in the megachurches. We Catholics spend far too much of our time being poorly catechized Sunday Christians who listen to a platitudinous homily about kindness, sing awful modern hymns, and then practically kill each other trying to be the first out of the parking lot so we can get home to our service of Mammon to have any grounds for lecturing Protestants about their churchmanship. Let’s take care of the beam in our own eye, and let Protestants worry about their splinters themselves.

Caleb: You said John’s distributism (with which I deeply sympathize) isn’t likely to be achieved here in America by “looking to Rome.” How can Catholic localists like me work best with people rooted in the Republic’s ancestral Protestant traditions to bring about a more local, more livable country for all of us? I also think that’s a discussion worth having, and I’d welcome your thoughts.

avatar Dale Nelson November 11, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Thank you, Perplexed. I’m glad that this article was still open for comments, so that your good message could appear.

avatar Kirk November 12, 2009 at 12:31 am

I want to commend E.D. Kain for the insightful (though apparently ignored) comment made on 5 November at 11:07 am.

“This alone may offend the aesthetic tastes of some, but it is the embrace of greed and the denial of solidarity and the rise of the atomized individual that really rubs many megachurch critics the wrong way. It is the glossy exterior of consumerism that seems to have infected these churches that really upsets our sense of what is proper and meaningful in Christianity. A sense that these things cheapen it somehow. (Ironically, it was the trappings of Catholicism which similarly aggravated the more puritanical amongst our ancestors, and for similar reasons I think….)”

Wow, I think E.D. is on to something here.

avatar E.D. Kain November 12, 2009 at 8:39 am

Kirk – Thanks! I was feeling a little ignored…and I thought that comment was one of those rare moments when I actually make sense.

Go figure.

Cheers!

avatar Caleb Stegall November 12, 2009 at 9:15 am

Perplexed, your grace and kindness are humbling. Thanks for that.

Briefly, it’s my view that decentralization/distributism in an American context must take account of the individual apart from top-down or structural forms of authority. Admittedly, there are deep tensions here, but I think historically they were resolved, or can be resolved, by communal forms of authority that go under-aritculated and draw strength of enforcement from cultural forms, bonds of identity, limits of agrarian struggle and scarcity, an under-stated and simple faith, common law rather than canon law traditions, etc.

These forms are summed up by what the jurist Fletcher Moulton called: “obedience to the unenforceable,” and they are the markers of most traditional protestant communities (of course with near infinite variations, I’m generalizing out of necessity) which were forged in and had a deep history in the struggle of individuals against the figure head of authority whether that head bore crown or mitre.

Think Old Jack from Berry’s stories, or Berry himself.

And the truth is, these forms existed under the “sacred canopy” of Rome before the onset of early modernity, and in my view still function in parish models of the church, and are highly functional in an American context, particularly, it seems, in urban settings. It was the rise of the modern nation state and mass technologies and ideologies of communication and authority that made unprecedented levels of command-and-control unity conceivable and possible, thereby rendering the old “catholic” unified-pluralist order based on local forms eradicable and thus unacceptable. That is to say, it could be refused and so it was.

avatar John Médaille November 12, 2009 at 9:21 am

E.D., the problem with the internet is that you can’t see people nodding in agreement. It’s like talking to my 2 year old grandson on the phone.

avatar HicEstPorcusMeus November 12, 2009 at 9:38 am

Those who think the “apostolic” churches like the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox are The Pearl of Great Price they’ve been looking for – especially dewy-eyed Evangelical converts who’ve read some of the Church Fathers and immersed themselves in the Mass or Divine Liturgy and RCIA or catechism classes and think they have now found and entered The One True Church – are just as misled as the megachurchers and fundies who think that THEY are “Biblical Christianity.” Having been fed (and swallowed) an edited and biased view of church history and doctrine and been told that the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church have faithfully preserved and transmitted “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” they turn off their questions (and those who study church history and the Scriptures should and will have questions about such claims) and subsume them all under the rubric “The Church says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

All that glitters is not gold, even if such is used for the chalice and spoon in which are contained and presented what are said to have become the precious body and precious blood of Christ.

The American Church may in large part be a freak of nature, but Rome and Constantinople (or Moscow) are not natural beasts, either.

avatar jacob November 13, 2009 at 3:16 pm

I think to myself as I read the article titles on this Web site that here are some people worth knowing. Then I read the articles (and the comments, oh the comments), and too often I feel an awful sinking sensation, a sense of a closed and stifling discourse. I listen for the single clear, ringing sentence, the single thought devoid of pure ego, but after a time I feel only that I am among articulate but inelegant boys enamored of the sounds of their own voices, with little of that famous moral imagination called for in penetrating into the lives of the actual people who kneel and pray when there is nothing left to do, when education or lack thereof has all come to nothing, when homes imaginary or real have all finally crumbled to dust, and there’s simply no way back.

I too love the hymns, the sacraments, the underlying rigor of centuries of theological thought, and I too feel confused and disheartened by shopping malls in all their variant forms. But that poignant sense of loss is not really what’s at stake, is it, for most of the people in real exile on this planet? They know they’re broken. Luck, or fate, or bad choices. It hardly matters which, but they know it. And so they go where they can go to pray a little and not be mocked or even noticed as they pray; where they sometimes can play the fool, cry out if necessary, think on a few big picture matters, get some free childcare, and maybe some free help with their taxes or a small-group connection that leads to a much needed job. It’s not much, but it’s something.

What are you offering, exactly? Is the wine in your sacrament that fine a vintage that it turns a soul to love and unfloods that beautiful stolen valley they once loved more than any place you’ve ever known in all your Wendell Berry–infused maunderings over the BBQ pit? I’m just asking.

avatar Albert November 17, 2009 at 11:11 am

Perplexed, thanks for that comment.

avatar Joel November 21, 2009 at 1:32 am

Great article and combox discussion. I must admit that I, on several occasions during my reading, thought some were referring to Moscow, Idaho. Rev. Doug Wilson is already larger-than-life (especially after his MTV-produced debates with Christopher Hitchens), but let’s not compare his home address to Rome and Constantinople!

Then I poured myself a Vodka and cranberry juice and realized my error. Mother Russia and the other Moscow. Doug Wilson does seem like he would be a happy resident of FPR, though. Heard him tell men, in a sermon, to purposefully buy land with a high hill so as to facilitate home defense. Not sure which scripture got interpreted for that one, but it made sense to me at the time. (If you’re reading this, Doug, I’m a fan.)

avatar Anthony James April 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Ran across this post while looking at some others on your blog, but can’t say I agree with you. My experience is totally different. While a member of an Episcopal church, on moving to a new town I started going to a church that met in a movie theatre. There I found life, love of fellow man, true worship, intellectually challenging and stimulating sermons full of scripture and historical reference, a diversity of age, race, nationality, socio-economic status, and education. In short, everything I feel is great about the church universal. And now we are meeting in a real church building that was closed due to diminished attendance by the denominational church that used to occupy it. There are coffee, tea, bagels and pastries, but it’s all free, with lots to take home after the service if you like. But nothing commercial about it like you apparently found. And many many young people, full of faith in Jesus. So very refreshing! I’m sorry about your experience, but just know that there are other non-traditional churches out there that are full of life, and do not neglect the past, while embracing the Word of God, written and living, fully.

avatar Shelley Burbank April 28, 2011 at 7:23 am

This was a funny and thought-provoking essay (love the picture of the regurgitating jack o’lantern, too). Brought up on the Jerry-Falwell- Conservative-Baptist plan, I bolted from religion about two seconds after I left for college. However, I do see the value of traditional Christian practices and am always intrigued by Catholicism. Who wouldn’t be inspired by those soaring, Gothic cathedrals and stained glass windows and echoing voices of choirs singing old and reverent songs? If only we could pick the parts of a religion we could embrace with a clear and joyful conscience while rejecting the offensive stuff (abuses of power and money and inappropriate behaviors by leadership, for instance.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work that way. You either have to be in or out. ( Or maybe I can just sneak in quietly and sit in the back pew?) I’d love to be part of a religion that embraces both earthy Pagan celebrations and beautiful Christian rituals . . . and don’t leave out the flying buttresses, please.

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