This series started because Ken Coffee asked me a question in a comment. I had not intended it but it could grow to two weeks or end today. I don’t know.
The Church as Institution, Day Three
When one leaves his patron/mentor the end result for the emigre is often banishment from the intellectual circle, with the concomitant ridicule. The most dangerous thing in religious life, which usually tags along two decades behind culture in method and two centuries in theory, is to be too right too early. Potential cultural allies feel the drag as well and write us off in prose so profane it is nearly purple on the prolix page.
So, to cast off from the safe shore of the institutional church, both patron and mentor of most of us for a life time, seems doubly difficult. The outrage of one’s former compatriots adds a full measure of anxiety to the parlous act of the helmsman who must decide not only to leave but also must set a course for somewhere.
Where to go? God, our God, is a people-intensive God. God creates, calls, keeps people.
People most often, it seems, coalesce around a particular calling. Traditionals need to feel they are part of something bigger than themselves, while Moderns need to calibrate that greater thing by verifiable formulations. Non-Traditionals alone seem to have the ability to accept some things as they find them and build communities around what they find. This may explain why large numbers of Non-Traditional Generation Christians are leaving the Free Church, with its strict individuality, for the Confessional Churches, with their emphases on ritual and the Paschal Meal.
One of my Disciples of Christ pastor friends tells me their Assembly Meeting now includes sharing of the Chalice. That is, they bring their Chalice in use from the last year and surrender it to the greater group. They will receive the Chalice surrendered by another congregation of Disciples, for their use. An act of individual surrender, however symbolic, unites the greater, invisible Church to one another until the Assembly meets again, when the act of individual surrender is repeated.
How does the "Free Church" chart a new course, to surrender individual prerogatives in order to find collective unity around a shared call? The approved method for a number of years has been forced conformity around required documents verifiably controlled by signatures. The result of this forced conformity may comfort some Traditionals, the control efforts may solace some Moderns but the latest generation is mostly bewildered as to how/why their elders arrived at documentary conformity/control, when they are interested at all. They do what they do best, i.e., to take what is there and try to build some form of community around it. If and when their efforts at community building are rebuffed they will move off some distance (but not too far) and experiment with new models, technology driven and social in a way that may be unrecognizable to Traditionals and Moderns.
These new community builders may be the helmsman who cast off for a new world. Their naivette is often laughable but the inner core of the naif is his/her sincerity. Sincerity needs only a bit of seasoning to become conviction.
Shared documents are a snap shot in the cinema of collective identity. They image only a posed, partial reality of an instant in space and time, at their best. At their worst, they may only pander to the collective bigotry of a powerful elite caste.
In the fifteenth century of the Common Era, the Sunni Moslem ulema of the Madrasas, the schools of Islamic studies, fiated the end of "the gates of tjtihad," the gates of independent reasoning. From thence forward Moslems should practice only emulation (taqlid) of the great Moslem thinkers of the past, especially in the study of the Shariah, the Holy Law. In short, unity would now congeal around conformity to past thought. Nothing new would emerge from under the sun.
The relevance of the Law would be its relevance in the sixth century. How well one lived as a relic would determine how well one fared in the life to come. The sweeping decline in Islam is sometimes dated from this time.
When did the Institutional Church begin its decline? Was it at the point it first championed a repressive discipline so tied to past normative expressions it could no longer accept non-traditional thinkers?