Sunday, April 18, 2010

How We Rate the Church

(1) We must not overrate the position and importance of the Church. It is only too possible to do this. But it will mean spiritual loss and disaster. If we exalt the Church we are likely to forget Christ. High views of the Church often mean low views of Christ. If we emphasize the Church as the depository of grace we tend to neglect Christ as the Source of grace. If we place the Church between the sinner and the Saviour we may easily shut Christ out of the sinner's view. But if we exalt Christ the Church finds her proper place. If we honour Christ we shall value the Church aright.

(2) We must not underrate the position and importance of the Church. It is only too easy to do this. But this too will mean spiritual loss. The individual Christian needs the Church for fellowship, growth, love, and progress. The world needs the Church for witness and blessing. We must therefore honour the Church, value her life, further her progress, and enable her to realize God's purpose. We must foster Church life, Church unity, Church fellowship in every possible way. We must pray for the Church, that she may realize her high calling and glorify God in the world. Thus shall we be Churchpeople in the truest sense, members of the family of God, branches of the Vine, members of the Body, and stones in the Living Temple.

W.H. Griffith Thomas, The Catholic Faith* (1920), p. 194.

*This was the author's evangelical treatise on the Anglican catechism and Prayer Book.


The Underground Pewster said...

He presents different kind of high church/low church discussion. Thanks.

Andrew Preslar said...

There is a sense in which Mr. Thomas' advice is true, though tautological: "Get your doctrine of the Church just right." However, any judgment about ratings (over or under) is bound to be relative to a prior judgment about the nature of the Church. Thomas' implicit judgment on that score might be a bit problematic, however, excellent his advice is in other respects.

The truth concerning the Church, according to St. Paul (for starters), is that she is the mystical Body of Christ, the pillar and foundation of truth, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. According to the revelation given to St. Paul, by which he was made an Apostle, the union between Christ and the Church is so intimate that to persecute the Church is to persecute Our Lord. The enemy of the Church is the enemy of Christ.

I don't think that Our Lord, or St. Paul, evinces a particularly "moderate" ecclesiology.

As a convert to the Catholic Church, in the Byzantine Rite (Ukrainian, hence, as close to Orthodox as a papist can get), I must say, from liturgical experience (Daily Office and Divine Liturgy), and theological reflection (i.e., extra-liturgical reading of Sacred Scripture in the light of Tradition) that this statement:

"If we emphasize the Church as the depository of grace we tend to neglect Christ as the Source of grace."

strikes me as horribly untrue (i.e., somehow worse than plain old wrong). Furthermore, it seems to depend upon a conception of "Church" that does not sit easily with St. Paul's conception of the Church, nor that of the Church Fathers. That said, the second paragraph contains sage advice. But the implicit notion that we can somehow run around the Church and exalt Christ directly, and then from that vantage look down and say, "OK, Church, let me put you in your proper place," is not true to history, much less biblical and traditional ecclesiology.

My friend Tim Troutman has recently written some sage words about how Protestant evangelicals tend to receive the claims of the Catholic Church (link).

Tim's observations are applicable to the hermeneutical question that I raised in a previous comment, concerning the role of the life of the Body of Christ (Tradition) in the interpretation of the inspired writings about Christ (Sacred Scripture).

Non-Catholic (and non-Orthodox) Christians simply know, from personal experience, that it is possible to more-or-less consciously dissent, and remain separate, from the life and doctrine of the historic churches and yet read the Bible in a spiritually nourishing way, at times amounting to an almost mystical experience.

So, it seems a quick and easy step to the conclusion: The life of the Church, as conceived by Catholics and Orthodox, and experienced as a Tradition which shapes and guides my understanding of Sacred Scripture, is an unnecessary and unwarranted imposition upon my "personal" reading of the Bible, and, by implication, my "personal" relationship with God.

This gets back to the question of the Truth about the Church, but it also begins to address the more than intellectual objections to the Catholic Church (or Orthodoxy).

I have shared (though not in detail) a bit more, along these lines, here.