Sunday, 17 June 2012

What should the Christian convert do about 'church'? Are denominations necessary?

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For a Mere Christian such as myself, denominations can seem like a problem.

(a Mere Christian being one who does not believe that any of the Christian churches or denominations has an unique access to salvation; but rather that there is a vital core of Christianity distinctive to none and shared by at least several).

The first tough question after becoming a Christian is, which church should I join?

Or even - do I really need to join a church? And if so, must it be one church or could it be several?

(I mean by church, the actually existing human institutions. Naturally, all Christians are members of the mystical Church of Christ.)

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My present understanding is that the institutional churches, the various denominations, are necessary - but not for everyone.

Only some institutional churches are real Christian institutions, but these do not follow the lines of the broad denominations.

Thus there are real Christians in tiny groups such as home churches or the catacomb Orthodox church of Soviet Russia; and most of what goes on in the major institutions (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican etc) is not real Christianity.

So, in this regard, my fundamental attitude could be described as Protestant: salvation is possible, has happened, in isolation.

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On the other hand, I believe that a real institutional church is of truly vast help to the individual in  the process known as 'theosis' or sanctification - the movement towards communion with God which may occur during human life on earth.

I believe in the reality of Saints, the special nature of Priests, real presence at the Eucharist and so on - which is a Catholic stance.

Salvation is possible without these helps, in my understanding; but sanctification is held back: Christians are kept at a lower level of holiness for lack of these Catholic helps.

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So my tentative conclusion is that denominations are not essential in ultimate terms, but in practice they are potentially of critical value - a value that is mainly qualitative rather than quantitative - a matter of the level of holiness of Christian life on earth.

So that the highest level of sanctity occurs in a real Catholic society of which my prime example would be the Byzantine Empire, secondary examples Anglo Saxon England and Holy Russia, also the ages of faith in the Holy Roman Empire of Western Europe.

It can be seen that Catholicism is essentially 'Roman' - but remembering that Constantinople displaced Rome as capital when the Empire became Christian. Nonetheless, Catholicism is necessarily spiritually linked with Ancient Rome.

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However, this implies that the highest level of sanctity is therefore not possible to most people in most places throughout most of history.

Most inter-denominational battles now, in the West, are therefore of very secondary importance to salvation; and discernment over the reality of Christianity within denominations now properly takes centre stage in our spiritual lives.

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Still - the problem for the new convert remains.

CS Lewis could recommend simply joining the nearest branch of any denomination, preferably (for convenience) the denomination where you had been raised or the normal national church - that that will not do any more, since this is likely to get the new Christian insidiously and covertly de-converted and made into merely a Christian-flavoured, vaguely-spiritual Leftist.

It is quite possible that a sincere new Christian convert will not 'fit' into any available real Christian denomination if the criteria are applied strictly; yet, of course, if he had been born and baptised into that denomination there would be no question about expelling him.

Thus the existing major denominations artificially raise barriers to the new Christian convert; barriers which were not found when the Church was young, and a person could become a Christian 'in minutes'.

On the other hand, in this world it seems to be helpful for the strength and cohesion of denominations (and therefore for the level of theosis) when they are much more exclusive in their practice than can be justified in theory.

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So, what is to be done?

Perhaps the best is to detect and home-in-on any real Christianity in the vicinity; and take it as far as can be gone with honesty.

If a denomination 'will not have you' as a full member on this basis, or you cannot for various reasons satisfy the training-process; then it may be possible to be associated with the church but as an attending rather than a full member.

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The alternative is perhaps to find a real Christian church, or the nearest approach, and obediently do whatever they say is necessary to become and remain a full member.

Yet it may be that traditional Christian 'obedience' is not possible in 'the end times' which we live in (this was the view of Fr Seraphim Rose) - and 'discernment' becomes the major necessity (despite that discernment is so easily infected with pride).

It may be that obedience will be used against a real Christian to lead them out of real Christianity and into one of the mass of pseudo-Christian heresies which characterize the leadership and majority of the major denominations.

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What then for the Mere Christian?

Perhaps it will be necessary to focus less on denominations and more on the qualities of actual people.

Assist Real Christians, as individuals, especially as groups, wherever they may be found; and if you cannot resist then at least do not actively-support the fake-Christian-subversive majority.

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The good is the enemy of the best - but when the best is not possible, we must settle for the good.

Holding in mind that neither we as individuals, nor the society to which we necessarily belong, deserve the best.

Quite the opposite.

Gratitude that we do not necessarily get what we deserve is something well worth contemplating.