Sunday, 21 June 2015

Negative-unification of the Christian churches - the Jehovah's Witness test

*
I suppose that my highest hope in worldly things is for a Christian awakening in The West - that is; repentance of secular Leftism and resurgence of Christian living.

But what kind of Christian? My answer is - any kind.

(Any kind of real Christian.)

Yet all Western Christian denominations, all the churches, are relatively small (i.e. a small proportion of the population), and weak, and mostly ageing, in The West.

*

1. There seems to be no chance at all of any single denomination or church taking-over across all The West.

2. The dominant Christian church or denomination, the one with the best chance of growing fast and becoming significantly strong, differs between nations and region - for reasons of history, and probably of national character.

3. Therefore, for there to be a Christian revival across the West entails that several-or-many Christian churches or denominations must grow.

4. And for this to be a Christian revival and awakening, demands that these different churches and denominations must not be hostile to each other. If the different types of real Christians fight each other, then they will fail.

*

So, given the impossibility of one church dominating, and (sadly, but it's true) the impossibility of positive active alliance between Christian churches - what is required is a kind of negative unification: a sort of non-hostility pact between Christian churches and denominations.

This non-hostility must start in the the human heart - in each individual Christian.

*

On the one hand we need to include as many self-identified Christians as possible in the 'real' Christian category. On the other hand, it would be fatal to include the CHINOs (Christians In Name Only) who are in alliance with the enemy forces of secular Leftism.

If we each of us start with our own heart, we can monitor our emotional reactions to other Christian groups; and examine our own motivations for these reactions - and try to eliminate negative prejudices.

If we find ourselves salaciously approving media attacks on the Roman Catholic church, or feeling hostility upon sight of a priest or nun; then we should stop this. If we react to the enthusiastic worship of young evangelical Protestants or 'fish' stickers on cars with disdain; then we should stop this. If we find that we actually want to believe that the Eastern Orthodox churches are nothing-but government agencies; then we should stop this.

*

For me, a test case was the street ministry of Jehovah's Witnesses in my city. Every weekday morning, two or three smartly dressed, pleasant and ordinary looking folk, stand across the main shopping street holding out JW leaflets or mini books.

They do not speak unless spoken to, they do not move to block your way, they do not thrust their leaflets at you - they simply stand, and smile or nod, holding their literature at the ready.

Now - is this Jehovah's Witnesses campaign, conducted with exemplary good manners, A Good Thing or is it A Bad Thing? Is the fact that JWs are growing worldwide, a good or bad thing?

In Britain, JW's are  regarded negatively; as a joke, annoying, or pathetic. The current street campaign is apparently a response to people's annoyance at being harassed by JWs on their own doorsteps - and an attempt to focus evangelical activity on those people who have chosen actively to approach the JWs on the streets.

I needed to decide for myself - so I stopped and talked to a chap, and took and read a small booklet which focused on theology. I simply wanted to establish whether JW was Christ centred.

But my attitude to this evaluation was positive - JWs looked like they were Christians, I hoped they would be Christians, and I just wanted to check. By contrast, many people approach the evaluation of JWs with a negative and suspicious attitude, as if to say - "I think you are not Christians, and I will not believe that you are Christians unless you can 100% satisfy the following check-list..."

It was a matter of minutes to discover that JWs unambiguosly self-identify as Christians and practice a Christ-centred religion, this was very clear - so now I cheerfully regard any expansion of Jehovah's Witnesses as A Good Thing - and my attitude towards their success is that, overall, it advances the great cause.

*

What about poaching or sheep-stealing? What about Christian denominations trying to take each others members?

On the whole, this should not happen when other-church members are active and devout - but when members are CHINOs or inactive and apostate; then, clearly, it is good for them to transfer to another church if by doing so their Christian life is re-awakened. It is far better to be a real Christian than a CHINO - and achieving this may well involve a change of denomination.

But it would weaken Christianity overall if the churches expended their primary energies in fighting over the scraps of declining numbers of serious Christians in The West.

Given the harm to Christianity it does overall and in the long term, strategic poaching behaviour implies that it is better for someone to be nothing-at-all, than to be some other type of Christian than yourself.

*

There seems to be no realistic prospect of actual unification of the real Christian churches - after a millennium of major schism; and individually any one church is far too weak to make a significant difference at a national level, and between Western nations the biggest and most favoured church varies widely.

If a Christian revival is genuinely favoured; then we must have a negative unification; and this should be based not on theological or organization principles - but on the attitude in the hearts of Men.

What is needed is an attitude which is pleased by any significant religious success of real Christians anywhere in The West, including our own communities - and which tries to cure itself of the all-too-common, all-too-obvious negativity, hatred and spite towards other churches and denominations.

Any healthy organization will regard itself as better than its rivals; but the other Christian churches should be benignly-tolerated as rivals, not regarded as enemies. The attitude should be along the lines of 'we have more of the Truth than they do' - rather than 'they are liars, apostates and cultists'. 

This can best be achieved if all the churches focus on evangelism among non-Christians (including lapsed Christians and CHINOs). 

*

I would be happy to see a resurgent Roman Catholic Poland, a strongly Lutheran North Germany, a renaissance of Scotch Calvinism - and in England I would be truly delighted if there was a growth in several or many or all Christian denominations: e.g. among Conservative Evangelical Anglicans, Conservative Anglo-Catholics, Traditionalist Roman Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons (of course)  - and a multitude of tiny home churches, charismatics and Pentecostals...

...so long as they are at least negatively tolerant of each other; adopt a benign attitude towards each other. So long as the hearts of Christians are warmed by the success of other Christians - even when those other Christians are regarded as strange and alien, or misguided.

*

This could be achieved, I think, if the primary understanding of the situation of The West is realistic: if it is accepted that Christianity is, and has been for many decades, weak and dying in the West; if it is accepted that the main large denominations (Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist etc) are now overall CHINOs and overall hostile to real Christianity so we must balance positivity to conservative elements among members of these churches, with hostility to the dominant liberalism of their leadership; and if it is accepted that no single church denomination can possibly re-Christianize The West.

If all this is accepted; yet if Christian revival is the aim, then there must be some kind of mutual tolerance among Christians.

So - do you pass the Jehovahs Witness test? Can you bring yourself to approve, in your heart, their expansion (among erstwhile non-Christians) in your own community? Can you refrain from sniping, disdaining and criticizing them?

This is the kind of thing Christians will need to do, en masse, in a multitude of hearts, and with respect to each other - if a Western revival of Christianity is to have any realistic chance of happening.

*

9 comments:

John Fitzgerald said...

I agree. This is no time for fratricidal squabbles and legalistic hair-splitting. It can be hard workj though. It's galling, for instance, to hear your denomination is referred to as 'the beast' by another Christian, as happened to me recently. Inter-denominational rivalry sometimes leads clergy to cultivate relationships with representatives of other faiths rather than their own. This happens within denominations too - e.g the internecine conflict fostered by liturgical change in the Roman Catholic Church.

I guess it all comes back to C.S Lewis's notion of 'Mere Christianity', that common core that all branches of the faith should have. Which leads me to another reason why I value the Inklimgs so highly - the way their imaginative Christianity shines through in their fiction, striking a chord in the hearts of all believers and pointing the way to a wider, deeper, truer reality.

Joel said...

There are indeed difficulties with Jehovah's Witnesses (I was raised as one), but they need to be dealt with in a spirit of love -- like you'd deal with your slightly crazy brother who wants to tell you the truth about 9/11.

However, it's unfortunate that almost everything that provides momentum to the JW movement (and to an extent the Mormon movement) is a complete negation of the ideas of this post. The JWs believe fundamentally that they are the only true Christians and every other Christian movement is a false religion. Literally that everyone who is not one of them will be destroyed by God in a near-future Armageddon. This is not a point of doctrine that no one knows about, rather it's their fundamental and driving doctrine.

So we have a great number of Christian movements that don't take themselves seriously, and aren't willing to insist that they are correct, and are mostly willing to try the ecumenism that you suggest, Bruce. And they are all dying and non-Christian. The ones that are willing to stand up and declare that they are right and everybody else is wrong -- these are growing and successful, and have been the historical mode of expression of Christian thought.

Squaring this circle is tough. Christian theology, from the earliest centuries, is predicated on growth and persecution. Almost none of the New Testament make sense unless you small minority group persecuted by the rest of the world, with truths that the rest of the world doesn't understand.

My guess is that there will eventually have to be another movement, similar to JWs and Mormons, but one that is able to energize and reinvigorate other Christians instead of playing opposite to them. Maybe it will be an outgrowth of these or other existing movements (and maybe it already exists, but is too small to have heard of). I can't say.

JP said...

I think a lot of people despise JW's because they are Christians, but the "wrong" sort -- low-class, ignorant, vulgar, not-CHINO, actually concerned about your soul instead of "social justice", etc.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Joel - You have misinterpreted Mormons attitude to other types of Christian - but of course I have no real idea about whether JWs hate, despise and are spiteful about other Christians - but if they secretly do hate us, it certainly doesn't come across like that; so I prefer not to believe it.

I suspect you may be taking theological claims (which are nearly always exclusivist in churches - although not in the case of Mormons) for the hearts of men - these two can become utterly separated.

Much of this is a matter of opinion, but I would not want people to *await* another movement which would sweep up all Christian denominations into one.

I suspect this kind of hope or expectation would tend to stop people doing what I have suggested here.

So I think we must assume that this is NOT going to happen, and work on the basis of that situation wrt Christian multiplicity of denominations and churches which we already have. And make the best of it.

To summarize - we should not await changes in others, but get on with making the changes in ourselves - in our own hearts.

Of course, if other people persist in negativity and hatred, then the hoped-for change will not happen (everything depends on our choices and consent) - however, such people are not really Christians even if they are ultra-correct in their beliefs and observances - so they are thereby excluding themselves.

There isn't much we can do about those ultra-correct self-identified 'Christians' who glory in negativity towards other types of Christian, and will not repent - but there are *plenty* of other people (the vast majority) who may be brought-in.

alexi de sadesky said...

Joel & Bruce,

I have not met many JW's but I have worked with a couple of them in the past. Both very nice people. They dedicated a lot of time and energy to spreading the word of God, though never at work. Admirable folk in my opinion.

All religions are guilty of separating their kin from the flock and falling victim to spiritual pride. Some, like the JW's, are more blatant than others, like the Mormons. I think Bruce's point is an important one to make. Accepting your true Christian brothers and working though spiritual pride to find commonality is the important in these times.

We are all living in different mediums and experiencing/interpreting the world around us in uniquely creative ways. Recognizing this while allowing God's roots to grow through these different mediums is why we are here. We are not here to be perfectly right. We are here to experience creative freedom and all the love and heartache that entails.

Joel said...

"hate, despise and are spiteful about other Christians" -- no, not at all. They don't think of it that way. They believe that other Christians are on about the same status as pagans regarding God -- and scripture is pretty clear about what happens to them on Judgement Day (which will be quite soon, they say). There is some pretty intense rhetoric involving false religious leaders among the other false religions, of course. But JWs sincerely -- from love -- want to do what they can to save everyone by conversion. Every non-Jehovah's Witnesses on the planet is in equal need of this conversion. They are very clear on this.

I could well be wrong about Mormons. I only have the vaguest impression, from faithful Mormons that I have talked to, that they do not at all hold to C.S. Lewis's many doors opening up into many rooms theory of Christianity. But I am open to correction on this.

Leo said...

@Joel

The 25th chapter of Matthew is "pretty clear" about what happens of Judgement Day, and it isn't about separating one denomination from another. That should give us all pause.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Some years ago the Southern Baptists had a big missionary activity in Utah, aimed at "saving the Mormons" (whom, of course, they consider to be a non-Christian cult). Gordon B. Hinckley, who was the Mormon prophet at that time, gave a speech saying he welcomed them, and that he would be very happy if they succeeded in converting some Mormons who had lost their faith or become inactive -- better that they be good, practicing Baptists than lapsed Mormons. (I've been searching the Net for the text of that speech but can't seem to find it. Anyway, I remember it very clearly.)

That said, I'm not sure how many rank-and-file Mormons share President Hinckley's attitude in this regard. Many, perhaps most, would consider an ex-Mormon Baptist to be every bit as much an "apostate" as an ex-Mormon Buddhist or atheist. There's a very strong sense that all other churches are wrong -- that, while other denominations may have some truth, none of them has The Gospel (TM). (After all, the very first message Joseph Smith brought from the Lord was "I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.")

Leo said...

The Sermon on the Mount is all about behavior. The Nicene (and other) creeds are all about belief. That shift, to me, is evidence of a change in Christianity, and not for the better. As William Law, the (1686-1761) put it in A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life:

"...what is there in the lives of Christians, that looks as if their salvation depended upon these good works? And yet the necessity of them is … asserted [in the 25th chapter of Matthew] in the highest manner, and pressed upon us by a lively description of the glory and terrors of the day of judgment.…there is no other measure of our doing good, than our … doing it."

One might attribute that shift in emphasis in part to a general apostasy. If that is so, then the attitude attributed to President Hinckley makes perfect sense. It is easier to repent of an incorrect belief than to correct long-ingrained habits of vice or to learn long-neglected virtues. Moreover, those vices and lack of virtues present a serious threat to our neighbors.