Friday 8 July 2011

Clarification - Christian denominations, my ideal and in practice


From some recent comments on this blog, it seems as if there may be misunderstandings about my attitudes to various Christian denominations, and my supposed hostility towards some. This posting is to clarify matters.

(Note: I will be even-more-than-usually selective in what comments I publish on this topic; and I do not wish to engage in public confession, soul searching or autobiography - either my own or that of others.)


1. My ideal is Byzantine, an Eastern Orthodox divinely-sanctioned monarchy; life permeated by ritual, liturgy and prayer; a society replete with ascetic religious (monks and nuns), elders, advanced sanctity, even living Saints.

This is the ideal, but this doesn't exist anywhere in the world, and has not done so for many centuries; and nothing of this kind has existed in England since late Anglo Saxon times (arguably).

We are now so very, very far away from this situation that it is off the map; except that the ideal can function negatively to clarify what is wrong, what not to believe (e.g. democracy, this-worldliness etc).


This is my ideal not because I would personally be happiest in such a society, nor because I personally am anywhere near it; nor because I think it is going to happen in England or the West either in my life or at any conceivable time in the future.

Trained-up as a hedonic individualist I would very likely find living in a really Christian society exceedingly uncomfortable, intrusive and dull. But the fact of my own corruption by modernity is surely no argument against recognizing the superiority of a spirituality which I myself could/ would not attain?

Byzantium is my ideal because I believe it is the 'best' Christian society, founded on the Truest principles, and closest to optimal for the pursuit of salvation and especially the highest levels of sanctity.


2. In practice, here and now, currently, I am an Anglican: i.e. a member of the Church of England; orthodox (not liberal), exceedingly irregular and inadequate in attendance and involvement, but of no very unusual kind to the external eye.

I mostly worship-in and support two Anglican churches: one is Protestant - evangelical, family- and mission-orientated; the other (where I celebrate the Eucharist/ Holy Communion) is Anglo-Catholic and uses the Book of Common Prayer.


I hope and (probably) intend sometime to become a Roman Catholic in the newly established Ordinariate ( especially if the traditional liturgy was used; but at present there are no local parishes.


In general, I approve (in principle) all examples of Mere Christianity (as defined by CS Lewis in his book of that name) - which means 'core' Christianity.

But I regard most actual Christian denominations as being partial and prone to wrong emphasis.


I also try to regard The Church as a mystical institution, and not as an organization or a collection of organizations.

Hence, in my view, many or most actual Christian Churches may - as organizations and in practice - do more harm than good to many or most people; for example by false emphasis, worldliness, legalistic modes of thinking, 'pseudo-Christianizing' of what are fashionable, liberal secular concerns and values etc.

The greatest evil is selected and twisted from the Good.


I do not hold up my current practice as any kind of recommendation to others, nor do I defend it; since it is negative, feeble, lazy and compromised. Neither is this a false humility but simple fact. I simply mention this matter of Christian denominations in order to to demonstrate that - as well as my veneration for Eastern Orthodoxy as potentially being the highest Way and Truth - I very obviously have no hostility toward Protestants or Western (including Roman) Catholic denominations or individuals; since these are either churches where I currently worship, or where I hope to worship.



Wm Jas said...

Do you consider Mormons to be part of the "mere Christian" fold, too?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - yes, I do consider Mormons to be 'mere' Christians.

While I recognize that there are 'heretical' elements to Mormon theology, this also applies *in practice* to the beliefs of many adherents of other Christian denominations; and if 'mere Christianity' is to be meaningful then it should focus on the core.

It is not that I believe that deep and subtle aspects of theology are irrelevant; but these only become important at advanced levels of spirituality, and can only be judged by those at advanced levels of Christian spirituality.

(I mean - to use recent examples - people like St John Maximovitch of San Francisco, or - probably at a somewhat lower level of sanctity - Fr. Seraphim Rose).

For example, the filioque makes no difference at all to any but the most spiritually advanced individuals - indeed such distinctions are meaningless to nearly everybody alive today (in such corrupted times).

On the other hand, the filioque controversy was relevant at the time, when spirituality was more advanced; and the historically divergent history of Eastern and Western Catholicism indicates either than such theological differences have an effect over the long term, or else that the forces within the Church which *led to* the controversy (e.g. differing views of the nature of religious authority) are relevant.

So, I regard the differences between Mormons and 'mainstream' Mere Christians to be relevant only to the long term development of the Churches or else at higher levels of spirituality than 99.9 (recurring) percent of people attain nowadays.

In other words, Mormons' claim to be Christians is just as valid as - say - those real, Mere reformed Churches which deny the reality of Saints, or theosis/ sanctification.

Gabe Ruth said...

While the modern notion of progress must be resisted at every turn, I think it is important not to idealize the past. It is true that many past systems were far more conducive to sanctity than modernity is, and if I knew more of history I may even agree with you about the best one (do you read Daniel Larison?). But the union of secular and spiritual authority is not an inherently good thing for several reasons.
It would formalize a problem that you have identified in the past, identifying morality with lawfulness, crippling the conscience. It would attract those with a thirst for power to places they should never be allowed. You can counter that the attainment of advanced sanctity being a requirement would prevent this fact from having dire consequences, but this seems to be putting faith in humanity to some degree. Proving advanced sanctity to other humans is likely impossible, and if so, faking it is not impossible.

I also think you need to be careful when "shopping around" for a church that you do not weigh your own reason and understanding too heavily. I am a Catholic, and there are some things that trouble me about current events (the industrialization of the canonization process being one that's weighed on me lately). I am not a prisoner of the Church, and I can leave it any time. But they are right about so much that I am willing to discount my personal instincts about a subject that doesn't affect my daily actions, and trust them. So in practice I think you accept this, but be careful about thinking that you know what's really going on, and you're putting up with the wrong stuff because there's nothing else better. Even if you are 100% correct, this attitude elevates your own judgment above the authority of the church.

Also, when is your book coming out?

The Continental Op said...

It helps me to remember the old days of Israel, in the days of Elijah. He complained, after wiping out the prophets of Baal, that there were none faithful, but God answered that there were still 7000. Not a lot to be sure, but it must have been difficult for them to stay orthodox and maintain orthopraxy.

I see it as being the same today. You can't get a good answer on what is orthodoxy and orthopraxy from today's Christian world, and if you do know, you can't find many other people who know, too.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GR - "I also think you need to be careful when "shopping around" for a church that you do not weigh your own reason and understanding too heavily."

Quite correct. Don't model yourself on me!

I did try to follow CS Lewis's advice (from c 1940) to attend the nearest Church of the denomination in which you were raised, but that broke down for me amidst the internal schisms of the Anglican Church which seem to force everyone to examine the issues and take sides.

And that breakdown opened the floodgates of individual preference and the rest of it, which is bad.

But you can't put the genie back into the bottle once he has escaped...

Bruce Charlton said...

@TCO - We are assured that The Church will survive to the end, but not how big it will be - 7000 people? More, or fewer?

The Continental Op said...

The state of the church in America is "Schism." Here's a joke that indicates how finely sliced are the multitudinous groups:

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, "Stop! Don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!" He said, "Like what?" I said, "Well, are you religious or atheist?" He said, "Religious." I said, "Me too! Are your Christian or Buddhist?" He said, "Christian." I said, "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?" He said, "Protestant." I said, Me too! Are your Episcopalian or Baptist? He said, "Baptist!" I said, "Wow! Me too! Are your Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord? He said, Baptist Church of God!" I said, "Me too! Are your Original Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God!" I said, "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!" I said, "Die, heretic scum!" and pushed him off.