Monday 27 August 2012

What kind of Mere Christian are you? What is The Church? What are you *doing*?


This is something that - I think - requires individual discernment; as the teaching of many denominations is either that they and they alone are The Church and others are heretical (and often treated as worse that atheist), or else they adhere to an anti-Christian ecumenicism.

Here is something to think about:

If you believe in Mere Christianity, then perhaps you ought to support, with prayer and worldly effort, other Mere Christians who are successful in evangelical and mission work? - even if/ when you regard their type of Christianity as sub-optimal.

The kind of Mere Christianity which wins converts in most of the world at present is Protestant, evangelical - do you regard these denominations as really Christian; and if so, do you support them - or do you perhaps, instead, spend most of your effort denigrating them and distinguishing yourself from them?

You cannot be indifferent: If you are not for them, then you are against them.


bonald said...

This used to be a tricky issue for Catholics. If we're supposed to be making nice with the Protestants, doesn't that mean orthodoxy isn't really important? How can one say that Catholics who deny papal infallibility are dirty heretics while being friends with Protestants who also deny it? Fortunately, the progression of heresy has solved this difficulty. The dissident Catholic who is completely orthodox except for denying the infallibility of the pope is a pure hypothetical, as is the dissident Catholic who agrees with traditional Christian sexual morality except for contraception. The ones who deny Rome's authority also deny Scripture's authority and reject at least half of the Nicene creed. The ones who are okay with contraception also embrace divorce, fornication, masturbation, and sodomy. If a dissident Catholic were to become an evangelical Protestant, it would take away 99% of his distance from Catholic orthodoxy. If Martin Luther were to be ordained a Catholic priest today, he would be one of the most orthodox of the current batch.

Of course, this progression to more and more grievous error is objectively a bad thing, but it does make my polemical life easier, in that I can call the Catholic Left traitors while thinking of people like you and Alan Roebuck as friends and allies.

Simon said...

All these denominations do my head in. As a Christian-convert, I don't know what to think, and I don't know what to do.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Simon - I know exactly what you mean. My view is that *none* of the denominations are good in the sense of being Mere Christian in their mainstream; but individuals pastors/ priests and specific churches are - you need to find one, and this involves trial and error.

You should bear in mind that this is almost exactly the opposite to advice given by CS Lewis in Mere Christianity - which is to stay with your birth/ ethnic denomination (if there is one), or the mainstream national denomination and/or go to the nearest church. He says don't be fussy, don't shop around, don't be critical.

I don't think CSL's advice is good for the modern world, but he is right about most things - so bear that in mind.

dearieme said...

I'm disappointed to learn that Protestants deny Papal Infallibility. I had hoped that they heaped it with derision.

John Fitzgerald said...

I,m with Simon on this one. Not being deracinated I view all Europeans as Christians, some are just more clubby than others.

Bruce Charlton said...

@thorshammer - Your comment illustrates the way in which anyone not primarily Christian is de facto Anti-Christian under modern conditions; since to believe that all Europeans are Christians is to be Anti-Christian.

In fact, only a very small propoertion of Europeans are real Christians - and this does not bear a close relationship with church membership and church-going.

Christianity thus finds itself on the opposite side from the secular Right, including the race/ ethnic secular Right: Christian revival must come first, and after that (if it happens) we shall see about other policies.

No doubt matters would look very different from the other side of the river.

Bruce Charlton said...

@bonald - the tricky matter is that we need strong and cohesive denominations, without any dilution/ ecumenism; and we also need inter-denominational love and cooperation between Christians.

Like an effective military alliance of distinct nations - and not like the nation-eating European Union.

Bruce Charlton said...

@bonald - these test is (maybe?) whether a devout Roman Catholic (maybe in SSPX), or an Orthodox, or a 'high' Anglo-Catholic would pray for, speak out in favour of, and contribute some money towards supporting evangelical Protestants of known effectiveness at missionary work, or success at winning young converts in the West.

Brandon said...

I don't know, I am beginning to see Western Christianity in its present state as a spent force and headed toward the trash heap of history. I am not against Protestant evangelicals, per se, but I am against the liberalism and PC many of them have imbibed. If Christianity is to survive and be revived, we must return to roots, in an almost Heideggerian sense. Which means, of course, we must own the Christian past before the Schisms and turn toward a new Orthodoxy in the west.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite divided on the fact of whether or not I am to support and pray for other Christian denominations. There are three different reasons that establish this difficulty:
1) Ethnic/ National: I for my part am Croatian. In the last hundreds of years the region I hail from was constantly divided along religious lines and torn by religious and ethnic violence. In the name of Serbian Orthodoxy, for example, just twenty years ago Catholic churches were deliberately vandalised and destroyed to purge the soil of Bosnia and Croatia from everything Catholic and Croatian. I just cannot support the Orthodox Church as I see them to be a part of a national enemy. But as someone who reads your blog (which is excellent, by the way) I do see and understand that the Orthodox way of life is just as valid and right as the Catholic way. So I have come to the following conclusion: In my own country I hope the Orthodox church disappears utterly, whereas when it comes to regions like the Kosovo or Serbia I hope it prospers and regains its former glory. For the Serbian people, for example, are a Christian people that deserve a future within Christ, even though I personally try to avoid them. Nevertheless, I still hope the best for them as we are told to love our enemies.
2) This argument focusses mostly on Eastern European countries. Within these countries there usually exists one established religious denomination that also represents the people. Examples: Poland/Latvia - Catholic; Russia - Orthodox etc. In recent times Evangelical missionaries (mainly from the United States) are pouring into these countries to proselytise the people. In my opinion this should, however, be reserved to the national church. If one wants to help these countries regain their Christian heritage then the traditional local Church should be supported as that is the Church in which the soul of the people dwells. Evangelicalism is an alien mode of thought and (in my opinion) subverts rather than strengthens Christendom within Eastern Europe. For strength lies in unity and homogeneity and not in diversity and difference. So how could I support someone that by his very deeds shatters unity and introduces strife? I do see the generally positive motivation that stands behind these proselytising efforts. But that is not sufficient to pray for their success. On the other hand, when it comes to places in which Christ's word has not been heard (and where therefore there is no established church) then of course I welcome and pray for the advances of Evangelicalism.
3) I am not quite sure of what to think about Protestantism in general. It seems to me to be somehow intrinsically intertwined with an American kind of liberalism. It places too much weight upon individual choice. Most people, however, do not need choices. They must be told what to believe and what is to be considered orthodox (note the small 'o'). This way, I think, many more souls can be saved than by instilling within a people a spirit of rebellion (Protestantism is profoundly rebellious) by telling them that they have to reject the traditions of their forefathers and embrace something their own will tells them to. But how can an individual think that he knows more than the ancient Church that is so full of wisdom and wonder. Is it not pride to think that the teachings of far wiser men in the past of the Church are not relevant for one's own salvation? That it is sufficient to follow one's own feeble mind to determine the faith? And is not the fruit of this pride the subdivision of Protestantism into myriads of competing branches? Should a people not stick to one faith?

May Christ bless you, Dr. Charlton, and shine His light upon you so that you might continue your great work.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Brandon - What I am suggesting is that if we consider a denomination to be Christian - no matter if flawed and imperfect, and they are succeeding in the vital work of evalngelism and mission - then we ought to support them.

A test case is China - probably 70 million converts, mostly very low church Protestants (eg. home churches) - is this a good thing or not? If these are real Christians then the answer is yes, then we should support it, even if we would prefer something else.

@ Anonymous Croatian - what you are describing is probably different from the West. But the question is not so much about churches, but about the Christians within them: are they real Christians.

What has happened in many places over the past century is that nominally Roman Catholic places have been reconverted by evangelical Protestants (within the USA, and in South America for instance) and the individuals concerned will say that they were not real Christians before, but they they found Christ for the first time and were born again.

Are these people deluded? - if not, then this is something we should support.

Obviously the proper response is that the RC church 'get its act together' - but so far this has not happened, and indeed the reverse has happened.

But we should NOT support fighting between Christians. That is the devil's work.


I hope to blog soon about how Protestants and Romans/ Easter Catholics (and Anglo-Catholics) might work together - in a nutshell, there would normally be a progression of some people from Protestant to Catholic as they seek theosis, as well as salvation...

JP said...

"this is almost exactly the opposite to advice given by CS Lewis in Mere Christianity - which is to stay with your birth/ ethnic denomination (if there is one), or the mainstream national denomination and/or go to the nearest church. He says don't be fussy, don't shop around, don't be critical."

This might have been valid enough when he said it in the 1940s, but not any more.

bonald said...

Hi bgc,

I fail the test; I would never support evangelical Protestants trying to convert South American Catholics. That makes it a good test, since it establishes well that I'm not a Mere Christian (and don't claim to be), but whatever the word is for a more denominationally-attached Christian (Ecclesial Christian?) On the other hand, I definitely think Chinese communists converting to low-church Protestantism is a very good thing.

Bruce Charlton said...

@bonald - well, at least you now know what you are!

This will be of interest -

Thomas Howard 'Evangelical to Catholic' - in this video Thos. Howard discusses this matter - he personally went from evangelical to Anglican to Roman Catholic

(TH also wrote an excellent book on Charles Williams' novels).

Craig said...

I'm on record as saying that I think the Holy Spirit is clearly active in the expansion of (mostly evangelical and pentecostal), and I think the same is clearly true in Africa. I would have no objection to supporting them tangibly. When I pray for the conversion of the nations, I rarely distinguish between types of Christians.

But I'm with bonald in that I fully support evangelicals in China and Africa, but not in South America. If pressed, I could be brought to admit that there's something to be said in favor of bad Catholics becoming good Protestants -- but I'm not the one to say it.