Monday, 28 January 2013

Is the exclusiveness of Christian denominations an issue for Mere Christians?


Yes it is an issue; but then so is the opposite view an issue - with people believing that only their own micro-denomination is Christian.

Both views have their problems. 

However, if we think of all real Christian denominations as being fundamentally not about beliefs (because beliefs tend always to conflict incommensurably. History shows examples where a very specific and high level, real or merely perceived  difference in a specific sub-doctrine can cause permanent schism as with the Coptic (supposed) Monophysites and the Eastern Orthodox church.  

But if we regard belief in a less micro-specific manner and instead think of denominations as different ways of practizing the Christian way

then the differences amount to no more than a recognition incompatible ways of life - if we live one when they we are not living another way - and this is a difference which does not really matter at the primary level.

A real Christian denomination is a 'package' - and parts of the package may be absolutely necessary for the whole package to be a strong and sustaining way of life. 

Therefore denominations cannot usually be blended, and if certain elements are extracted from the package, then the package will collapse as a way of life. 


For example, The Book of Common Prayer was, it turns out, necessary to the cohesion of the Anglican Communion - and when BCP text and usage was rewritten/ made multi-optional - the whole denomination became catastophically fissile and weak. 

Yet it would be silly to argue that all Christians (of all denominations) must embrace the BCP or else not be Christians. 

So, the BCP was necessary for Anglicans, but not for all Christians. 


I think that's an example of how it works; and why on the one hand denominations ought-not to regard themselves relativistically but as having the truth (if not The Truth) - yet should not just tolerate other real Christian denominations but recognize them as fully Christian, but with different pros and cons for different individuals/ groups/ times and places.


Note added: My intention  is not to deny that explicit affirmation and acknowledgment is unimportant, that would be an error, but to emphasize that belief means living-by; and therefore to understand the belief of another person - or another church or denomination - is not something than can be achieved merely by study of their explicit affirmation and acknowledgements.

In particular, this is not the case for the children, the inexpert, the simple in these churches - and yet for Christians it is clear that the greatest faith, the best of Christians, are to be found among these groups. Their understanding - and not the understanding of intellectuals, scholars, logicians -  is, in fact, the essence.

Thus, the simple understanding of the simple is the truth of Christianity. In the world, this is necessarily and rightly embedded and sustained by the church - which is complex, theological; and being a public body consists of affirmations and acknowledgments. 

Mere Christianity is to focus on the lived simple understanding of the simple as the unity of Christianity. 


Wm Jas said...

I assume you accept that there are such things as pseudo-Christian denominations, that not every group that professes allegiance to Christ is in fact Christian. And when you say that every real Christian denomination should be recognized as fully Christian, you imply that the distinction between real Christians and pseudo-Christians is clear-cut and binary, with no room for a "somewhat Christian" gray area.

It therefore seems fair to ask what your criteria are -- what specific non-negotiable beliefs, practices, or other characteristics define the borders of "real Christianity." Mormonism obviously makes the cut, and Islam and Unitarian Universalism presumably do not. By what principle do you separate the sheep from the goats?

Bruce Charlton said...

Wm - you are trying to do what I have just said should not be done - to *capture* the simple faith of simple Christians in precise intellectual distinctions. That kind of stuff is necessary for organizing a church but does not tell you whether someone is a Christian.

In terms of definitions believing Christ is Lord and Saviour is probably sufficient and necessary - but of course that leads onto 'what do you mean by...' intellectuals questions, which in practice never stop, never terminate.

You are making this into epistemology, the search for certainty of knowledge which is also objective (etc) and as you know that is a total and complete dead-end philosophically - real fly in the bottle stuff.

You simply can't pretend that if something is not precise, objective and clear cut etc. then it has no validity - where did that demand come from? Who actually behaves on that basis?

It is just inadvertent/ disguised nihilism.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

You simply can't pretend that if something is not precise, objective and clear cut etc. then it has no validity...
The Catholic Church has been working for about 19 centuries on precise, objective and clear cut doctrine and morals. The problem is not that the guidelines are not clear enough; the problem is that man would believe anything instead of bending his will to God, in whatever denomination or non-denomination he happens to be.

Wm Jas said...

Bruce, I'm not insisting on precise clear-cut definitions. Personally, I tend to see Christianity as more of a "family resemblance" thing a la Wittgenstein, with various denominations being prototypically Christian to varying degrees.

The idea that the distinction should be clear-cut came from what you wrote: that all real Christians should be accepted as fully Christian -- which certainly seems to imply that being Christian is an all-or-nothing thing. Either you're fully Christian, or you're not a real Christian at all. Your idea, not mine.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - " all real Christians should be accepted as fully Christian -- which certainly seems to imply that being Christian is an all-or-nothing thing. Either you're fully Christian, or you're not a real Christian at all. "

I would put it the way way about - If you are a real Christian, of whatever denomination then you are a full Christian, *potentially* - not limited by the denomination as such.

I am trying to contrast this with the idea of one true Christian denomination plus various incomplete, variously-incomplete denominations. It is not the denomination that limits, so that it is really Christian.

But, on the other hand, for particular people, in particular circumstances, a mismatched denomination may limit possibilities: because one way of living may be better than others for us here and now.

So it is a good thing to have more than one real Christian denomination.

I am talking of our circumstances now - the argument may not, probably is not, generalizable, to the whole history of Christianity.

In other words, I feel that in these times and days, there is strength and advantage in a variety of Christian denominations - the effect of schisms is and was mostly bad, but not wholly bad; but anyway they cannot be undone, and there are potential advantages.