Saturday 9 November 2013

The time for inter-denominational rivalry is past - all Christian churches need each other


I suddenly feel absolutely sick of the way in which Christian denominations snipe at each other, chip-away at each other: at the overt, or barely-concealed, Schadenfreude with which those of one denomination rejoice in the misfortunes of others.


Does any denomination really suppose that they will displace the others on a global scale? That they will actually move-in and take-up the space made all over the world by the decline of the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians... all of whom have declined in strength and numbers overall over the past century, and still are declining or in some instances nearly gone?


There is a gross unrealism in the way such matters are discussed - the theological and doctrinal and other faults of other Christians are a topic of endless fascination, it seems, as if it is a realistic hope that suddenly everybody in Christendom will agree on the one proper way of doing things!

They never have agreed for very long, and from where we are it seems certain that they never will in the foreseeable future.


Since we are stuck with multiple denominations, Mere Christianity is the only hope; in the sense that different kinds of real serious Christians must recognize that there are many other types of real serious Christians - and this is not going to go away - so the only questions is whether we will respect each other, try to appreciate each other, and work together; or not.

Because I am talking about real serious Christians, who put Christianity above modern secularism - and there are so few of these in the West, and they are so outnumbered in all the larger churches and denominations, that the failure to adopt a Mere Christian perspective results in a ludicrous situation of a mere half dozen or few hundred real serious Christians in a single denomination pitting themselves against the rest of the world.


It is not all that difficult, and it is getting easier, to pick-out the real serious Christians in any denomination and work with them; because the lines of battle are ever more sharply-drawn - in particular there are high profile hot-button issues or litmus tests (mostly to do with the sexual revolution) which can be deployed swiftly to exclude people from the 'real serious' category - and any devout, self-professed Christians still left standing are therefore allies (or should be).



dearieme said...

Do you mean Christians in the strict sense or do you include Mormons and Roman Catholics?

Adam G. said...

Hear, hear. I don't see that doctrinal or praxical differences can or should be muted to make getting along easier. But there is a level of rancor and a level of emphasis neither of which are necessary, and both of which may well be unchristian.

Bruce Charlton said...

Just a clarifying note that dearieme is making a multi-valent self-parodying joke from what I know is a 'blue-nosed' Scotch 'Calvinist' background; from which Roman Catholics were traditionally regarded as being (even) worse than Mormons!

An extreme version of this was the infamous Pastor Jack Glass who would take a trip to Italy in order to parade around Vatican Square wearing a billboard stating: The Pope Does Not Belong Here. Others vociferously campaigned (this was the 1980s) that the Pope should not be allowed to set foot in Scotland.

The Crow said...

Unfortunately, modern Christians have become so saturated with a siege mentality, that they are very prone to treat potential - even willing - allies, as the devil incarnate.
If their only acceptable ally is a doppelganger, then their future seems a bleak one indeed.

Samson J. said...

from which Roman Catholics were traditionally regarded as being (even) worse than Mormons!

On what basis? Though I don't want to use inflammatory words like "worse", I have become convinced of much the same thing (on the basis that at least Mormons believe in salvation by faith).

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ - I am not wanting to fuel the fires of rivalry here by giving reasons for what seem to me ludicrous prejudices!

Lydia McGrew said...

I think a part of the problem which fuels what Bruce Charlton is noticing is a sincere belief on the part of some Christians that those in other groups are really "anathema." One finds this on the Protestant side very definitely. I have had a dear Christian friend tell me as gently as possible that he believes Catholicism is anathema, using that very word. I am not Catholic, but I gather he was afraid that I was too "Catholic-friendly." On the other side I have seen a Catholic seriously state, and defend upon being challenged, that High Anglican Communion is like homosexual "marriage" and was in fact morally even worse, being "blasphemy against God" rather than against marriage. It's going to be very hard to make common cause with your fellow Christians to oppose the homosexual agenda if you sincerely believe that they are doing something both similar to and worse than what the homosexuals are doing and promoting.

The difficulty is that these sincere but extreme beliefs cannot be characterized as sniping precisely _because_ they are both so sincere and so extreme.

Or, for example, on the Orthosphere I notice that one commentator has just said, of you (!), concerning this very post, that if you will not endorse marital rape you are not a Christian. Seriously?

What I'm afraid all of this means is that those of us who agree with your general point are going to be obligated not to try to expostulate with those who sincerely hold such views, recognizing that they are going to be intransigent and that we are wasting our breath.

We can take heart from the fact that in no small measure the pro-life movement began the kind of proper Christian cooperation, the co-belligerence that does not ask anyone to compromise their differences, especially Protestant-Catholic, which you are seeking here. That is a precious thing to hold on to, and I believe that it can be continued both on the pro-life issue and on other urgent social issues. It can also include supporting one another in the persecutions that are on their way, such as against the Mennonites who helped Lisa Miller when she escaped this country and the lesbian former partner who was pursuing her and her daughter.

But people are either going to see the need for this or they aren't. I doubt that we're going to get many more on-board than already are, because those who have lived through any of the last few years, much less the last few decades, and are still opposed to such geniality and cooperation are not going to change at this point.

Bruce Charlton said...

@LM - Hello.

(I have to admit, I have always assumed you were a Thomistic Roman Catholic!)

wrt to the marital rape comment - That is Jim Donaldson who is not at all a Christian, is indeed pretty strongly anti-Christian (since he both hates Leftism and blames Leftism on Christianity) - but who regards himself as standing in authority over all Christians, able to demand that Christians answer to his tyrannical legalistic agenda, and entitled to pronounce who is and is not genuinely a Christian on the basis of his interpretation of the Bible (which he regards as untrue). And so on...


Yes, I think you are probably correct in the mass. Heresy hunting is an Achilles heel of Christianity and has been used to justify the worst aspects of the history of the faith.

Heresy will *always* be found, wherever and whenever looked for, it is impossible to defend against the accusation - and the potential of heresy hunting for justifying possible sin is infinite if dwelt upon - therefore there seems no limit to how far some Christians will go in attempting to exterminate heresy.

I personally think it is nowadays easy to distinguish real Christianity from fake - and there are real Christians all over the place (and fake Christians nearly everywhere, usually in the majority). And this doesn't have much to do with denominations...

Lydia McGrew said...

I guess the impression that I'm a Thomistic Catholic arises in part from my successful co-belligerence with Thomistic Catholics, so I take that as a compliment. :-)

However, not to take credit where it is not due: I do disagree, for theological reasons, with the conclusion that Mormonism is a Christian denomination. However, I believe that we can and should be co-belligerents with Mormons. I just would not characterize that as Christian co-belligerence. I'm not sure that much turns on that point, however, or at least not much in the political realm.

Perhaps part of what makes these issues so delicate is the question of attempted conversion. People tend to get testy if one of their co-belligerents tries to convert them. I've found it interesting to see how sincere and conservative Catholics have dealt with this issue. I have a very conservative Facebook friend, for example, who I know would love to convert me to Catholicism and who has made gentle moves in that direction. I am not offended by that in the least.

Arakawa said...

Generally speaking, the vehemence of mutual anathemas in a particular part of the space of denominations has crossed some kind of disastrous event horizon when an outside observer is left with an impression that it would be safer to remain outside the Church entirely than to risk entering a heretical or schismatic jurisdiction.

This seems to be more of a problem in the Internet age. It was still reasonable to CS Lewis in Mere Christianity to call for Christians not to air their inter-denominational polemics in front of a secular audience; but now everything is put online and the unwary reader can quickly unearth more polemics on, say, Orthodox ecclesiology than a professional theologian would be able to digest in months.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Arakawa - Well said.

It is not the least of the virtues of the LDS that Mormons (for all the theology of a 'great apostasy' and restoration, and active proselytizing among mainstream Christians) do not go in for this kind of thing - Mormons really seem to like mainstream Christians.

(And, of course, mainstream Christians are believed to be saved to the same level of Heaven as inactive/ non-Temple marriage sealed Mormons - so there is this 'overlap' between the LDS and other Christian churches.)

This positive attitude towards other types of Christian was also a feature of the best kind of Anglican (like Archbishop Michael Ramsey).

I see no conflict whatsoever (under modern conditions) between been a real, good/ spiritually-advanced Christian, and having a positive attitude to other Christian denominations. (I think the most Fr Seraphim Rose could say against other types of Christian was that he wasn't sure about them as he was about Orthodoxy - he certainly granted Protestants several advantages over Orthodoxy - he had been raised as a Protestant.)

In fact the conflict probably goes the other way.

My belief is that a lot of modern inter-denominational hostility is NOT based on a genuine belief/ concern for souls that adherents of other denominations are damned by their heresy - although people *say* this, it nearly always comes across as insincere, a fake excuse for hating.

Lydia McGrew said...

To be fair, in the U.S. I think that positive co-belligerence among social conservatives of different theological stripes has become more the norm than the exception, just statistically. Generally the reason I run into what I consider to be some really bizarre manifestations of interdenominational rivalry is because I frequent some unusual corners of the blogosphere that are not mainstream. Y'know, take all that griping in the reactionary-o-sphere about how "most conservatives are really right-liberals, etc., etc." and apply it to this issue: A so-called "right liberal" doesn't usually go around anathematizing his fellow so-cons. Hence, neither do most mainstream conservatives. On the other hand, if one's political identity is bound up with being reactionary, well, then, one feels a drive to talk about how the really manly countries are the ones where they lock up those damned Protestants, how being burned at the stake was a pretty quick way to die and no less than what the heretics deserved, and how what we really need is a monarchy of the proper type to drive out all the liberals, left and right alike.

So I'm not sure that interdenominational rivalry of a type that vitiates co-belligerence is really a big problem in the U.S. The First Things model (as one might call it) has to a large extent won out in the conservative West, from the way it looks to me. And a good thing, too.

Lydia McGrew said...

As a possible qualification to my previous note, someone may understandably bring up the news item today about Sarah Palin's saying that her mother heard Billy Graham on the radio and "became a Christian" whereas previously she had been "raised Catholic." It's true that there are plenty of Protestants who do still talk that way. Does that mean that my previous comment about the widespread ecumenical co-belligerence among mainstream Christian conservatives is false?

The answer to that will depend on whether you think that it is a block to that kind of working together if you casually imply that your co-belligerents who believe that they are Christians are in fact not Christians.

That's actually a really good question. I would have said Palin is sociologically about smack-dab in the middle of conserva-mainstream. I _think_ the right answer is that she would politically work very hard and cordially with Catholics on the social issues where they agree despite this implication in this interview. So then the question would be whether her saying things like that would be so offensive that Catholics would be put off from working with her.

jgress said...

I can't speak for all conservative Christians, but I think a problem with your ecumenism is that ecumenism is itself a symptom of leftism and revolution. It's about watering down the truth, about accommodating oneself to the necessities of the world, which is what leftism is also about.

This becomes obvious when you observe how ecumenism developed in the older ecumenist institutions, such as the World Council of Churches, which is now just another leftist talking shop. But what makes you think you're conservative brand of ecumenism won't proceed in the same direction?

It's like the secular right: if you abandon the truth, it doesn't ultimately matter whether you call yourself leftist or rightist. "Whoever is not with Me is against Me".

True Christians have always had a compassionate attitude towards those in error, since many of those in error are also in ignorance. Fr Seraphim Rose exemplifies this compassion very well. But he also exemplifies at the same time the very zeal for truth which was characteristic of all the saints.

Bruce Charlton said...

@jgress - Read what I actually said - not what you think I may have said from reading stuff on the Orthosphere. Nothing here about ecumenicism - which I despise.