Saturday 29 April 2023

What is 'a church'?

I find the way some people talk of churches to be slippery to the point of dishonest. 

In particular, many people elide the difference between a (typically small) group of people bound by a personal (often familial) relationship; and very-large, bureaucratic (hierarchical, sub-specialized, explicitly regulated) organizations. 

To me; this resembles another common - and deplorable - merging-conceptualization; which is to call marriage and the family 'social institutions'. This phraseology is a gross reduction of fundamental aspects of the proper and ideal human life, to a simple abstract model of functionality.  

To equate a family/ extended-family with a bureaucratic institution, on the basis of a few analogies, or a shared functionality; is an extreme of prejudiced modernist positivism, which is itself anti-spiritual and materialistic. 

This is important because the large, bureaucratic, corporate 'Christian' churches have become net-corrupt, net-harmful.

Which means that the possibility of a genuinely Christian group life needs to move away from socially recognized and sustained institutions - and towards non-institutional forms of the Christian life.  

For there to exist non-institutional forms of Christian life (i.e. outside of the totalitarian System), there must be a recognition that some human groups are (or can be) not institutions. 

And this is where familial forms of Christianity could and should come-in - by which I mean groups that cohere because of love between a particular set of persons, rather than because they are structured organizations. 

Unless we distinguish such love-based Christian groups, and conceptually separate them from the corporate Churches; we are colluding with the powers of evil - who aim at treating all forms of human association as formal institutions; and thereby bringing all kinds of human association under the purposively-evil control systems of totalitarian bureaucracy. 


Epimetheus said...

Maybe God thinks structural organizational relationships are intrinsically evil, intrinsically psychopathic, and the trajectory of our world will tend toward their sickening and dying off.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Epi - My take is that structured organizations worked pretty well in the earlier phase of Men's consciousness - when individuals were less differentiated from the group, and where human and divine relationships seem to have (to a significant extent) permeated the workings of (for example) guilds, churches, universities, the civil service, and other institutions.

But not any more.

Now organizations looks hierarchically-above themselves to the strategies of global bureaucracies - and the 'human factors' are only present in such negative forms as careerism, bribery, nepotism, power-games, vengefulness etc.

Luke said...

I believe this is the central problem of our age, and the problem that is the cause of the disappearance of Christian nations.

Christianity can not delineate what  'church' is in the minds of Christians and non-Christians. Sometimes it is a bricks and mortar building, sometimes it denotes the clerics and religious, sometimes the central government running the 'church', sometimes the accumulated wisdom and teaching, and sometimes it is a people, God's people.

As 'a people' is something natural - it, like world peoples (nations), is made up of sub-communities, families and persons bound by a binding and distinctive identity- I think this ought to be the natural and common use of the word 'church' and the meaning foremost in the minds of Christians and non-Christians when they hear the word. But it isn't and hasn't been for a very long time.

Ultimately such a people, like an ideal nation is like an extended family, can be loved. And from love is found the motivation to defend, sustain, improve, make better one's people.

In Christianity we have a crisis of a failure to delineate in the liturgy and teaching and in all it's forms both that 'the Church' means primarily something naturally sympathetic like one's people, and that one's people is made up of sub-communities/peoples and families.

There is an imperfect analogy in modern nationalism where nations were seen to be coterminous with the nation's state and were seen as a mass of individuals, rather than the state as being something the nation has and made up of communities, families and 'individuals'.

Similarly Christianity has confused in the mind of humanity past and present, that the church central government, the bureaucracy, the administrators, is something the church is, rather than something the church has, and pays often lip service to the roles of community and family life.

What a profound crisis in the life of God's people? How can church flourish without a real place for natural Christian communities and families within it? How can it motivate people to make sacrifices for Her (and God) by presenting itself to people as mainly a government and governor- administrators? 

This is why I think secularisation is built in to what has historically been orthodox Christianity, yet orthodox Christianity goes on decrying secularisation and blaming it on outsiders.

Lucinda said...

"distinguish such love-based Christian groups, and conceptually separate them from the corporate Churches" I agree this is important. I think it's like the saying the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

I think you have good insights that have, ironically, eased much of the tension I used to have with the church. When a person is able to break free from the need to justify the coherence of church customs and policies, and just participate on a voluntary basis, the church experience can provide opportunities to strengthen love. But I think it can only happen with a commitment to actively resist purely bureaucratic and obligatory elements.

Bruce Charlton said...

re Luke and Lucinda -

I think that one difficulty is that things really do seem to have been different in the past. I think that real and individual faith could permeate organizations then, in a way they do not now.

Nowadays, the inclusion of - for example - praying for guidance about voting, in a bureaucratic procedure like the Synod of the Church of England; is merely a mixture of hypocrisy and propaganda -- given the facts of infighting, cabals, political strategizing, a public relations apparatus, the vast apparatus of functionaries etc.

Amidst the complex and continuous machinations of modern organizational life, the mind is trained away from spiritual thinking - and, anyway, there is no crack in the wall-to-wall *procedures* where faith or its consequences could penetrate. The whole thing is *sewn-up*.