Monday, October 05, 2009


Why Denominations?

Bruce Reyes-Chow recently carried a guest post by Gideon Addington on "Why we choose denominational life." I think it is a vitally important question, but one that Addington largely skirts, rather dealing with the issue "Why life as an Episcopalian."

The first thought that crosses my mind is that it is indeed difficult to separate the issues. Denominations are so diverse that it is difficult to treat them all the same. But that is how Addington begins and it raises some interesting questions:
But the question of denomination, that is, should it exist, is largely a moot one. The fact is it does exist and more importantly, will almost certainly always exist. Our very nature as humans means we will gather together around common ideas of theology, opinion, aesthetic and anything else while at the same time creating an ‘other’ to explain ourselves via negativa. It is unfortunate, but the wide breath of human history would seem to indicate this is simply how it works. There are exceptions, but I know of no human institution that has not calcified to some extent after any significant lifespan. This is problematic, to be sure, as these institutions that are created to protect and foster our communities end up becoming an idol sitting between us and God.

When witnessing some of these small communities and house churches it is clear that there is something fundamentally right about this way of being together. That these small, dearly intimate, communities are probably a great deal more what Jesus had in mind than your average sprawling church with its gift shop, committees, vestry, political entanglements, and occasional institutional abuses. In fact, I’m not sure it is even in question what is probably best for our individual ‘souls’ - these small communities or our bigger churches. With the right people it is clear that these little communities can be beautiful, nurturing environments where we can find the spirit of God and open our eyes to the Kingdom.

The wrong people can quickly make such communities as bad or worse than the most egregious abuse of denominational authority. We must keep this in mind, always, in these discussions - the institution is only as good as its people and as a whole we’re a bit of a wreck. The excesses and evil of denomination are the excesses and evil of people. Denomination is simply what we call a group of people that differentiates itself enough from other groups of people to be identified uniquely. There is no special magic that suddenly makes a denomination something different than that aside from, perhaps, their own claims!
Let's break that down into a few points

There is a circularity there that defies the points trying to be made. You see, if the problem is individuals than there is no reason a large institution cannot be better than small, it just needs the right individuals.

But I want to come at this from a different point of view. Institutionalization is not inevitable, it is necessary. A good friend of mine, who works for the largest institution in history (the United States government) once pointed out to me, while we were sitting at the bottom of Hoover Dam, that some things can only be accomplished with a bureaucracy. Given the surrounding, his point made itself. No individual could build Hoover Dam.

God has large plans for the church, not small ones. They involve the whole world. Tasks of that enormity cannot be accomplished by small home churches. It makes me wonder if there is something "fundamentally right" about a small home church.

Of course, there is no absolute answer, because for the large church to accomplish God's large plans, it need good individuals, and small seems much better at making them than big. I will say this, to call the small "fundamentally right" is to focus a bit much on formation of the individual and to lose sight of God's big plans.

Somehow we need to find a way to harness the best of both large and small. But we have to start by acknowledging the necessity of both, and in the current climate, that means especially the large. In other words, we choose denominational life because a large institution is necessary to accomplish God's large plans for the world.

And yes, I firmly understand the ramifications of what I am saying here. The Reformation, as most things, was a mixed bag.

Sin is nasty stuff. It invades no matter what we do, no matter how we approach and it screws things up - house church and denomination.

Technorati Tags:, ,
Generated By Technorati Tag Generator


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Site Feed


eXTReMe Tracker

Blogarama - The Blog Directory