Monday, August 16, 2010

The Protestant Disease

Yesterday during my sermon, I spoke in part about what I called "the Protestant disease" - the common delusion that we are community, as people of God, because we agree with each other.  It's the reason we have between 20,000 and 30,000 Protestant denominations in the U.S., as well as untold numbers of nondenominational churches

If the delusion is that we must agree in order to be a community, then every disagreement demands fighting, coercion of some kind, and if that fails, schism.  The only determination to make, in fact, is whether a disagreement is minor enough to let us just tough it out, gritting out teeth and getting along, or whether it's time to leave and found a brand new church or denomination where we can all agree again.

Until the next time we disagree about something.

I call this "the Protestant disease" because it is an affliction of the spirit.  It is a failure of trust and of any semblance of genuine Christian community.  It is a malfunction - an incredibly common one.

You can see it all over our culture right now.  The disease raises pustular boils on the body politic who are given jobs on 24-hour news channels so that people can waste their lives away watching them spew.  We hear again and again - those who disagree with us are our enemy.

Now, if the Church had not almost entirely abrogated it's calling, we would know how to treat our enemies, even if we persist in the delusions we are being fed.  We would know to pray for them and to love them, to overcome what we see as their evil with our own good.  We would know that in the pursuit of truth, resorting to weaponry of any kind is the same as surrender.  We, as the Church, could be the start of the healing of this disease of spirit.

We have, after all, the antidote - the germ of a loving community, an adopted family, in which we do not come together because we agree.  We come together because we are called, because we experience this ineffable grace, and we just have to find out what (or Who) is behind it.

But, instead, we have the Protestant disease.


Jodie said...

That's a really interesting map!

Are Southern Baptists really Protestants?

Aric Clark said...

This is really good. You could go on about that disease for a series of sermons for sure, naming particular instances, repenting for our history of splitting as presbyterians, the current threats of splitting etc...

Though this does make me really proud of my congregation. They regularly surprise me by insisting on reconciling. People have come to me demanding I help them write letters of apology. When they start nominating new people to session they deliberately try to get people with differing views and then repeat like a refrain that it is safe to disagree, but disagreements are not allowed to get in the way of cooperation at every other meeting or so.

reborn1995 said...

i think you're right in a practical sense. but i can't see how agreement is unnecessary in principle for unity. i can't really have meaningful unity or fellowship with a bunch of people that i am in utter disagreement with on every point relevant to our even meeting together. So what's the bare minimum agreement needed for fellowship and unity?


Doug Hagler said...

@ reborn: That's probably the key question here. For me personally, if I were to boil it down, the bare minimum is:

1. we are all here for approximately the same purpose and

2. we are all trying our best.

I find that when these things are present, I personally have a very wide tolerance for disagreement on particulars.

I have come to learn that I may be quite odd in that regard.

For me, the approximate purpose of Church can be expressed in a few ways, but it might boil down to "become more like Jesus" - at least, that's the simplest I can render it.

In my sermon, I suppose I added a 3rd ideal element:

3. we understand that our unity comes our identity as adopted children of God, not our agreement.

But I can't call that a minimum for me, because I don't for a second assume people agreed with me, and I still feel very much in community with them.

Doug Hagler said...

@ Jodie: Well, they sure ain't Catholics or Orthodox (or Coptic).

@ Aric: Lucky.

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Viv said...

This is why I love the United Reformed Church (UK version of the UCC), our recognition of validity in different understandings and the willingness to live with creative tension. Tends to feel more tense than creative at times, but that's okay as long as we hang in there and do what we can to muddle through *together*.
Thanks for the post.
Viv, London, UK