Your entry into the Christian Ministry has been a source of great pride and joy for me. Even given that you choose a wacky upstart like the United Methodist, or whatever you call it. There is a mild attempt at humor in the last sentence – but as with other effective editorial humor we witness with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, there is a kernel of truth.
The Roman Catholic church carried the mantel of Christianity by itself for fifteen centuries. Over time the Catholics evolved into a hierarchical organization with a Pope at the top, and descending down to the Parish Priest. The Church was the authority on spirituality. Parishioners with questions about God went to The Church for answers. This tremendous power granted to the authority of human frailty sometimes led to abuse. This occasional abuse of individual Church authorities should not discount the importance of informed spiritual leadership.
In the 1520’s Martin Luther demonstrated for all the reality that other Christian churches were viable. The intellect, education, and spirituality of Luther gave credence and legitimacy to the idea of a Christian church other than the Roman Catholic authority. Once pulled, the thread of commonality in Christianity quickly unraveled – resulting in the wackiness of purported faith based systems we see today in modern America.
You recently wrote a post on the effects of modern electronic communications on the intimacy of community. You began your post with an introduction to the printing press – an event that this writer believes provided fuel to the Protestant Reformation. With Bibles mass produced people were no longer dependent on the Parish Priest for information. Luther argued for the ‘priesthood of believers.’ The idea was that if one had a personal relationship with God they did not require the intercession of a Priest – a true believer was their own Priest. There is some merit – and danger – in either absolute Church authority or individual spiritual autonomy. Some mix of Church and Individual seems to serve best.
So let’s take a look at that fellow that started the whole Christian phenomenon – Jesus of Nazareth. If we take all of the documented words of Jesus and read them aloud, we could finish in less than two hours. Bill Clinton can talk for two hours without taking a breath. But the documentation contained in the Bible provides much more than just His words. His actions are equally important. Large crowds gathered wherever Jesus spoke – they felt the presence of his intellect, his education, and of his divine spirituality. What were the unspoken words of his example?
Jesus was the ultimate spiritual authority. Even Luther did not challenge this. The Catholic Church recognized the need for spiritual authority. The Protestant Reformation, with five hundred years of continued unraveling of spiritual authority, has led to a divisive faith.
This writer is not a Catholic and does not intend to defend the Roman Catholic Church. But this – spirituality is finicky. Left to the influences of human frailty, of ignorance, of cultural prejudice, of self serving struggles for spiritual independence, of the human need for power and domination, and of basic mental illnesses disguised by charming charisma – spirituality can run awry. The Catholic Church understood this and kept the faith alive and stable during the domination of the Roman Empire and the ensuing Dark Ages. Unchecked Church authority ultimately led to the protest of Martin Luther. The result of unchecked Religion has led us to the extremes of cult leaders, ironically granting ultimate authority to the Faith Leader – which is exactly the problem that led to the Reformation.
The point is simply this. Jesus spoke with only the authority of his words and deeds. The challenge of the congregation was to discern truth – to maintain their individual autonomy in their faith – and to recognize their own ignorance and prejudice, to allow an ethical spiritual leader of intellect, education, and humanity to provide concrete direction.
There is an old saying which could aptly be applied to and approach to a Church Organization: “TRUST GOD, BUT LOCK YOUR CAR.”