Somewhat inevitably, this is going to sound flip, but it's not intended that way. I've been watching with some interest the reactions of Rod Dreher to the mismanagement of the OCA and the continuing legal fallout of the Roman Catholic child abuse scandals. Understandably, Rod is having some difficulty squaring the promise of apostolic succession--that the hierarchy of leadership will always embody God's true teaching--with the personal failings of the people who are in leadership. He goes on about this problem at some length, e.g. here. Christianity has (wisely) rejected the position that moral purity is a condition for leadership, but when the leadership is so often and so thoroughly corrupt on ethics and worldly concerns, it's hard to place any faith in their ability to make decisions about matters of theology.

As it happens, there is a centuries-old stream of Christianity that is designed, at least in part, to address this problem: it's called Protestantism. A look at the 16th century creeds, especially in the Reformed tradition, shows a marked emphasis on the problems of church organization and leadership. The crisis of confidence Rod is undergoing is a good one, because human beings are not to be trusted with that level of authority (a positioned shared by a number of Catholics. Lord Acton, on papal infallibility: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means.").

One has to learn to have faith in the institution without faith in any of its individual members or leaders, at least not absolute faith. Protestant churches have leadership and hierarchy--even congregationalist churches not affiliated with a larger denomination--but the leadership only gets a presumption of correctness, and the presumption is defeasible (The sorts of Protestant churches that have big scandals are the ones where this presumption is forgotten, and one individual accrues too much power and is no longer questioned). It is well understood that this requires a higher level of attention from individual churchgoers, but what this costs in time and energy is repaid in other ways. At the fellowship I used to attend in graduate school (called GCF) used to say, "there's no GCF--there's just us". If you want something done, don't wait around for someone else to make it happen--go get it started yourself.

1 comment:

Joe Carter said...

Well done.

This is a pity summation of my Reason #47 of "Why I am not tempted to become a Catholic."