"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Finding the Church

At this post, I came across the following quotation from John Calvin:
Therefore, he who would find Christ, must first of all find the Church. How would one know where Christ and his faith were, if one did not know where His believers are? And he who would know something of Christ, must not trust himself, or build his own bridges into heaven through his own reason, but he must go to the church, visit and ask of the same. . . for outside of the church is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.
So how exactly do you "find the Church"? One approach is to find those who share your own interpretation of Scripture. The primary problem with that approach is that if your interpretation is heretical, then you will identify a heretical group as the Church. So this approach implicitly assumes either that all interpreters are infallible, or that some sort of ecclesial relativism applies (i.e. "the Church" is "whatever it is to you" -- i.e. there is no heresy), or that your own interpretation is uniquely privileged in that it (but not any other interpretation) picks out all and only the members of "the Church".

Of those three assumptions, the most common, in my experience, is the last. According to that assumption, the way in which you "find the Church" starts with defining your own personal interpretation of the Bible as the "true gospel" and continues by declaring that the preaching and practice of the "true gospel" is the mark of the Church (see the combox here). Thus by finding those who preach and practice your own interpretation of Scripture, you "find the Church". Painting the Church around your own interpretive arrow is no less individualistic than painting a magisterial target around your own interpretive arrow. But doing so while decrying individualism, is a performative contradiction.

2 comments:

Thos said...

As I read Book IV of Calvin's Institutes, I got this as being his teaching: the True Church is whereever 1) the Word is preached, and 2) Christ-instituted Sacraments are properly attended to.

He seems to teach that something IN this condition is True Church and must be obeyed. Something OUT of this condition MUST be disobeyed. He sets it up as an either/or situation. I believe he would say that if I find myself in a Southern Baptist church (through my upbringing), so long as they meet the two-part rule above, I should submit to their authoritative teaching. It would be damnable to split the church.

Principium unitatis said...

Hello Thos,

Thanks for your comments. By "Word is preached" he meant the "Reformed interpretation of the Word" is preached. That is how he could maintain that the Catholic Church continued with the Reformers (some of them, not the Anabaptists), and not with those bishops in communion with the successor of Peter.

- Bryan