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

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Ecclesial Consumerism vs. Ecclesial Unity

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Every Saturday in the religion section of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch there is a section titled, "St. Louis Worship Community". In that section the various religious organizations in the St. Louis area advertise themselves. The advertisements are arranged in alphabetical order by denomination, such that "American Baptist" comes first, and "Unity" comes last. Here's just a sampling from this past week's paper:

One 'church' advertised their "Rock 'n Roll Youth Group". Another said, "The people are real. The messages are for today. You'll relate to the music. The dress is casual. We love to laugh. Have kids? So do we." Another says, "Contemporary music, causal dress". Another says, "Friendly, causal atmosphere, creative children's ministries, great music/live band, relevant biblical messages!" Another says, "relevant and engaging teaching, real and inviting community, contemporary and energetic music, fresh and free bagels and coffee, kids ministries through 5th grade, comes as you are – we do". Another says, "Authentic ... Relevant ... Casual; free coffee and bagels. Dress is casual. People are friendly. Music is Modern. Bagels are free." Another says, "Incredible Music / Live Band; Creative Children's Ministries; Positive, Practical Messages." Another said that it "seeks to glorify the triune God by embracing the Gospel, building our community, making disciples and transforming societies." It boasts a "Trio Jazz Worship Service". Another says, "Worship for both your head & heart; Outstanding & diverse Music Program; Creative Sunday School during Worship; Dress is casual & cookies are included!; Youth, Young Adult & Family Fellowship; An Open and Affirming Congregation; Wheelchair Accessible." Another boasts of a "permanent outdoor labyrinth open to the public". You can choose between "Traditional worship", "Blended worship", "Contemporary worship", "Casual worship", and "Classic worship".

One thing that clearly stands out is that these religious organizations are trying to fill niches in demand. Through a kind of free market process, they are reflections of what people want. Just as we can get a personalized custom-made teddy bear at the local mall, we can get a religious experience on Sunday morning that is custom-made to fit our particular religious appetites, preferences, interpretations, expectations, beliefs, etc. We can worship in an organization that is made in our own image, and in that way we can worship a god of our own making.

How can one determine whether one is in the state of those described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4? Let us call such persons "ecclesial consumerists". In March of 2007 I wrote Consumerism and Ecclesial Relativism. Here I want to expound upon that a bit. Do ecclesial consumerists think that they are heretics or schismatics? No. Do ecclesial consumerists think that what they are being taught is false? No. Do ecclesial consumerists recognize that they are the persons being described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4? No.

So how can a person determine if he is an ecclesial consumerist? How can a person determine of he is one of those described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4?

One is an ecclesial consumerist if one's decision regarding which 'church' to attend is based on anything other than this question: Which institution is the one founded by the incarnate Christ?

Many people do not realize that Christ founded an institution. They are ecclesial consumerists by default. At best they worship where the Scripture is taught in accordance with their own interpretation of Scripture. But as I have shown here, choosing or setting up a person as one's religious authority based on that person's agreement with one's own interpretation of Scripture is a form of individualism that ultimately makes oneself the authority. There is no principled difference between choosing where to worship based on its conformity to one's own interpretation of Scripture, and choosing where to worship based on its conformity to one's own musical preferences, whether the dress is formal or informal, etc. Wherever each individual is acting as his own authority, there cannot be true ecclesial unity. Wherever persons are choosing a religious institution based on whether it suits their style, their interpretation, their tastes, their preferences, etc., there cannot be true ecclesial unity. There can be true ecclesial unity only when we are all determining where to worship by finding out which institution is the one founded by the incarnate Christ.


Anonymous said...

Bryan - quick question. I know that the Roman Catholic church accepts Protestant baptisms as valid. Would the Catholic church recognize a Protestant convert as having been a partaker of the eucharist during his years as a protestant? If not, what is a Protestant doing each week when the Lord's supper is celebrated?

Bryan Cross said...

Hello Jon,

In order to be a partaker of the Eucharist, there must be a Eucharist. So I think the first question is: According to the Catholic Church, where is there an actual Eucharist? And although there are requirements regarding form and matter, the relevant requirement here has to do with the minister of this sacrament. Therefore, the question "Where is there an actual Eucharist?" depends upon a second question: Who has the power of consecration? According to Catholic dogma, "The power of consecration resides in a validly consecrated priest only." This is because, according to the Catholic Church, Christ's mandate "Do this in commemoration of Me" was addressed exclusively to the Apostles and their sacramental successors. And according to Ott, "Tradition always refers this mandate to the Apostles and to their successors in the priesthood."

So far as I can tell, the doctrine that only priests can consecrate the Eucharist remained unchallenged until it was rejected by the Waldensians. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) [the Twelth Ecumenical Council] declared against the Waldensians: "No one can accomplish this sacrament [i.e. the Eucharist] except a priest who has been rightly ordained according to the keys of the Church which Jesus Christ Himself conceded to the Apostles and to their successors. But the sacrament of baptism (which at the invocation of God and the indivisible Trinity, namely, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, is solemnized in water) rightly conferred by anyone in the form of the Church is useful unto salvation for little ones and for adults."

In 1208 Pope Innocent III wrote: "Therefore, we firmly believe and we confess that however honest, religious, holy, and prudent anyone may be, he cannot nor ought he to consecrate the Eucharist nor to perform the sacrifice of the altar unless he be a priest, regularly ordained by a visible and perceptible bishop."

So this pushes the question back to the following: According to the Catholic Church, what is necessary for a valid ordination? And, as we have discussed before, according to the Catholic Church apostolic succession is necessary for a valid ordination. That is why a "validly consecrated bishop" is necessary for a valid ordination of a priest or deacon. (See canon 7 of Session 23 of the Council of Trent.)

So the answer to your first question is "No." This is precisely why the Catholic Church does not consider Protestant communities to be "Churches", because, according to the Catholic Church, wherever valid ordination and apostolic succession are lacking, there is not a Eucharist. And without a Eucharist, there is not a Church.

As for your second question, I think the Catholic Church recognizes that Protestants worship Christ when Protestants celebrate the Lord's supper. The Catholic Church recognizes that the "visible elements" (CCC 819) found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church can be "elements of sanctification and of truth". Even without actual consecration the Lord's supper serves as a representation of the gospel, of the sacrifice of Christ, and His love for us. In that way it can be a visual means of grace, just as the preached Word is a heard means of grace. But without valid ordination, there is no reason to think that the bread and wine change, or that Christ is present in any other way than the way He is present when two or more gather in His name.

I hope this answers your question.

- Bryan