Thursday, January 28, 2010

This is why the church is irrelevant to our crisis

"In my experience, there are at least two things essential to any viable community that the vast majority of Americans find completely unacceptable. The first is an accepted principle of authority; the second is a definite boundary between members and nonmembers."
John Michael Greer on great form.

This is something I've been thinking about a very great deal recently - and is likely to form a big part of my talk at the conference next month - and I see it as the legacy of cultural Protestantism, ie the emphasis upon private judgement. There are very great positive aspects to this - nobody should come between the believer and God - but there are also very great downsides. It underlies the 'ten thousand things' which is the modern Western church; it is the theology which undergirds world-raping consumerism; it is why the church can teach all it likes about how bad the world has become but will never be able to act as a coherent body and do something about it.

As JMG points out, nothing will change because people don't want it to change. They don't want it to change because that is how their value system has been structured - and that value system is one reproduced every week in our western church, reproduced, for example, whenever there are arguments about worship and people 'getting something' from it. It is why my teaching about Tesco has been the most controversial (and practically repudiated) thing I've ever said in church. It is part of what needs to die - what God will destroy - in order that our hearts of stone might be replaced by flesh.

I keep thinking of Moses in the desert. One aspect of the ten commandments isn't their specific content, but simply the fact that a community accepted them as their boundary and identity. We have far more equivalents of the 10 commandments than we need - I even came up with my own one here - but what is missing is any sense that a community can be bound over by such a structure. Which is one reason why I'm thinking about getting the church to study the Rule of St Benedict for a while...



  1. Which is one reason why I'm thinking about getting the church to study the Rule of St Benedict for a while...

    The Sermon on the Mount would probably work quite well too...!

  2. I was thinking of Achan's sin and how it affected the whole community. Same with Ananias and Sapphira. Certainly they are dealt with as individuals but the whole community is affected by their sin.
    I agree with you.
    The church needs to be community and practice the responsibility and beauty of community and how to make decisions as community and trust those whom have been given responsibility over that community.
    I have noticed a lot of problems in peoples lives recently, inside and outside the church, have come from private judgement that militates against what is best for the community as a whole.

  3. Yes, a very insightful post from JMG.

    What a shame - I've just gone to book a spot at the conference (late as always!) and find that it is full! You are too popular. :-(

  4. Byron - all being well I will be recording my talk, which I'll post here.

  5. Tim - actually the Sermon on the Mount was discussed as an alternative, or addition. Do you know of any good material for a group to use on it? The best thing I know of is Bonhoeffer, but that's not really what I have in mind!

  6. Thanks! Though part of the attraction of the conference was the chance to come and chat with you in person about these things. I'm sure there might still be opportunities to do so while I'm on this side of the world. Let me know if you're ever up in/near Edinburgh and I'm keeping an eye out for chances to head east whenever I'm going south.


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