Sunday, November 13, 2005

Christian Community and Organized Religion

These are the questions for the last lecture. I spent a bit more time than I expected on the last bunch of questions. I'm still a bit sketchy on the definition of person.

Why do so many people today reject "organized religion?"

This isn't an easy question to answer because there are numerous factors. However, here are some motivations:

- The current worldview is subjective and individualistic, so it naturally rebels against the idea that a person should conform his or her will to an institution.

- The current worldview is relativistic, so the idea that one religion possesses Absolute Truth is, to some people, extremely arrogant.

- Organized religions tend to have histories that frequently include unsavory elements. Some followers (and I have to include myself here) often play down or ignore these unsavory elements.

- People tend to want a spirituality that mirrors their preferences rather than one that requires discipline or restraint.

Did Jesus just initiate a "movement" or did he found an organized Church?

Christ clearly established a basic organization with a clearly defined goal. He selected 12 men and gave them the power to bind or loose. He established Simon Peter as the leader, and clearly the Gospels and Acts exemplify his leadership, albeit with a clear sense of Peter's human frailties. Christ also established a guiding principal, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

To deny that Christ did anyone of these things is to undermine His Word. If we say that Peter is just a small stone and not the Rock upon which Christ built His Church, then we have to acknowledge that no one holds the keys that Christ handed on. If we claim that Christ did handover the keys to Peter but that Peter could not pass that authority down, then we have to accept that the gates of Hell prevailed over the Church. If we deny that Christ's words to Peter to strengthen the other bretheren and to feed His sheep were not an indication of Peter's role as the leader of the apostles, then we have to find His other words to be equally as unclear, and that isn't indicative of a Good Shepherd.

This is not to say that Christ needed to dictate every other detail about the Church's organization.

What principles of human political order must be respected in the life of the Church itself?

There are two principals of human political order that we must respect in the life of the Church: solidarity and subsidiarity.

- The principal of solidarity stresses that material and spiritual goods be distributed in such a way that allows each person to have his or her due. It strives to reduce or eliminate excessive inequalities.

- The principal of subsidiarity is that decisions should be made by the level of government that is closest to those who will be affected. Higher levels of givernment should not interfere or prohibit the functioning of lower levels but should support it and work to coordinate the decisions of lower-level governments for the common good.

The Church repudiates both extremes of collectivism and anarchism as governing principals.

What is the relation of the ministry of the Sacraments and the ministry of the Word and how do human sciences assist in each?

Frankly, I'm not sure what this question means.

The sacraments are most frequently the physical manifestation of Christ's and the Church's work on earth. They involve transference of grace through material means: by water, for baptism; by bread and wine, for communion; by touch for confirmation, annointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders. Only one sacrament, reconciliation, does not require some material means. The sacraments appeal to that side of us that requires symbolism and ritual. They are the order of grace as it works through the physical world. They appeal to our imaginations and senses.

The ministry of the word is the abstract working of grace through intellectual and emotional means. The Word is a great impetus for us and provides us with the conceptual means for accepting God's grace. Sacraments, on the other hand, provide us with an experiential (that is, material) means for accepting God's grace.

Human sciences can help us to distinguish those means of grace that are material from those that are not. They can point to the existence a higher reality but cannot point directly to that higher reality.

What is the relation of secular history and Biblical eschatology?

Secular history is simply a sequence of events viewed outside of the framework of some governing purpose or end. We do have a myth of progress ins secular history, but its mythic nature is revealed once we determine that history has no true goal or end, without which the concept of progress is meaningless. Also, if we accept the "random" nature of biological and cosmological evolution, the notion of progress is absurd. Only when secular history is viewed in light of a defining purpose such as that revealed in scripture can the notion of progress be admitted. So secular history is simply the reporting of a series of events. Biblical eschatology provides meaning to history and ultimately meaning to human existence.
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