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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Here you go. I can't let you off that easy, Mr. Hays. Let's zoom in; let's talk about the formation of particular denominations, with particular distinctives. By what authority does such a body come into existence? What processes or means make the conclusions drawn by such a group authoritative? If it is but a part of the Body of Christ, let's say, who or what defines the relations to the wider whole? You might say one group's conclusions about what the 'Church' is are good, but how and why? What makes those suppositions any more true than any other group of people? Hey, I'm just working under the assumption that the Church is invisible, as the Reformers believed. There seems to be a whole lot of reliance upon the Holy Spirit to guarantee individual interpretive decisions, which would be great, if John Q. Methodist or Bob F. Lutheran didn't do the exact same thing. (To say nothing of Susie Mormon, who noone desires to listen to. But you should get jumpy when your arguments are the same.)
Speaking of that, is the next step in ecclesiology defining a difference between "heresy" and "super-duper, special, you're actually going to Hell if you believe this" heresy? Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up: Suppose I were a minister in some Protestant denomination who no longer believed according to the creed of that community. In one sense, I might be considered a 'heretic' in terms of the specificities of that confession, granted, with varying levels of consequence, depending on where I was. But if I were in a place where we certainly believed there were saved people outside of us (and not in an extraordinary, "mercy flowing through the Church and sacraments to non-members of the visible Church, Catholic kind of way, but more") can this body of believers actually excommunicate me? I mean, in a way that God binds in Heaven? If we're only one among many, the juridical decisions of our group mean, in the end, precisely jack. Unless we happen to be right. But you'd never know. In that way, it seems like groups claim a juridicial right which only truly belongs to a unified, visible Church, and then claim the Church is invisible when politely asked who died and made them Pope in the first place.
Maybe I'm really also asking what 'unity' is, and was, supposed to be. How would you know when to return to Holy Mother Church? Is there one? If all questions are on the table and free for the asking except one--"Do I have a right to decide who to follow and what to believe for myself?"--we're not going to get anywhere. Where does dogma come from, anyway? Fallible interpreters, fallible process, fallible Church=Untainted revelation? What? How? It's that third thing that's the key. I don't get that. Something somewhere has to be infallible. That is, we have access to it. Otherwise, I wish you good luck discerning the revelation from the juridical decisions and matters of indifference that mean precisely jack. I suppose you could be content in some vanity that we're united in some "core of the gospel," until the presumption of speaking for someone else slaps you in the face. We'd do better if we'd all acknowledge that Christians are horribly divided.

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