There is no such thing as "the Church" in the abstract.
"The Church" consists of concrete entities (though these entities also have a spiritual dimension to them). Human beings, in all their fleshliness, make up the Church. Buildings, bank accounts, organizational hierarchies — these things also are inescapably a component of "the Church", however much we may deplore it.
A human being is a human being, whether inside or outside of the Church.
In my younger, more idealistic days, I took 2Co. 5:17 at face value: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."1
Bitter experience has taught me that St. Paul here articulates an ideal, rather than a reality. Christians do not cease to be human beings when they are converted. We are fundamentally the same as human beings outside of the Church, not fundamentally different from, pace Paul's bold assertion.
The line dividing good from evil runs through the midst of every human being: Christian and non-Christian alike.
Here I am of course alluding to Solzhenitsyn's famous statement:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.Christians are fully human beings. Though they are Spirit-filled, they remain fallen. From the same source comes both blessing and curse. It ought not to be so — but it is so.
Non-Christians are human beings fundamentally like us. Though they are depraved, non-Christians too are created in God's image.
Thus Solzhenitsyn is right: the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, Christian and non-Christian alike.
Because the Church is a human institution, it commits acts both good and evil. The same is true of the secular state.
Dan asserts that it is intrinsic to government to crucify people. The Church also crucifies people, but crucifixion is extrinsic to the Church.
Dan asserts that it is intrinsic to the Church to benefit people. I hope Dan will concede that the secular state also benefits people — roads, hospitals, schools, donations of aid to other nations, etc. — but Dan dares to maintain that such benefits are extrinsic to the secular state.
Dan asserts that Christians ought not to work for the secular government. This cuts rather close to the bone for me, because I am in fact an employee of the Government of Canada.
Dan's (extreme, ideological) position leaves me rather breathless. I'm not offended by it, because I am unable to take it seriously. But I thought I would offer some theses to counter Dan's theses, to provide a rational foundation for my contrary convictions. Hence the four theses above.
Both the Church and the state crucify people; both the Church and the state benefit people. How can any Christian seriously maintain this intrinsic/extrinsic distinction, when both institutions serve up both good and evil in large proportions?
I use the word "institution" of the Church advisedly. The Church always establishes its own set of power relations, based on property, money, popularity, good looks, charisma, eloquence, musical talent, academic credentials, etc. Every social institution has its pecking order, based on considerations worthy and unworthy. The Church is no exception.
Such a pecking order exists at both the formal (organizational hierarchy) and informal (social hierarchy) levels, and the two pecking orders never correspond exactly.
Why isn't the Church an exception to the general rule? Because there is no "Church" in the abstract — spiritual and elevated above the things of this earth. The Church consists of concrete entities: human beings plus buildings, cash, pianos, etc.
The state, as a human institution, is simultaneously both good and evil. So too, the Church, which is likewise a human institution.
Brothers and sisters, it ought not to be so. But it is: and we must live in the real world. We must build our lives on a foundation of reality — not some abstraction that exists only in the pages of St. Paul's Spirit-fueled epistles.
In the eschaton, yes. Here and now? Regrettably — no.
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1Unless otherwise indicated, scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.