"The Institution is God"? Unity and Catholicity in the Church

In the combox to the blog below, I insisted that unity is as important as orthodoxy in the Church.

Past-Elder responded by saying:

“That’s what makes Catholicism Catholicism — anything is allowed except leaving the family, like a spiritual Mafia. The institution is god.”

Well, I guess that since “the Church IS Christ”, and the “institution” we are talking about is the Church, and Christ is God, then perhaps we could extend our syllogism to read “the Institution is God” as Terry suggests…

But lets get a couple of things clear about the Sydney Anglicans–great guys and gung-ho for the gospel as they surely are: they are not just “pure” evangelical Church-of-England types. Eg. They have been practicing (and pushing for in the wider Church) lay-presidency of the Eucharist, something with which no other Anglican Church in the world agrees. And Archbishop Peter Jenson is boycotting (and encouraging other bishops to boycott) the Lambeth Conference and trying to run his own Episcopal Conference in Jerusalem (even though the local Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, who is also an evangelical, is imploring them not to come and to go to Lambeth instead to make their voices heard among the brethren).

I don’t know whether “pure doctrine” is possible by any standard. I rather think that “orthodoxy” allows of a number of different possible formulations of Christian doctrine. My way of saying something may not be your way of saying something but that doesn’t mean that you are necessarily teaching heresy (see this example). Hence, within acceptable orthodoxy, communion is maintained.

But what appears to be going on in Sydney Anglicanism is certainly “pure schismaticism”, pressing the “local option” button (to use Pope Benedict’s words) at the first sign of disagreement among the brethren and sistern.

My point is that in the Christian Church the maintenance of unity and the maintenance of orthodoxy must never and can never be played off against one another. Both are equally important. The Church is both ONE and CATHOLIC. Neither Unity nor Catholicity is more important than the other.

And, by the way, since I have cited the Creed, clearly the Creed isn’t trying to say “These are the qualities the Church should be aiming for”, but rather “These are the qualities that the Church HAS”. So if you want to find the true Church, find the Church that is firm in CATHOLIC doctrine and UNITED in communion throughout the world while being totally COMMITTED to seeking full communion with all Christians universally.

I have.

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7 Responses to "The Institution is God"? Unity and Catholicity in the Church

  1. Fraser Pearce says:


    Just this from the CCC

    750 To believe that the Church is “holy” and “catholic,” and that she is “one” and “apostolic” (as the Nicene Creed adds), is inseparable from belief in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the Apostles’ Creed we profess “one Holy Church” (Credo . . . Ecclesiam), and not to believe in the Church, so as not to confuse God with his works and to attribute clearly to God’s goodness all the gifts he has bestowed on his Church.

    So: Perhaps best to soft peddle this Institution is God business.

    Are you saying that the Sydney Anglicans refuse to be in communion with people who don’t state doctrine exactly as they state it? In not, then what is your argument regarding pure doctrine about?

    After reading your blog I searched for articles on lay presidency in Sydney, but could find nothing that suggests it is authorized and standard practice there. I could find articles about the fact that may leading Sydney Anglicans are pushing for it. But that’s a different matter. Do you know of any links on this topic?

    Do you have a photo of you in your fez? Smoking your hakkah?


  2. Joshua says:

    Before PE tells us all again, let me play Devil’s Advocate:

    Notoriously, what is believed and practised by many many Catholics, not excluding priests and even bishops, is not in accord with the stated beliefs and practices of the Church as defined by the Magisterium and its organs: for instance, compare the Catechism and the Missal to what is believed and done in St Flossy’s Parish…

    The worst of all contradictions is found in the way Humanae Vitae was for nearly all Catholics their rite-of-passage into non-acceptance of, hostility towards and derision of Papal statements and authority.

    So, why no open schism?

    Once the whole world groaned to find itself Arian…

  3. Past Elder says:

    In the Apostle’s Creed, “profess” is connected with Baptism, not the Church (confiteor, actually) and the Church is depended under “believe” (credo) by “and” (et).

    The Church is an article of faith, something in which we believe. I differ from the Romans not on this, but on what constitutes that church in which we believe.

    There is no — or more accurately, very little — open schism for exactly what I have termed the “institution is god” mentality. It kept me from seriously examining the beliefs of other Christian denominations for years after the implosion of the RCC.

    The RCC functions for a person something like a family, or an ethnicity, or a nationality. One may like it or not, be typical of it or not, reject its ways or accept them, speak its language or prefer another, but it’s still one’s family, ethnicity or nationality. An Irishman who loves pasta does not become Italian thereby.

    This is why there is no open schism with the liberal element, and why they remain — it is my family and my family is me, and just as I draw my identity from them so they draw their identity from those who make it up. Faith defines community and community defines faith. The People of God in fact pass through many ages of redefinition through time, and one age’s expression of it need not be another’s nor is one age’s to be confused with the essence of the community itself which as an organic being grows and develops. Just as what a man says at twenty may not be what he says at sixty, yet it is the same man. (Ah, feels just like back at the Abbey, wait, gorge is rising, reach for the Pepto-Bismol!)

    Bless us and save us, Mrs O’Davis.

    Who would not hope for a church that is firm in catholic doctrine and united in communion throughout the world? To find this even remotely descriptive of life in the RCC is a pleasant fiction indeed. Now, things are hardly that way in LCMS either. But, the issue is different: I do not believe or profess that LCMS is the fulness of the church or that in which the fulness subsists, I do not believe or profess that LCMS IS the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of the Creed, I do not believe LCMS is co-extensive with the “evangelical Lutheran church” which I do profess and promise to uphold. Nor am I asked to by LCMS. And should “our beloved synod” slip under the waves of suburban American evanglicalism, which many in it would count a good thing, sad as that would be, this would in no way signal the gates of hell overcoming the church.

    Which is an entirely different thing than taking the vestigal remains of the state religion of the Roman Empire as the Church of Christ in its fulness.

    Or in brief, “the institution as god” is not to say the institution is God in that belief system.

  4. Schütz says:

    I am suggesting, Fraser, that the Sydney Anglican church prefers to be pure in doctrine than rather united in love.

    This impossible choice comes about because, like all protestant churches, they have no choice but to see the goal of “maintaining pure doctrine” as in a certain tension with “maintaining unity of fellowship”.

    If only they could make the same efforts to maintain the unity of their communion as they do to maintain their own local doctrinal purity.

    And regarding lay presidency, they don’t have a law allowing it as yet, but the fact is that it quietly happens in practice in parishes around the place. And of course you won’t find this on the net. They are seeking to legitimise a current practice.

  5. Christine says:

    And should “our beloved synod” slip under the waves of suburban American evanglicalism, which many in it would count a good thing, sad as that would be, this would in no way signal the gates of hell overcoming the church.

    But the LCMS is allegedly bound by the Lutheran Confessions which are stated to be the “pure” exposition of God’s Word. If the LCMS does slip under the waves, then the Confessions have not been successful in maintaining unity of faith and doctrine.

    There simply cannot be an “invisible” church that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. And that communion in faith and doctrine can’t be grounded in a structure that operates on a bureaucratic/corporate model, as does the LCMS.

    That individual LCMS parishes will survive is not in dispute. But will they be built upon the model of churches such as the Campbellite Churches of Christ, which recognize no authority other than the local congregation? Or will yet another Synod be born?

    As for your “familial, ethnic” paradigm for the Catholic Church, it simply won’t work today. Converts who come into the Church don’t, as a rule, do so for those reasons.

  6. Past Elder says:

    I did not even remotely say people convert for family or ethnic reasons. What I said was, the Catholic Church largely functions for those who are in it whether by birth or conversion as something akin to a family or an ethnicity rather than a community of faith — all kinds of faith travels under the name “Catholic” held to-gether only by membership in an institution.

    The only thing that holds to-gether the various things the Catholic Church has been over time is institutional continuity, and one can only accept them as essentially the same and one if that institution is functionally its own god, therefore always right and always the same.

    In a community of faith, if one does not hold that faith, one places oneself outside the commuinity. The community means nothing apart from that faith. It is only when the community is functionally its own god that it counts its own survival, ie its “unity”, on a par with its faith, whereas unity in faith creates unity in community. The attitude is no different than those who hold the community determines what is the faith. The liberal and the conservative really are no different, except in the way they place the community above all else as their god.

  7. Christine says:

    The only thing that holds to-gether the various things the Catholic Church has been over time is institutional continuity, and one can only accept them as essentially the same and one if that institution is functionally its own god, therefore always right and always the same.

    Sheer nonsense. The Catholic Church’s unity is her Trinitarian faith lived out liturgically and sacramentally.

    Let’s see if the LCMS will still be doing that a couple of years from now (if the Synod is still known as the LCMS by then).


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