Thursday, October 20, 2005

Judgment Schism and the Holiness of the Church

I am working on my sermon for October 30. The common lectionary texts are from Micah 3:5-12, 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13,, and Matthew 23:1-12.
MIcah and Matthew both are words of condemnation against the leaders of God's people. Yet, it is also clear that even as these words are addressed to the leaders that one cannot simply seperate the leaders and the people. Also, it isn't even that bad leaders are obviously bad, in fact Jesus words seem to indicate that bad leaders can teach truth and lead with a certain amount of competance even as they are bad leaders. In Micah and Matthew, the people of God will suufer judgement because of the bad leaders. In both Micah and Matthew the issue is at least in part hypocrosy.
These prophetic themes I think touches on the nature of the church and its holiness, unity, apostolicity and catholicity. Both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy assert that the Church cannot sin, while admitting that individual persons in the Church including those in the heirarchy can, at times do, and have sinned., but that this does not in fact affect the essence of the church as Chrsit's spottless Bride, etc. I am willing to accept the perfection of the Church as a property of the Church because of its union with Christ. The question that comes up though is even given this holiness, this without sin in essence, what are the consequences if any when Christians layity or clergy are in fact hypocritical, not living according to the essence of the Church.
Another way of putting this is can Micah's and Jesus' words be applied to the leaders of the Church? Is there potentially devestating consequences to the sins and hypocrisy of the Heirarchy of the Church, adn if so what would those consequence look like in history?
It is all fine and good to assert the holiness of the Church, and to talk about the sins of the indvidual Christians that however never effect the holiness of the Church, but it seems impossible to me that the sins of Christians would not effect the Church, possibly even with great devestation should they persist.
From a Protestant perspective part of what lead to the split (and the subsequent splits) was blatent and obvious sins of the clergy and Popes, the apparent moral decay within the late medieval heirarchy. It seems to me as well that such decline also occured in late Bysantium and in 17 and 18 hundreds in Russia. And one doesn't have to wait for such late periods to find evidence of laxity among the ranks whether lay or clergy, as early disputes of the return of the lapsed can show, and the Donatist schism also demonstrates.
Now let me be clear I am not suggesting that those who split are necesarily justified either in their schism nor in teachings occasioned by real or percieved moral and spiritual decline of the heirarchy. However, in certain instances certainly and the Reformation certainly seems to me to be one such instance the schism can at least in part be seen as occasioned by failings of the heirarchy. Certianly the schism between Rome and Constantinople has to do with a certain failing on both sides in the heirarchy.
From my perspective it seems at least a tenable position to see some schisms as God's judgement on hypocrisy and failings within his people and their leaders. It is a jdugement that reinforces the realilty of the hypocrisy, that is it weekens the witness to the Gospel and the Kingdom, it shows the failure of Gods people to be what they are.
In the very least it seems to me that both Roman Catholicsm and Orthodoxy need to theologicaly account for this sin of individuals within a sinless Chruch. It hardly seems in keeping with the nature of God to allow such hypocrysy to continue without consequence. My suggestion may be off base however, it seems inadequate to simply assert the nature of the church and admit sin among individual Christians and hierarchs and not account for what may be the consequences of this discrepency, these failings in calling and living according to the truth of the Church.