The Taser's Edge

The Church vs. Christ (Muddled Thoughts on Muddled Thoughts, via Mark Galli)

Two comments on Mark Galli’s recently posted “The Confidence of the Evangelical“:

-Comment I————————————————–

In describing why he is an evangelical, and why the “tug” of Catholicism has never drawn him out of evangelicalism, Mark Galli focuses in on his issues with the Magisterium as a source of authority for the Church. In doing so, he provides a wonderful view of history in which the Spirit is dynamically leading the church into truth gradually and through the passage of time and history:

We mustn’t forget that for a couple of hundred years, most Christians were not Trinitarians in the way we understand the Trinity today, but the Holy Spirit slowly led the church into a fully Trinitarian faith. At one time, Arianism was the majority option in the church, and yet the Holy Spirit led the church to reject that heresy and reaffirm the full divinity of Christ.

This, however, is a strong argument for the validity of the (or at least, a) magisterium. The orthodox teachings of the Trinity and Christ were and are examples of the Church discerning the Spirit, and the Church’s teaching office is in imitation of Christ in His proclamation by His call and in His authority.   Beyond that, contrary to Galli’s claims, there is no reason that an evangelical can’t say, “The Church teaches…” or “The Fathers said…” or “We believe…”

Why does the lack of a magisterium make those things any less true? Why does the presence of a magisterium change them? In fact, Galli seems to have more problems with what the Roman Magisterium teaches then the existence of a magisterium in general. (In some ways and for many people, Galli and other evangelical leaders are themselves a magisterium or a set of competing magisteria.)

-Comment II————————————————–

Here’s another quote, from the conclusion (actually, the second to last paragraph):

The common critique of evangelicalism is that “the center will not hold.” Bah. Humbug. Of course the center will hold, because at the center is not a doctrine, nor some human authority figure, nor a complete and inerrant statement of faith. There is only the Center, Jesus Christ. We don’t need a magisterium.

Galli’s article recalls and renews tensions between evangelicals and Catholics that do not need to exist. It’s disappointing because Galli has been a huge part of helping evangelicals (who, for as long as they have called themselves ‘evangelicals,’ have isolated themselves from the majority of Christians in space and time) to realize that the Christian faith is not our inheritance alone, and not our possession at all.

There is evidence, from very early on, that the article could have gone in the right direction:

We’d love to be able to say, “The church believes X,” and then back it up with a papal encyclical. We want “evangelical” to have clear and firm boundaries, so that when someone says they believe something outside of those boundaries, we can tell them definitively and assuredly that they are no longer evangelicals. We’re tired of arguing, of having to prove our point through the careful examination of Scripture and patient deliberation. Frankly, we’ve given up depending on prayer to change hearts and minds. We want to be able to say, “The church teaches …” or “The Holy Father says …” or “All biblical scholars believe …” in a way that separates the sheep from the goats.

These words are, at their heart, a confession. Being “tired…of having to prove our point through the careful examination of Scripture and patient deliberation” is a failure to love our neighbor and to love God. It would be beautiful if Galli had stayed there.

Here is my hypothesis: Galli fears that true Christianity is getting lost, diluted, led astray. Even if that’s true (and Galli is positioned well to see that it might be), acting from fear is not the right response. Fear leads to (less importantly) the muddied thinking of this article and (more importantly) the regression to un-Christian factional loyalties within the Church.

Galli sets evangelical against Catholic, Spirit against institution, and then Christ against Church, all terribly false dichotomies. The exclusivism that Galli recognizes as wrong in the quote above is the same exclusivism that led him to dash off a book against Rob Bell as well as to write this article.