Thursday, September 28, 2006

When Schism is Unjust

Schism has been considered perhaps the second most griveous sin in the history of the Church, second only to heresy. No other mortal sin is as dangerous as these two. Yet as it pertains to schism the Protestant Reformation has instigated a variety of opinions and evaluations of what it truly means to be schismatic.

Schism, broadly defined, is breaking away from the Church. The ominousness of such an act is that one who is involved in schism is broken off from the vine; they are not connected to the nourishment of the vine. The Church is God's primary means of grace to the world, and she conceives, births, and nourishes Christians. There can be no "power of the keys" outside of the Church, for Christ entrusted the keys to Peter and the apostles, and the power is retained within the Church. In short, one who commits schism finds oneself in a very deleterious position.

The Church, being the body of Christ, becomes in a sense the very person of Christ. The Church truly is the visible presence of Christ on this earth. There can be no division within Christ, therefore to leave the Church is to leave Christ. However, one must wonder if there are any justifiable reasons for schism. Are there extreme cases or circumstances in which schism may be necessary?

The only potential justification for schism is heresy. Specifically I am thinking here of the Protestant Reformation. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church at the time was teaching some things which cannot be considered Christian. This Protestant split could be justified by one saying that due to the heresy promulgated by the Catholic Church, schism was necessary. However, even in this case an argument could be made that due to the heresy, at this time the Catholic Church could not have been considered the Church in all its fullness. In this sense, the Reformation would not as much be a schism as a return to orthodoxy.

Regardless of how one chooses to view the above, most would agree that at least to some extent the Protestant split can be justified (although this could move into area in which we have to discuss whether even this schism can be justified due to the split from the Church as institution; we won't address that at the moment). While we may be able to justify the Protestant schism, I am left to wonder if there are any true grounds upon which we can justify any subsequent schism. Protestantism is defined by its innate affinity with division. The thousands of denominations present in our world represent the slippery slope that was opened when the Reformers put forth their critiques. While ameliorations have been made to some divisions, and some denominations have even merged, there still remains the autonomous rights for Protestants to divide if need be.

BUT....if it's true that the only justifiable grounds for schism are heresy (in which case one is not truly dividing the Church but realigning her), then can any Protestant divide following the initial split be justified? I'm not convinced any can. If this is the case then it puts Protestants in a very precarious position. Has Protestantism, to an extent, put itself in danger of being outside of the fullness of the Church? Are there parallels between Protestantism and the Novatian schism?

This is a very troubling thought and the ramifications are worthy of consideration. I am not implying that any Protestant denomination which finds its origins after the initial reformative split is not part of the Church, or that the grace of God is not flowing there. But I am somewhat concerned about the unjustifiable nature of Protestant schism. Have we, to an extent, forced God's hand to work in unordinary ways?

I don't know. What do you think?

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Academy as Service

This weekend I went to a fantastic conference funded by the Lilly Foundation. Although I was somewhat apprehensive initially about attending, I could not have been more pleased. The conference, largely, served to provide the attendees with information about graduate school. Although seminary is not completely concordant with process undertaken for typical graduate studies, the conference nonetheless was incredibly informational and beneficial.

One of the central topics of the conferences was vocation and calling: both what they mean and how we ought to pursue them. Dr. Patrick Byrne (of Boston College), in agreement with the theologian Bernard Lonergan, asserted that our first vocation is that of being human. Our "vocations" (father, husband, doctor, plumber, etc.) are subsets and participate in the fulfillment of our primary vocation to be human.

Dr. Byrne suggested three criteria that ought to be evaluated in discerning vocation:

1) Joy: what brings me joy (not necessarily what makes me happy, but what elicits true joy)?
2) Talent: what am I gifted and talented doing?
3) Service: does this serve the needs of others? Is this a service to humankind?

Perhaps the most difficult criteria to evaluate is the third; does what I'm gifted at and what I love truly serve others? In what ways does it do so? Dr. Byrne said this was the most difficult aspect for him to discern in his own life experience. As we dialogued together I began to realize how significant this specific aspect of his presentation was to my own life and that of the students present at the conference. Considering the conference was concerned with Christian higher education, the question Dr. Byrne posed was in what way academics are a service to others.

As we deliberated we saw the necessity for distinguishing between the various needs humans have. One of the graduate students, who attends Northwestern University, insightfully commented that we tend to elevate the basic human needs as the sole human needs. Food, shelter, clothing, etc. are undeniably basic human needs that must be met. When we ask whether something serves humanity, typically we are thinking along these lines. Yet, as this graduate student pointed out, the needs of humanity are multi-faceted and much more broad than just basic needs. While poverty is by all means a monumental human dilemma, bad philosophy can be incredibly destructive as well. Similarly, bad theology can wreak havoc upon one's relationship with God and others. Political perversity breeds consequences throughout an entire polity. The academy recognizes the multiplicity of human needs and exists to fulfill those needs through the efforts of its scholarship and research.

I would not be so naive as to declare that those in the academy always operate under this construct. But I believe it is an important qualification for those of us who sense academics to be our vocational fit. I grow weary of the still prevalent notion among many evangelicals that intellectualism is neither profitable nor necessary. "How can you consign yourself to the ivory tower when people are dying on the streets?" Or so the argument often will go. But this operates under the assumption that the only needs that ought to be addressed are the ones most readily apparent. Certainly we should be concerned with those needs; we must be. It is a part of Christian charity that all of us are called to serve the basic needs of such people. But it is not everyone's vocation to serve such needs. Some vocationally find their talent and joy best manifested in such a role; others do not.

Similarly some may say that to confine oneself to academics is to become too specialized. Yet, truthfully, all service is narrow and only relevant to a particular group. Knee replacements are a valuable service, but only to those who actually need them. Cancer treatment is necessary, but only for those who suffer from such a disease. In similar fashion, academics are necessary, but may only be relevant to a particular need of a particular people. That doesn't make them any less valuable, simply they are part of the solution to the vast fabric of human need. The destruction of people intellectually can at times be more pandemic than their physical destruction (ex. heresy can steal the Gospel of its power to heal the sin sick soul, potentially leaving a person with eternal damnation). At times we too quickly look to the immediate needs present in our world without realizing the long-range debilitation accompanied by some intellectual errors.

So before you condemn those who seek to serve the needs of the world by purusing knowledge and scholarly endeavors simply because they "aren't in the trenches," recognize those in such positions truly are in the trenches; they simply are serving in a different capacity. The academy is not a place removed from the very real needs of this world; rather, it is a place of service, whether that service is properly acknowledged or not.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Scarcity of Posts

I apologize for my large delay in posting. Currently I am disconnected from the internet as I await the installation of my connection in my new house. Jen and I are again in Marion and we have begun another academic year. I hope to engage in the theological dialogue on this blog once again soon. Thanks.

-Ben Robinson