I don’t like the word “Christianity”

Some facts are so obvious we forget they even exist.

A few days ago I said this: it should be pointed out that the church is an excellent example of an inherently conservative community. It is not a product of the universal dictates of reason, but a historically contingent human community which strives to maintain and practice the traditions it attributes to its divine founder. Authority exists in the church to serve this end. While the church might at times find itself attached to progressive causes, it can not be described as inherently progressive.

I think this is why the modern mentality, which attempts to construct rational systems that transcend historical circumstances, never quite “gets” Christianity. Even the term “Christianity” misses the point. A thousand or 1500 hundred years ago no one ever talked about an abstract body of thought known as “Christianity”. We say “Christianity” because “Christ-ism” is harder to say than vegetarianism or communism. In pre-modern times people spoke about the church as a community to which they themselves belonged. Nowadays when we talk about “the church” we refer to a that other great modern concept, the bureaucracy, complete with org charts.

Without making claims about any specific denomination, it seems like the modern branches of church are part of the problem. The ancient churches, the Catholics, Orthodox, and the churches of the Middle East, consciously attempt to maintain continuity with the Apostles through ritual. Protestant churches, to varying degrees, intentionally cut themselves off from that continuity. The idea is to reconstruct the church from scripture, the way a linguist might reconstruct the pronunciation of a dead language from clay tablets.

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I know that is a caricature, most Lutherans or Anglicans down the years certainly did not see themselves that way, but the description fits the more radical reformers and their descendants. They did this not because they were evil or stupid, but because they were modern. They were doing the best they could with the tools they had. At some point back in the 1500s the concept of the church as an historical community stopped making sense, and “Christianity” was born. And in an atmosphere where church reform was an urgent and pressing need the idea of rebuilding it on a rational basis – from the archaeological fragments, as it were, made sense.

So you can interpret the Reformation as a valiant attempt to rationalize Christianity on the basis of the only available empirical evidence – the Bible, the only problems being that “Christianity” is a flawed concept and the Bible makes no sense out of its natural community, the church.

But some facts are so obvious we forget they even exist.

 

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