September 17, 2002

The Church can't win...

Posted by Scott at 10:55 PM

I had this insight tonight just before going to bed. I don't know why I hadn't thought about it before. I was thinking about those Christians I've come across who seek a church that is most like the church of the early Christians. Compared to the early Christian community, the Catholic Church seems very different. On the other hand there are those who are against the Church because it “hasn't kept up with the times”.

In a sense the Church can't win. It is what it is. The Church has had organic growth and development in the way that a tree may not resemble the acorn. They are essentially the same but the tree develops and derives its behavior from the acorn in a slow, continuous manner over time. On the other hand certain truths are timeless. Practices, behaviors and mindsets which we think are novel, modern, or progressive have been around for a long time. In these issues the Church is critiqued for not adapting to new cultural norms.

GK Chesterton had an analogy that I used to like. He described the Church as a ship that had to pass through a narrow strait. If it veered to the left or right off the course, it would soon crash into the rocks and be destroyed. It had to take the correct course which was neither of the two extremes.

As an example of this I think of the Catholic understanding of women. The Catholic position does not view woman as, for instance, a militant Islamic fundamentalist would. Many Middle East countries have tried to push back women's progress by thousands of years to the point where they seem marginally above cattle. The Church teaching upholds the dignity and intrinsic value of women — different from men but equal in dignity and value. On the other hand the Church has not stopped, with good reason, speaking out against abortion, contraception, divorce, etc. These are considered cornerstones of modern feminism. Ironically the Church sees these actions as fundamentally damaging to the dignity of women. For the Church to give way to either extreme would require it to stray off its course.