To Whom Does the Church Belong?

In this post I simply want to raise some questions that I don’t know how to answer. As with many of my reflections on ecclesiology these days, it’s prompted by the ongoing struggle over gay rights and Biblical authority in the Anglican Communion.

The obvious answer to the title question would be “Jesus”.  To which a beleaguered rector or worshipper might respond, “Yes, but…could you be more specific?

In other words, when conflicting factions differ on many of their basic assumptions, it’s not enough to say “we’re following Jesus” or “we’re following the Bible”. Whose Jesus, which Bible?

On a more practical level, who gets to set the direction of a particular parish? The global denomination, the country’s presiding bishop, the rector, the lay members?

I’ve experienced this conflict from both sides of the fence. Last year, when the then-minister of my Episcopal church was tugging us in a Unitarian/skeptical direction, I felt personally affronted. “How dare you pull out my church from under me? I was here before you came and I’ll be here when you’re gone!” I was convinced that our disagreement went to fundamentals of the faith, and that his agenda undermined the purpose of the institution.

Meanwhile, the rector of a congregation in a neighboring town has recently taken a strong stand in favor of gay rights, for which I applaud him, but which is making some longstanding members of his parish feel the way I described above. At a discussion forum he held on this issue, I heard them express a very personal sense of loss that they no longer felt welcome in their home church.

On the gay issue, I believe that reasonable people can disagree on what the Bible requires, about a matter that is really peripheral to the core Christian doctrines. (Yes, the authority of the Bible is anything but peripheral, but support for gay rights is not a proxy for one’s reverence or lack thereof for Scripture.) Therefore, if a church feels the need to take a position on the issue, it should make room for dissenting members and acknowledge that they are also reading the Bible in good faith. Sadly, both sides often fail here, stereotyping their opponents as either “oppressors” or “heretics”.


The divinity of Christ, salvation by faith, the Resurrection, belief in miracles — these, by contrast, seemed to me like non-negotiables during my estrangement from my Episcopal church. Now, I can make a nice case for why I was “right” but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about, how can we live together, when one person’s core doctrine is another’s “things indifferent”? I suspect that for many liberal Episcopalians, the words of the Creed involve faraway matters about which no one can be certain, whereas political rights and wrongs are personal, immediate and clear as day.

For a few years, I was sold on the idea of church as family. The body of Christ, and so forth. Now I’m wondering whether it’s safe to form such a bond of intimacy and responsibility with an organization that’s defined in ideological terms. If a church’s love is conditional, it can kick you out of your “family” for believing the wrong things. But if it’s unconditional, with no boundaries and no core values, how can the church survive? Why should it?

(Keep in mind that I have never belonged to an institution that did not gravely disappoint me. Perhaps the answer is to get over myself, go to church, sing the hymn, shake hands, eat the muffins and go home.)

2 comments on “To Whom Does the Church Belong?

  1. zhenimsja says:

    Hello, guy! I am totally acclaim your way of thinking and everything connected.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.