Wed 09 August 2017
(written originally as yet another comment to the blogpost “How Many Theologians Does it Take To Define Infallibility?” by Melinda Selyms)
First of all: thank you, these are very good questions, which actually made me think (doesn’t happen that often on blog comments).
Certainly, some rules are necessary even unavoidable, “Ubi societas, ibi ius” (“where there is society, there is a law”). However, these are rules mostly about organizing the community, dispute resolution, etc., not what people should believe (e.g., Immaculate Conception) or what they should do outside of the group (e.g., no sex before marriage, unless sexual intercourse is part of the community activity ;), yikes!).
There are probably some rules about what makes the group the Christian one. They should not limit membership (I am a strong believer in “belonging before believing”, so even unbelievers should be members of the community, although with some limited rights), but they should define the spirit and direction of the community. I am a member of the international Protestant congregation in Prague, Czechia, so members of our church come from a very wide denominational background. We have members from American Episcopalians and Norwegian Lutherans on one side to Pentecostals from Africa with people from Philippines, all around Europe and many other types of Christians in between. So for me the definition of who is a proper Christian is rather loose. I guess I would keep the basic Creeds of the Church (Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, etc.), but not sure who further I would like to limit. I would certainly welcome Roman Catholics and Orthodox, even to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and other sacraments, but I am afraid they prefer their own communities.
I really don’t see, why I would have to have 100% trust in the human leadership of the community. I do believe in leadership of the Holy Spirit over whole Church (“gates of hell won’t prevail over it”), but I do not identify this whole Church with any particular humanly-visible institution. For any such institution (be it a denomination or particular congregation) I don‘t expect more certain leadership than for my family. And it is more important for me as a husband that I am willing to accept my mistake (or sin), ask God for help, and retarget. That is more important (and more useful) than having 100% certainty that I am always right (I am not, and I believe pope/bishops/priests/etc. are not either). It is probably worthy of emphasizing I believe in the Universal Priesthood of all believers, so I don‘t see any substantial difference between so called priests and so called lay people. Of course, pastor is somebody who has calling from God to work as an authority in the Church and I expect him to have proper training etc. However, he is no different than a brain surgeon in his job. Of course, I wouldn’t question his expertise (without really strong reasons and evidence, perhaps even second opinion) and if I was his subordinate, then I should submit to his authority. Besides “[…] all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” (1Co 14:40), so every rebellion in the Church is prima facie suspicious.
Sorry, that was a bit tangential, but what I wanted to say is that I don‘t expect from the Church leadership more certainty than in my decision as a father of family. Of course, in the end, my trust in the Church not being prevailed by the gates of hell is based on the mercy of God, not on 100% infallibility of the Church leadership.