Saturday, July 21, 2012

On Hierarchy and the Church

Do you fear or hate hierarchy, especially in a life of faith? If so, would you also reject a temple and a church because you see it only as gaudy ornamentation? But are not both built on a foundation and layer upon layer? In the same way the living Church is built upon Christ. Its pillars are the teaching of the Apostles, the martyrs are the windows by which the light of Christ enters, and the bishops and priests are the supports fastened to these pillars. But what of the laity? They are the rich ornaments that adorn the living Church. They rely on all of these others and yet their place is the expression of beauty and harmony. For any place of beauty is diverse, yet harmonious. Therefore, we should not treat the laity as superfluous (or consider ourselves superfluous) because it is their beauty and harmony which amplifies the temple to those who look outside curiously. Likewise they amplify, by that same harmony, the glorious mysteries within.

The beauty in here is possible by the firm foundations it was built upon. Who could deny that the living Church is different? Beauty lifts us up to God because it reflects the sacredness of that space.

However, can the ornate exist without its foundations? Those who wish to be a temple unto themselves—meaning that they do not need a Church but just a personal relationship—heed St. Paul half-heartedly. They read "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 6:19) but then, like children, listen to what they want to hear and ignore what else is told to them. Did they not recall that we are one Body (1 Cor 12:12)? And is this "Body" just of the spirit—that is to say a "spiritual Church"?

If so, who teaches you as a teacher? Who rebukes you? Are we all just equals before one another in all things by virtue of faith in Christ Jesus? What I mean is this: do you not see that if you reject the Church that you will inevitably make one of your own, either with others or of yourself. Was it vain that Paul said that some are prophets, administrators, and interpreters, while others should silent and speak at the appropriate time (cf. 1 Cor 12:26-40)? No. The structure of the living Church, then, lies in the Spirit and lies outside the spirit of mere belief. For did Paul intend that the living Church be a collection of those who merely believed—and that each would stand as equals in many matters just because of that faith?

More still, do you believe that our authority comes from Scripture alone or, rather, that the only authority to teach is Scripture? Indeed we must be obedient to the truth, but this sentiment is not obedience but pride. For by our own will we listen to Paul when he says "all Scripture is inspired by God [for many tasks]" (2 Tim 3:16) and take it to mean Scripture is the only source by which we have, by default, the gifts of teaching or interpretation. But "no prophecy came through human will but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet 1:20). Are we so bold to claim that we are given all gifts by reading Scripture? Are we so bold to claim that the Spirit acts in those who only speak through Scripture? (Did not Satan also quote Scripture?)

The sentiments of this man, however good, are not Christianity but pride.

 Does not authority come from the Spirit? Yes, for Paul says that it is according to the will of the Spirit that each of us has particular gifts (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11). They are distributed to many and individually so that we may heed one or another, not just by the utterance of Scripture but by the power of the Spirit in them.

We are ready, like trusting children, to imbibe quotes of Scripture as if it were milk. Yet when another rebukes us by virtue of reason, science, or his position of education we become more obstinate than the Jews in the desert. Is all they utter true? Of course not, but if the words are spoken by one who is gentle yet forceful, and is a man of proven character, why should we deny his rebukes? Below we shall explore this:

Since there is even more to write on this subject alone I will be brief. Read and contemplate these words which are connected to those above. Paul tells us plainly, "Let every person be subject to higher authorities for there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore; whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed and those who oppose it bring judgment on themselves" (Rom 13:1-2). Obviously we should not consent to wicked rulers and wicked things, but how quick we are to call those whom we don't like wicked and against God! However, that God gave us leaders, rulers, and kings is not a lie. Furthermore, do you think that if God appointed kings and rulers to be judges in civil matters and instruments of His justice that He would not appoint men to be rulers and authorities in spiritual matters? "Respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you, and … show esteem for them with special love on account of their work" (1 Thes 5:12-13).

And even if some are wicked, are they not still instruments?

They exist to serve you but also, by virtue of their leadership, see what is spiritually harmful for you. They stand atop a hill that is attacked from all sides, and are even attacked within.

King Josiah and the Apostles were praised for increasing the faith of countless people.

The Babylonians and Assyrians both prepared the hearts of the Jews for the Messiah by their bitter exile. By trial and tears the understanding of almighty God was purified from the pagan influence that has assailed those same Jews. Nero and the other Emperors, likewise, in their attempt to destroy the Church unwittingly caused it to flourish and spread to all corners of the earth.

Is every authority wicked? No, but even still we can judge who is a good or bad authority by the fruit of their labor. But remember that every authority is placed by God—all deserve their due (cf. Rom 13:7). Whether good or bad, that will be decided at the appointed time.

Subjecting ourselves to authority, then, takes humility. Deferring to your own reading of Scripture is easy, rejecting authority is even easier. Humility is a virtue we should work on and a grace which we should pray for unceasingly. Was it not humility that brought about conversion for Cornelius and his household? Was it not the humility of Peter who raised him up to equality and made him and his household coheirs to the Kingdom? (Acts 10:9-49)

And likewise Peter was warned, when he refused Christ's humility, that he would have no inheritance in Him?  But upon accepting it he was raised—no longer a servant but a friend, for Jesus revealed to him the model he should follow (cf. Jn 15:15).

Therefore, it is by humility of both those who have authority and those who are subject to authority that both are raised.
Humility brought Cornelius, a Roman, to Peter a Christian. By the love, patience, and humility of Peter he brought them to God. Peter a model of what broken humanity can achieve in Christ.

But for now, let us return to the first point but with another image:

Does not the fruit on a tree exist because of the branches? And the branches because of the trunk? And the trunk because of the roots and the soil? "The branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me" (Jn 15:4). Can we be fruit without the branches? A plant has many parts but it works to produce one fruit. The Church has many parts of varying importance but its one fruit is the salvation of souls—we are one Body, "give success to the work of our hands" (Ps 90:17).

And so I say again, do you hate hierarchy? Are you so quick to acknowledge the Master but not the laborers? Though the laborers are nothing without the Master the laborers do the work of the Master and share in His joy.

In this same way, did you build your own faith? "What do you posses that you have not received?  But if you received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor 4:7). Was it not given to you by others who were likewise convinced in the Power of God?

For we are not a Church of personal faiths, but a building being built upon in every generation—why else would Paul warn us to be careful as we build it? (cf. 1 Cor 3:10). What is your church built upon? Are they the Apostles, Tradition, the saints (wise men and women), the bishops in the line of the Apostles, and Scripture? If no, who leads you?
In reality, this is the pride that makes us accountable to no one but whom we choose. This has become its own false religion.

But truly, men are the ones who labor for God, building so as to support the faith of all. Like a master builder he needs to discern a solid foundation (Christ) and a solid design. Are we not the beneficiaries of such men? Do we give thanks to God for their labors? Ever worker deserves his wages. Deny the laborers in favor of the Master and you mock the laborers that the Master has picked.

Do these men—pillars, protectors, and laborers—not deserve honor for what they have given us? True, that those who ask for honor often deserve little, but the faithful servant who toiled to increase the Master's talents received an even greater honor by virtue of his work. Some more, others less.

In this respect do not neglect your leaders, your spiritual ones most of all. For neglecting them is to be as sheep who neglect their shepherd or plants that reject cultivation. Those neglectful ones produce little or nothing, become unruly, and lead themselves to ruin.

So think carefully and reflect deeply. Is Scripture or your personal relationship the only authority? Or does the Spirit select some to lead, others to interpret, some to teach, others with this or that virtue, and others to follow? Do you fear or hate authority? "Rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil … therefore it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath [against injustice] but also because of conscience [for the Lord has given you this authority]" (Rom 13:3, 5). And reflect, finally, that if your church does not acknowledge the Traditions we have been given by word of mouth and by script (cf. 2 Thes 2:15) nor does it have those who are above you in the Lord (1 Thes 5:12) then what church have you built? Can it stand?

For "the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each one's work. … if the work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor 3:13, 15). Much is lost in a fire, will your church stand against the true Church?