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The loss of the Church's authority: morality

By Peter Sellick - posted Monday, 29 January 2018


This new kind of Christianity, become religion, was individualistic and self-interested and became fatally contaminated with the inverse of the gospel of grace; power and control. The Christian "religion" was born; not out of its origins in love for the neighbour and the enemy and the regeneration of the self in Christ but out of religious self-interest. This self-interest was heightened by the adoption from Greek philosophy of the idea of the immortality of the soul and its destiny after death.

The Church transformed the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God to men and women as an earthly, personal and social reality into judgement after death, a judgment that weighed souls in the scales of good behaviour and meant that believers were never free of anxiety. This was the Medieval synthesis that is influential to this day in some circles.

These motifs have morphed into the Popular Christianity of our time although hell has, for some reason, gone missing. What pretends to be Christian belief today is belief in the existence of a supernatural being who exercises worldly agency in creation, responds to prayer and who welcomes the souls of the dead into heaven. This god is a lawmaker, not only of the physical laws of the universe, but laws that control human morality. Christianity has been fatally conflated with the moral. This is why commentators fear that society will descend into chaos as the Church increasingly fails. The Church for them is in the business of crowd control.

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This is a profound misconception of the nature of the gospel. Jesus did not institute a moral law, he lived a different life that was marked not by rules and regulations but by a heady freedom. Christians may live moral lives because they are transformed into the image of Christ, the basis of which is kindness, justice, truth and service, all different aspects of love. Jesus was put to death by the rule makers and Paul was of the opinion that the law brings death but the Spirit brings life. This Spirit is the Spirit of Christ.

The Church in Australia as represented by the main denominations is now on its knees. It is dying not only in attendance but in the training of the clergy. As it is true for congregations, the clergy is not being replaced by younger men and women. The effect is doubled; fewer congregations can afford a failing ministry. It is increasingly difficult to maintain academics in theological colleges who have only a handful of candidates to teach. The intellectual life of the Church is in peril. This failure can only aid Popular Christianity that relies more on the gut than the mind.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Church seems destined to ride the decline to extinction. One would think a concentration of resources would be possible, particularly in the cathedrals, so that the theological, musical, artistic and architectural resources of the Church could be preserved until a renewal is possible. One would think that the understanding about the transformation of theology between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would be foremost in the minds of educators, preachers, bishops and moderators. There is little evidence that it is. Instead, we get a concentration on "spirituality" i.e. the same old theological methodology centred on human need.

So, what is the future of the Church? It will obviously get much smaller and its influence will continue to decline because it will take more time for the husks to be separated from the wheat and thrown in the fire. But wheat will remain, perhaps as an underground movement and will germinate when the time is right. The time will come when we discover that we have no real foundation for life, that the gods we have erected have failed us, when we find that increasing technological advancement turns to ash in our mouths and culture is increasingly only fashion. Christians can hope because we know that the Word has entered the world and cannot be taken back.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. He has a website called Coondle Art Presentations.

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