A day at the mall it ain’t

Anthony Sacramone has it exactly right in an entry in the First Things weblog:

Because we are faced with the fact of ecclesiological chaos does not make it healthy or desirable. I would argue that it may even be spiritually corrupting. Look, I’ve been there myself. As I wrote a while back in this space, I spent a good, long time—years—collecting church bulletins like frequent fliers collect air miles. But I never considered potluck Protestantism a great good. I was church shopping because I was looking for The Church and kept getting bounced back like an email with an old Prodigy.com domain name. I found the multiformity baffling, the sheer subjectivity and inconstancy depressing.

Read it all.

I confess that I, too, find church shopping – what a horrible phrase – oppressive and depressing.


6 thoughts on “A day at the mall it ain’t

  1. Todd,

    I finally bothered to track down your new website (I’d been watching your old one not update in my rss feed for a while, vaugely wondering what was up).

    We’ve recently found ourselves needing to engage in “church shopping,” which I have also found depressing.

    But I was somewhat encouraged recently by this article in Christianity Today by Richard Mouw pointing out that when Roman Catholics church shop it’s called “discerning a special vocation.” A man who receives a call to the religious life begins a period of exploration, visiting the Fransiscans, the Dominicans, the Jesuits, seeking to set his individual vocation within the context of a collective vocation. That perspective has given me a much better attitude about visiting the congregations in our area and seeking a place for our family.


  2. Argh. That’s what I get commenting about an article I haven’t read. Sacramone’s article is *all* about Mouw’s article. Except it really isn’t. It’s about Sacramone and he doesn’t seem to have really understood Mouw.

    Sacramone seems to think it’s all about his ability to discern which church is the rightest. Good luck with that. To me, it seems pretty obvious that all the churches are wrong about at least some things. To imagine that I’m right about everything and therefore able to pick the church that corresponds most closely to my perfect standard (for him, the LCMS!) seems pretty ridiculous.

    I could much more easily believe that all Christianity is nonsense than believe that the little group of LCMS folk are the only true church.

  3. Michael, I don’t think that Sacramone is trumpeting his ability to discern which church is the rightest. He very clearly states that his choice (what a horrendous thing to apply to where one goes to church, though we most of us are or have been there) could be mistaken, his judgment clouded. I think there is actually more humility in that position that there is in Mouw’s more positive acceptance of denominationalism. And, in point of fact, Sacramone points out that he has landed back in the church in which he was baptized, reared and confirmed – which surely says something different about choosing than the notion of being able to sort through all the claims of traditions and denominations.

    But in the meantime, we are (I am) angst-ridden regarding our ecclesial future.

    To be quite honest, my faith – or at least the practice of it – has become very nearly joyless in the face of the fractures of Episcopalian heresy and the fractures of schism. I am more depressed by going to church than I am edified by it.

    I don’t want anything to do with a “purified” Anglicanism of the sort that some seem to want, and even less do I want anything to do with an “Anglicanism” that denies its birthright (all the while claiming to stand in Hooker’s intellectual succession) and that seems positively gleeful in the idea of being tossed about in the wind of every error and heresy that comes down the pike.

  4. I don’t think Mouw’s piece is primarily about trumpeting a supposedly glorious diversity of denominationalism. It’s about recognizing that discerning one’s individual / familial vocation does not require us to locate and join the True, Perfect Church. God is calling us to be part of the restoration of a broken world and a broken church, a restoration begun and made inevitable when Jesus was raised from the dead.

    Frankly, your concerns about the Anglican communion, in comparison with the vast riches God shared with me at Holy Family when I was there, seem trivial. Perhaps things have changed more than I realize. Perhaps the people and practices at Holy Family are so corrupt as to no longer be part of Christ’s body at all. But my inclination is to say that I’d trade places with you in a heartbeat.

    And yet, at some level I feebly believe God is calling me and my family to a vocation here. One that must be shaped differently than I expect, since the shape I’ve been looking for just isn’t here.

    When I think of the dislocation and isolation my brother-in-law feels – both cultural and theological – serving God in Burkina Faso, my concerns about whether I can stomach the Lutheran liturgy or whether my kids are getting anything worthwhile in Sunday school or whether I’ll ever hear preaching able to penetrate my selfish heart seem possibly bearable, with God’s help.

  5. Michael, I agree with you about Mouw’s piece not being about the glories of denominationalism. But on the whole, I agree with Sacramone’s critique of Mouw’s adducing religious orders as analogues to Protestant denominations (he is hardly the first to have done so, however).

    As for Holy Family, no, things haven’t changed that much – though it is possible to long-time and very involved members to tell newcomers that we are very much on board with what’s going on in The Episcopal Church more generally. Perhaps that’s merely wishful thinking on their part.

    My concerns arise because I am not a congregationalist. Holy Family cannot be viewed in some sort of ecclesiological isolation from our bishop and from our diocese, both of whom are at the forefront in The Episcopal Church of straining ecclesial bonds.

  6. I think your concerns are valid. I’m not a congregationalist either. But right now I feel like I’d settle for a good congregation.

    What I find valuable in Mouw’s article is not that denominations are comparable to religious orders, but that the search for a church could be undertaken in the same spirit of vocational discernment.

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