movement, movement

The Holy Infallible Church

Posted in books, christianity, life, poverty, quotes, religion by amoslanka on November 20, 2008

A rather lengthy, but worthwhile passage from Leo Tolstoy‘s The Kindgdom Of God Is Within You in his third chapter, entitled “Christianity Misunderstood By Believers“:

In the times of Constantine the whole interpretation of the doctrine had been already reduced to a RÉSUMÉ–supported by the temporal authority– of the disputes that had taken place in the Council–to a creed which reckoned off–I believe in so and so, and so and so, and so and so to the end–to one holy, Apostolic Church, which means the infallibility of those persons who call themselves the Church. So that it all amounts to a man no longer believing in God nor Christ, as they are revealed to him, but believing in what the Church orders him to believe in.

But the Church is holy; the Church was founded by Christ. God could not leave men to interpret his teaching at random–therefore he founded the Church. All those statements are so utterly untrue and unfounded that one is ashamed to refute them. Nowhere nor in anything, except in the assertion of the Church, can we find that God or Christ founded anything like what Churchmen understand by the Church. In the Gospels there is a warning against the Church, as it is an external authority, a warning most clear and obvious in the passage where it is said that Christ’s followers should “call no man master.” But nowhere is anything said of the foundation of what Churchmen call the Church.

The word church is used twice in the Gospels–once in the sense of an assembly of men to decide a dispute, the other time in connection with the obscure utterance about a stone–Peter, and the gates of hell. From these two passages in which the word church is used, in the signification merely of an assembly, has been deduced all that we now understand by the Church.

But Christ could not have founded the Church, that is, what we now understand by that word. For nothing like the idea of the Church as we know it now, with its sacraments, miracles, and above all its claim to infallibility, is to be found either in Christ’s words or in the ideas of the men of that time.
The fact that men called what was formed afterward by the same word as Christ used for something totally different, does not give them the right to assert that Christ founded the one, true Church.

Read more of this passage here.

I’m anxious to an open discussion on this topic. I fully expect Tolstoy’s words to be offensive to some (even those without directly vested interest in the structure or hierarchy of the Church, but rather, those who find its cultural contribution to be unreplaceable), as they would have been to me at some point in my past. I also fully expect his words to be taken as a direct assault on Christianity itself, though I hope in our discussion we can further highlight the differences between true Christian doctrine and what our culture has done with it. Afterall, that is the purpose of Tolstoy’s words.

There are those of us who in some way, whether foolish or wise, are attempting to bypass the cultural prism through which we see Christ. For some, that prism is understood as the Church, and for fewer, that prism is understood as such while its effects on our perceptions are attempted to be neutralized. I cannot and should not say that I will never return to Church life or some gathering of what we commonly call church, for if I see the Church as flawed, then I must see it as a part of this world, deserving of love, even if it deceives itself of its own righteousness.

A friend of mine who regularly still attends the most recent church I attended has noted on multiple occasions to me that she cannot stop attending despite her disappointment in both the message and self-righteous focus of the church in particular. Her reason is her love for the people, who are in fact people, deserving of the Love that we are directed to extend. It is just that perhaps these members (and I will not dis-include myself in many regards) that accurately fit the descriptor that is Tolstoy’s chapter title, “Christianity Misunderstood By Believers”. In all my rhetoric I cannot help but be humbled by the fact that we are all fallen and lost, and the choice to love is the hardest and most vital step away from this state.

What’s more, it was just this week that I conversed with a friend who finds himself employed in what we, who are disgusted by consumerism and globalism, consider the depths of hell, Starbucks. Ok, perhaps it serves best as an emblem of said -isms, not taking on as they say, vexillum solus, or the solo banner. The common view is its representation of affluent suburban life but what we rarely imagine is the true nature of poverty. If poverty is defined not by money, but by spiritual and emotional state, those in suburban American affluence would not be disincluded, regardless of their own awareness of their state of poverty. I think Christ defined The Least also as those who are trampled by society, which would leave out those I have just mentioned, but it is also not as though we are to love those in only one level of whatever hierarchy of life “the least” refers to.

This latté-serving friend of mine finds himself just needing the money and being unable to otherwise, for the time being, escape the neighborhood his parents live in, which is mentioned as one of the most wealthy in the nation. As a cynic I find it easy to talk of such places the way one Paris Hilton would talk of a Motel6, but I am put in my place by the voice inside me that has found at least a hint of what honest objective love looks like. I am once again humbled by the lives and love of my friends, in this case, one who chooses daily to connect with those through the humble realization that we are all fallen and lost, all deserving of love, even the affluent.

There are those of us who, especially through Paul’s teaching, are fully in love with the theological implications and poetic nature of the marriage of Christ to the church. Notice the lowercase ‘c’, there, not the capital. As a body of believers (who according to Tolstoy, misunderstand our own religion) we are defined as the church not by the system of human politics and hierarchy that is falsely built in Christ’s name but by, at its simplest level, believing in the name and sharing this commonality with our brothers and sisters.


For related reading:

  • On Poverty and Prosperity
  • Church Is Not God
  • Full Text of Tolstoy’s The Kingdom Of God Is Within You
  • ***


    8 Responses

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    1. rachell said, on November 21, 2008 at 2:48 pm

      phew. what a post!
      i blog-hopped my way to you…hope you don’t mind.

      finding Compassion for those who seem to have very little compassion for anyone else is one of the hardest lessons that face us. thank you for your honesty. :)

      also liked your thoughts on “poverty” and what it means to be truly poor. i know people who have very little- and i would say that they are “richer” than most.

      the issue of the church, as it is, still remains.

      i have no answers for that one. Tolstoy’s got it figured pretty well, in my opinion. my personal reaction to the church has been to walk away from it and now and then, get as close as i can- while still holding onto Compassion. it’s hard.

      thanks for your words and thoughts. you have a beautiful heart.

    2. jeremy phillips said, on November 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm

      After reading the article, I am still unclear about what Tolstoy is saying exactly.
      Which, most likely, means I need it to read it a couple more times. Nevertheless, I am interested meeting up with you, when you are in the area during Thanksgiving.

      Shoot me a message back or something and maybe we can figure something out.

    3. amoslanka said, on November 24, 2008 at 11:32 am

      @rachell —

      thanks very much for blog-hopping over. no blogger would ever take offense at that :)

      No doubt Tolstoy has a thorough understanding of what he believed, but we also shouldn’t pass over the fact that he wrote over 100 years ago and that the landscape has no doubt changed since then. Its hard to post direct quotes like i have here without claiming complete agreement with the writer, but that isn’t necessarily my purpose. My purpose, more plainly stated, is to include the points of well thought out writers on the issues that we deal with. No doubt, for those with a heart for compassion and a sense of the natures of human institutions, this may be one of the most defining, and the timeless wisdom of others is undoubtedly an aid.

    4. More On The Church « movement, movement said, on November 30, 2008 at 3:42 am

      […] in christianity, conversation, quotes, religion by amoslanka on November 30th, 2008  I feel my last article about the Church, which began with a lengthy (and dense) quote from Tolstoy, ended on a bad note. Or perhaps not […]

    5. tarnna said, on December 1, 2008 at 2:46 pm

      So, I read this post awhile ago but I wanted to come back to it and say how much I appreciated it. Dan and I have been feeling this way for awhile (church as an institution/system), but it’s nice to read someone who can articulate it much better than I can. :D

      Oh, and I was curious, a previous post I read you call culture “mother” culture, is there a specific reason why you chose mother?

    6. amoslanka said, on December 2, 2008 at 1:26 am

      Thanks very much, Tarnna. Concerning the “mother culture”, its actually for me a borrowed term. It comes from a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn which I would highly recommend to anyone interested. (I do not recall if Quinn borrowed the term from anyone either though)

      I believe the imagery being suggested by the metaphor is about the similarity between maternal comfort and the subtlety with which our culture suggests we act a certain way. I’ll never be able to describe the metaphor the way that Quinn does beyond a rather technical description saying that our socialization takes on a very maternal form if you look at it from a certain perspective. The metaphor made unparallelled sense to me when I read his book and its one of those illustrations that will likely stay with me forever in understanding how culture moves and works. Hopefully my basic use and explanation isn’t too un-detailed for the general idea to be understandable by you and my other readers :)

    7. More Like Pharisees « movement, movement said, on December 18, 2008 at 7:26 pm

      […] about the Church as an institution (1, […]

    8. […] but like my post about rouge sheep, I got the feeling that he was writing what has been in some of Amos’ posts and various conversations so I am no longer looking at Bell as a leader, but as a fellow […]

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