The Holy Infallible Church
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.
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