aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Ecclesiastical turf wars

seraphimsigrist published a link today to an article about the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and about the place (or lack thereof) of Protestants and Pentecostals in Russia. Discussion got a little close to a line Bishop Seraphim didn't want to cross, so he froze the threads that were straying into the more-heat-and-less-light area.

Which is fair enough, and I'm not criticizing him. But I still want to explore the original idea, which is that many Russians see the presence of other Christian groups operating in their society as alien sects -- intruders funded by Western money. seraphimsigrist wondered whether Catholics in Brazil might feel the same way.

I suppose they do. That would be a natural way to feel. Who are these weirdos, they might well ask, to come into our country and do all these non-Russian or non-Brazilian or non-Whoever We Are kind of things. Very natural. And when Americans ever so gently criticize such an attitude, some people say that American standards of open expression, democracy, etc., are not in play. Russia (or Brazil, or Indonesia, or wherever) has the right to restrict alien expressions (as they define them).

Well, sauce for the goose, I say.

Remember, there was a time when America was pretty much an officially Protestant country -- at least in large segments of it. The particular brand of Protestantism varied, but there were established Churches in many colonies (and even States after the Constitution was adopted). Many locales saw annual Anti-Popery Days where the Pope would be burned in effigy. Catholicism was seen as an alien ideology and Catholic immigrants faced gross discrimination. It wasn't until JFK faced down Norman Vincent Peale & Co that the closed doors of a Protestant America were completely opened up.

To say that natural resentment or envy toward groups which are defined as alien should be allowed free rein is to say that those who labored mightily to preserve a Protestant America were right all along. I can't believe that any of my Orthodox or Catholic friends would think such a thing.

I've heard and read a lot of folks who think that, well, merely existing and doing your thing is okay, but proselytizing is BAAAD. Even the Dalai Lama said last week that the key to peace is for all religions to not invite people of other backgrounds to change their religious affiliation.

But this is a terrible idea, too. Those of us who know something about the history of missions know what "comity agreements" are. Most (mainline) Protestant denominations negotiated them with each other. For example, the various Protestant groups divvied up the Indian reservations and tribes. Lutherans ministered to Tribe A, Methodists to Tribe B, Presbyterians to Tribe C, and so forth.

This was touted as an aid to efficiency. Reduplication of effort was avoided. But also, it meant that we never had to air our dirty laundry before people who we patronizingly thought "wouldn't understand" why there were so many different Churches in competition with each other. So, we divvied them up on mission field after mission field, reservation by reservation and province by province.

And what we really accomplished was, we cheated those we set out to serve. The Indians of Tribe A asked the Lutherans to provide a church in an outlying area, or a school. The Lutherans didn't have the resources, so they said No. Tribe A then asked the Methodists if they would assist with planting a church or a school. Noooo, we couldn't possibly do that: it would break our comity agreement with the Lutherans and start an ecclesiastical range war. So Tribe A never got the help they wanted and deserved -- they had been assigned to one group -- without their input -- and they had no appeal.

Ecclesiastical competition is ugly, no doubt. But the fact is, there are plenty of lost and needy people. We don't have to fight over the allegiance of the already committed; indeed, we do our Lord's bidding when we go find those who haven't yet heard the invitation and extend it to them.

To my way of thinking, the real evidence that the Holy Spirit is working within one's Church is NOT the number of people who leave some other Church to join yours, but the number of people who had NO Christian affiliation who are brought to faith in Jesus Christ under your influence.

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