Thursday, June 28, 2007


Chris Hilliard comments here and here in response to some things I said about dividing Christ's body, the Church.

I think we can all agree that Christ built his Church. He is explicit that he has done so. We can see this in Saint Matthew's gospel,1 when Jesus says, "I will build my Church." There are numerous places in Scripture where the Church is called Christ's Body and that we are members of that Body.2 I also think it is clear that there can only be one Body. Christ does not have two bodies, but one. The Church, which was given Christ's authority, in a unique way to Peter3 and in a more general way to the apostles united with Peter4 , cannot teach two opposing things and call them both truth.

Following this, one thing simply cannot exist which Mr. Hilliard seems to claim does. When division happens over a truth of the faith, both groups cannot claim to be the Church proclaiming the truth. Christ promised that what was bound on earth by Peter and the apostles (and their successors)5 would be bound in heaven. God will not call something true which is false. One group has separated themselves from God's given authority and therefore the truth.

That is why division is ugly, a scandal, and sinful. That is why our Lord prayed for the unity of his followers.6 It is why he says that the result of that unity is, so that the world may know that the Father has sent Jesus and loves them. Disunity causes a fractured witness of Christ which results in the world not knowing that the Father sent Jesus which blinds them to his love. That seems like a pretty strong indictment against division to me.

Here are the Scripture verses (his comments in parenthesis) Mr. Hilliard uses in support of his statement that division is necessary,

If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother (reconciliation and unity, God's ideal and design). 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you (in other words, separate/divide, which is not the ideal but is necessary).
Matt 18:15-17 (HCSB)

And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter (and is unified with us in this, God's design and ideal), take note of that person; don’t associate with him (separate, not the ideal but the God commanded necessity), so that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet don’t treat him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 2 Thess 3:14-15 (HCSB)
If the logical results of the triage system Mr. Hilliard espoused in his blog entry were the above I would have no problem with it. However, the logical result of the triage system is for real divisions to happen. Not the Church excommunicating an individual in the hopes of his repentance. Not an individual shunning somone so that his shame will bring him to repentance. With the triage system, you do not get those results. You get two people or groups who divide to spread their 'truth' to others and whose witness about the other person is, 'I don't think he is right about this, but since no one can really know for sure about this stuff he doesn't need to repent. After all it's a second tier doctrine so he is going to heaven.'

I am going to suspend the fact that I (and the Church) do not believe Mr. Hilliard's community has the apostolic authority to render these judgments for the sake of going through his argument. (I do not mean that as a cheap shot, I am sure there are things he does not believe that the Catholic Church claims and I would not expect him to pretend that he does.) What you get is a scenario like this: 'Chris and I go to the same church. I don't agree with Chris about doctrine X. Since our church agrees with his interpretation, I should listen to the church. However, I believe this is a second tier doctrine even though they think it is a first tier doctrine. Since I disagree with my church on something they believe is necessary for salvation, I should go over to this other church (or start my own for that matter) where the truth (according to me) is taught.'

This is just one of many scenarios that could result from the system. I do not want to belabor the point by giving you seventy more, but the chaos that results from this system would make it all too easy. There are two major flaws with this system. One is the premise that there are things that can not be compromised (2nd tier), yet we can all still be one Body if we disagree about them. Let me put it as simply as I can. I believe X is true. You believe Y is true, which says X is false. This doctrine is so important to us that we divide. How can either one of us claim to proclaim the Gospel if we divide the Body of Christ? There are really only two possibilities. One of us is wrong or this thing we disagree about is trivial. Which is it? If it is the first then I can not in good conscience say that your group is the Church and we are also the Church while you preach a lie as truth. If it is the second, you are my brother in Christ and we should not be divided. Two people proclaiming two opposing 'truths' cannot claim to be one in Body.

The second and more important problem is there is no one with apostolic authority (which is from Christ himself) to make judgments about what is the truth. In fact, except for the fact that the system assumes someone has the authority to decide what teaching goes in what tier, it is designed around the fact that no one has the authority to tell people what the truth is. Its whole purpose is that. It sets out to make it easier for those who do not have an authority to easily separate what is important and what is not. I think I have shown it comes up short. Like I said before, this gets down to authority and that is a different, but related topic. Maybe that topic might be breached in a separate entry, but for now I will leave it at that.

All Scripture quotations taken from the RSV 2nd Catholic Edition, unless otherwise noted.


[1] Matthew 16:18 ^
[2] 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 4:1-4, 15-16; etc. ^
[3] Matthew 16:19 ^
[4] Matthew 18:18 ^
[5] 2 Timothy 2:1-2 ^
[6] John 17:20-23 ^

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