I was recently reading a piece by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, on history’s habit of fluctuating between extremes of the “Left” and the “Right”, between Liberalism and Conservatism. Rohr made the interesting observation that, “It is interesting that these two different powers took the words “Right” and “Left” from the Estates-General in France”. What he said next really caught my attention, “On the right sat the nobility and the clergy (what were the clergy doing over there?) and on the left sat the peasants and 90 percent of the population”.
It struck me that the image of the clergy sitting with the nobility is a good working definition of “Christendom”. It applies to Protestants as well as to Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox starting in 313 AD, when Roman Emperor Constantine I ended the persecution of Christians and made Christianity the preferred religion of the Empire. We just quietly celebrated the 1,700 year anniversary of that dubious milestone (The Edict of Milan) last week on June 26.
The “institutional Church” is not preaching the fact that although the “Clergy” has been sleeping with enemy, the “Nobility”, for a solid 1,700 years, both Jesus and Paul have been sitting on the opposite side of the isle with “the peasants and 90 percent of the population” for that entire period.
I have often said that the demise of “Christendom” in the late 20th century is a great opportunity for the “Church” (as the Ekklesia). But it is a short-term disaster for the “institutional Church”. The “institutional Church” is going to have to “morph” itself (cf. Rom. 12:2) or slowly fade into irrelevance. I believe that the “institutional Church” should do corporately what it continually calls for us to do individually: confess and repent. Were that to happen, a whole lot of “Tradition” would instantly disappear, “Poof”! But, the necessary transformation would be faster and, in the long run, less painful.
Unfortunately, I think that the “institutional Church” is far too proud and far too arrogant to admit that it has been this wrong for this long. I anticipate that it will continue to fume and bluster in denial of its own sin and carnality. At least for now.
Like any worldly institution, the “institutional Church” will ultimately do whatever it has to do in order to survive, even if it means violating its own core values; like it did 1,700 years ago.