One of the necessary problems in church life is that of identifying and dealing with members who are actually enemies of the Church.
Fr. Ernesto recently posted on his OrthoCuban site an insightful analysis of this problem. You may access his site from my blogroll. He used as his example the advent and history of the Anabaptists within the larger Church. He could just as easily have chosen any number of other denominations.
Fr. Orthohippo and Fr. Orthoduck, aka Fr. Ernesto, have reciprocal permission to reprint articles.
A couple of days ago, I posted a two day series on what the New Testament actually says about the future Church. And, I pointed out that the picture of the Church that is given by Our Lord Jesus Christ, Saint Paul, and Saint John is not what we expect. Rather, Jesus gave the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares to warn us not only that there would be evil people sown into the Church by our enemy to lower the harvest of souls, but even worse that the people that would be in the Church would not be easily discernible from the evil people. Saint Paul said that after his leaving for Jerusalem that the Ephesian Church would be attacked by wolves from even among the leadership. And Saint John predicted that there would be many anti-Christs, and that they would split the Church, leading people out and showing that they were not of the Church because they left the Church.
I also commented that the old Anabaptist theology of the Church did not allow them to see that reality and instead has led to worse woes for the Church. What did I mean?
During the time of the Reformation, the Anabaptists legitimately and laudably were disgusted with the reality of the lack of perfection, not only among the people but also among the clergy. The prophecies of the first paragraph had come true. There was no doubt that the Church was a mixed group of people and that it was difficult to tell the saints from the sinners. It was clear that there were wolves among the leadership. The Church had been split into two major pieces for 500 years at the time of the Reformation, with several minor pieces also present. Everything that Our Lord Jesus, Saint Paul, and Saint John had predicted was already true. Laudably the Anabaptists were concerned with the purity of the Church. I say laudably because as early as the third century, the Desert Fathers had expressed the same exact concern.
In fact, had the Anabaptists behaved like the Desert Fathers and like the monastics, and withdrawn in order to present a more perfect society, dedicated to growing in holiness, to prayer, to service, to wisdom, etc., they would have perhaps been a strong and powerful witness calling the Church back to the command, “Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” After all, the early Anabaptists did withdraw into communities that were dedicated to living out a solid Christian life. But, there was a flaw in their thinking with respect to the Church. Actually, there were several serious flaws, but I am only dealing with the issue of the wicked Church at this time. That flaw was that they changed the theology of the Church from the mixed body, the militant army at war, that is present in both Scripture and the Early Church Fathers, to that of a called out society conformed only by those who truly believed. Anyone who did not fit that definition was not truly part of the Church and therefore should not be physically present in the building of the Church.
This was quite a change from the view of the Early Church Fathers, who did uphold some rather strict standards, but who insisted that penitents and sinners belonged within the Church, even if their place was in the rear, listening in, or in the entrance hall with other penitents. The Church knew that there were saints that were not clearly identifiable as saints, in fact they might really be part of the enemy’s camp. But, the attitude was to try to deal with the Church as physicians who would bring healing to damaged souls. Again, there was no doubt that the Church would apply discipline. But, what they did not do was to try to form a called-out separated group of believers. They knew that if they did that, some of the wheat would be pulled out, in contradiction to the orders given in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.
Moreover, separatist theology led to an inevitable problem. You see, the enemy is quite good at planting weeds among the wheat. And young wheat is hard to tell from weeds. Eventually, and regularly, people who buy into the Anabaptist theology will notice, within a couple of generations of the founding of a denomination, that they have become “cold,” that they have deserted the truth and power given to them by the founder of a couple of generations before. And so, following Anabaptist theology, this means that they must separate out in order to return to being a “hot” group filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Several thousand denominations later, people who believe in Anabaptist theology have yet to find such a long-term “hot” church.
Instead in order to try to answer the reality of a church that regularly ends up with weeds in the field, they have developed a mystical idea of the Church that allows for it to be this nebulous shifting thing that can never quite be pinned down. You have to live in the moment, and receive what the Holy Spirit is giving. That is, the Anabaptist theology of the Church quickly degenerated into a touchy-feely thing that quite easily led towards the Pentecostal and then the Charismatic movements. The Church is where the Holy Spirit is at that moment in time, and when it gets cold, you leave to follow the beckoning heat of the Holy Spirit.
In effect, Anabaptist theology has made the Church an indefinable and undefinable thing which we will only be sure we are part of after we are dead.