Christianity Decline In The UK (2)
Now it is, of course, true to say that the church has a visible human form simply because it is a collection of human beings. “The church is at the same time the object of faith and the object of empiricism. It is at the same time an eschatological and a historical power.” There will always be the visible form and therefore, to some extent, the human institution, of church.
It is not possible to avoid this, because “the church is the concrete form in which men experience the history of Christ.” However, what kind of concrete form the church is in is quite a different matter altogether. The church’s self-identity will be crucial in determining its concrete form, and it is at this point that we must consider a crucial question: Is the church the means of salvation among human beings, or is it the result of salvation working among human beings? Or is it both?
It is my current thinking that the institutional church believes that it is the means of salvation among human beings, while the organic body of Christ – the otherness of church – knows that it is the result of salvation working among human beings. The state Christian church of the Roman Empire lost its reality of otherness – and with it its true self-identity – and believed itself to be the means by which the whole earth would be saved.
As the state church, it saw itself as being in the ideal position to influence the nation and thereafter the world, but failed to realise that, in the act of becoming the state church, it surrendered its vital identity and reality – its otherness. As Moltmann had concluded, the church is not the church for the people, but rather the church of the people; but the state church of the Roman Empire was the church for the people as much as the churches of England and Scotland are today.
For this is surely what happened in England and Scotland with their respective national state churches following the Reformation. Moltmann speaks of what occurs when Christian community and civil community amalgamate and the church becomes the state church, and, in doing so, he describes the English and Scottish situations perfectly. Part of his observation is that “church fellowship becomes not so much fellowship in the church as fellowship with the church.”
“The sacraments of … baptism and the Lord’s Supper recede behind the clerical ministrations of infant baptism, confirmation, the marriage ceremony, and burial.” Moltmann saw very clearly that a state church is always a compromised church. “Establishment Christianity can only be lived by making a compromise with family, professional, social and political laws and duties.” As Newbigin highlighted, “the church has historically entangled proclamation with coercion and political power, this has understandably caused rejection of the gospel”; although, actually, it has really been rejection of the attitudes of those who pushed the gospel in that way.