July 6, 2009

The Church is Not Leviathan

God crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him to the people of the desert for food... -- Psalm 74

The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, in his great work Leviathan, posited that the good of the corporate political body transcended the rights of the individual members as a way of ensuring the greatest well-being for the whole. This idea received more precise formulation in the work of philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham, and there were echoes of it in early communism as well.

We find an earlier instance of it in the language of Caiaphas: it is expedient that one should die for the many. And, of course, that makes moral sense so long as the one who dies is offering him or herself freely and without constraint, in utter freedom of choice to be an atoning sacrifice. But it is a horror and a crime when the many choose, compel, and constrain one of their number to suffer on their behalf, a scapegoat and victim without choice or freedom.

My point in this is to stress that the church as a body ought never tread the path of Caiaphas, speaking in terms of acceptable losses and victims and scapegoats for the greater good -- suggesting that the few should suffer for the sake of the many. In doing so the Church becomes false to its own ends, as well as to its beginning.

For the church exists for the benefit of each an all of its members, not for the many of its members against the few. Moreover, the church was made for humanity, not humanity for the church; it is not an engine fueled with human flesh, to be kept running at any and all costs, blind to its purpose as it consumes the very substance of which it consists, like Ouroboros eating its tail, or a horrific autoimmune disease.

But some will say, The church is the Body of Christ. And so it is. And the Body of Christ was not ordained to be lifted up, carried about, or adored, but to be put to the use for which it is intended: salvation. The church is not an end in itself, but a means to a greater end, a transcendent end. It is not an institution to be maintained at all costs, at the loss of its true self. It is the church as a whole that gives itself for the life of the world, if it is to be true to the one in whose name and by whose grace it exists.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

I always thought that the Church existed for the benefit of those who were not yet members.

plsdeacon said...

One of the problems I have with political activists (on all sides) is that they tend to practice what C. S. Lewis called "Christianity and..."
"Christianity and radical inclusivness."
"Christianity and the pro-choice movement."
"Christianity and the pro-life movement."
"Christianity and Social Justice."
"Christianity and Capitalism."
"Christianity and Socialism."
"Christianity and fill in the blank."
This is a problem because the Christian faith becomes a means to another goal. People become active in the Church because it makes such good arguments for their positions.

To goal is not "radical inclusion" nor "Social Justice" or anything else but union with God through Jesus Christ. Anything else is idolatry.

Phil Snyder

Erika Baker said...

It now seems to be going beyond demanding or imposing sacrifice on other people. The dehumanising machine is powering up. Apologies for the cross posting, but I'm still so shocked that I'm quoting this in a lot of places.

Ruth Gledhill wrote on her blog today that Bishop Greg said at the opening of FCA in England that 'We must remember we are not fighting flesh and blood. This is about principalities and powers.'

Ruth further writes about Bishop Broadhurst at the same event: "Broadhurst said he did not believe in the devil when he was first ordained. 'I now believe Satan is alive and well and he resides at Church House.'

It's sometimes not easy to remember what the Body of Christ is all about.

R said...

It is the church as a whole that gives itself for the life of the world, if it is to be true to the one in whose name and by whose grace it exists.

Channeling William Temple!

Thanks for this beautiful piece. Now I have to find you in the great leviathan that is the convention center. . .

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dan, as Richard points out, I did have William Temple in mind!

Phil, while I agree that the church has a single mission -- union with each other and God in Christ -- it has multiple ministries, and I think that is where all of the various "ands" come in. We work through those issues on our way to the eschatological end in Christ. I think, for instance, that Jesus (in the tradition of the prophets) was very much concerned with those "on the way" issues of healing, feeding, and meeting the temporal concerns of the world even as he leads and guides towards the eternal.

Erika, I am simply appalled by the language of FCA, from Nazir Ali on through the rest. I think we do have two churches coexisting in the same body. I pray for their timely conversion.

Thanks Richard -- I'm here, and registered, and enjoying this last more or less free day to catch up on some blog-thoughts!

plsdeacon said...


I agree that we should be involved in different ministries. My particular calling is prison ministry (a "social justice" issue if there ever was one). But too many people mistake the ministry for the goal. The ministry is the means, God is the goal and not the other way around.

Ministry is, itself, a gift from God. We are called by God to be active participants in His reconciliation of the world and His recreation (resurrection) of all creation. This work is a gift to us because it helps us to see and know the triune God.

Mistaking one of the means to God for the goal and making God the means to acheive that goal is idolatry and it is something we all have to be aware of in our own lives.

Phil Snyder
Phil Snyder

Brad Evans said...

Actually, even if you wanted to die for me, I would feel morally obligated to try as hard as possible to prevent you from taking my place.
The idea of vicarious atonement or
'innocent victim' or 'self-emptying love' is disgusting to me.

June Butler said...

In the Hebrew Testament, when the leader or king called for a fast, everyone participated, from the highest to the most lowly. How is it just for leaders in a Christian church to call on members to make sacrifices in which the leaders themselves are not willing to participate?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Phil. It is good to find those times when we agree. The confusion or conflation of mission and ministry is one of my pet peeves, and, I think, harmful to the church and the world. In fact, most times people say mission these days they are really talking about ministry of one sort or another.

Brad, there are some world cultures in which the dislike of any notion of doing good for others at cost to oneself is seen as a serious disorder. One doesn't often hear it spoken of with such language as yours, so it is good to be reminded that not everyone would appreciate being rescued at someone else's cost -- but doesn't that effectively put one in the position of "saving" someone else by not allowing them to save one? If you and one other person were in such a situation, you say you wouldn't want them to save you -- but would you want to save them? This seems to be a philosophical dilemma or paradox...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mimi, it isn't. When you get to Anaheim remind me to tell you the story of the abbot who required his monks to live on austere diet but was discovered feasting after hours himself... It's a Zen tale, and has a good ending.

Christopher said...

I would remind that the standing in for, in place of us, i.e., vicariously and dying has been done once-for-all in Jesus Christ. Only one perfectly God can stand in for God. Only one perfectly human can stand in for us. There is One, Jesus, who has done this, and no one else is required or can or could do so. That self-offering of Oneself, that Love unto death now is alive and reigns. We live out of Him, not instead of Him.

And sometimes living out of Him requires us stand up to those who would succumb to resacrificial notions even if it means our untimely dying into God Who once offered has overcome

Brother David said...

I believe that Phil's list has one glaring error in it. The first one. It is not Christianity and radical inclusiveness. Radical inclusion is at the heart of Christianity and cannot be made separate from Christianity.

Erika Baker said...

Abbots requiring their monks to live on an austere diet but feasting themselves was accepted practice. In Glastonbury Abbey there was a special kitchen simply for the abbot and those visitors he entertained - legitimately so because hospitality was hugely important. The monks, on the other hand, were allowed 2 weeks in the infirmary every year where they were fed a high energy diet to make up for some of the deprivation they experienced during most of the year.

Whenever we cook "monks' lunches" for visitors to the Abbey during Mendip Food and Drink week we tend to use recipes from the Abbot's kitchen.

Tim said...

Your relationship of individual, church and God brings to mind a soundbite quotelet I found last year: "It is not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of Mission who has a Church in the world".

Assuming that ministry leads to mission leads to salvation... that resonates.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Christopher. Though I do think that many Christians are nourished and sustained by the notion of "participation in the sacrifice of Christ."

Dahveed -- yes, "for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" and "nothing shall be lost of all that the Father has given me"...

Erika, too true. My story has a different twist, though. Perhaps when I get a moment I'll post it.

Tim, there is a kind of holographic relationship, I think, and this points to it.

In haste, as GC is cooking along...

Christopher said...

True. My self among them. I don't see how that is incompatible with what I wrote, if as with Ramsey, we understand sacrifice not primarily as death, but as offering of oneself, that is, life.

WSJM said...

Tobias, I do hope you or someone gives a copy of your very excellent piece to +Rowan.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Christopher, I wasn't entirely clear on your meaning in that regard, hence my clarification. Thank you again for the reminder, especially about standing up to those who "victimize" others (that is, transform them into victims).

William, that is in my plan, and numbers of folks on the scene here have encouraged it.

Doug Worgul said...

Elegant like a razor. Thank you and amen.

doug worgul

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

David writes, "Radical inclusion is at the heart of Christianity and cannot be made separate from Christianity."

When he called the scribes and the Pharisees "children of hell," did Jesus misunderstand his own gospel? That kind of language doesn't sound very "inclusive" to me.

plsdeacon said...


You have to realize that Jesus didn't really say that. That was put on the lips of Jesus by the author (or a later redactor) of the Gospel in question. It was probably influenced by Paul's exclusionary work - see I Cor 5 and 6 for examples of Paul's lack of inclusion. We all know that Jesus would never have said anything like that. (/sarcasm)

I tried to make the same point earlier, but for some reason, my comment went into the bit bucket.

Jesus is radically inclusive of all who turn to him. Likewise, he is radically exclusive of those who turn from Jesus and lean on their own strength - of those who try to justify themselves rather than be justified by God.

There is no sin, be it ever so vile, that God will not forgive if we but repent. Likewise, there is no sin, be it ever so venial, that God won't let us keep if we insist on it instead of God. Of course keeping the sin means not keeping God.

Radical Inclusion is not the Gospel. It may be a feature of it, but it is not the whole of it. There is that whole being cast into the outer darkness stuff and the "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for devil and his angels...." (Matt 25:41b)

Phil Snyder

MarkBrunson said...

As I've said elsewhere, "inclusive" has limits, as well, which does not lessen its goodness. Those limits are set by those who will use it to harm and those who brazenly exclude, as did the Scribes and Pharisees. To exclude is to be in Hell, in which only self is reflected. They travelled to make disciples who were merely little eidolons of themselves, as do the Reasserters and Fundamentalists of our day. They mistook (and mistake) themselves for God, and that is to be a disciple of Hell.

"Inclusive" doesn't mean that we don't use sometimes-harsh language to waken others to their own self-deceit and wilfull self-exclusion.

plsdeacon said...


There is a difference between "including" and "blessing." I do not want to exclude anyone from being a member of the Church or from participating in the Church's ministry or mission. However, there are behaviors that the Church cannot bless. To say that because the Church will not bless my behavior, it is excluding me it to not understand the problem of sin. Sin is, itself, exclusion. Whether that sin is pride (saying that you know better than 2000 years of Church tradition and the rest of the Church catholic) or gluttony (my personal besetting sin) or envy (which our society has turned into the "virtue" of "fairness) or any other sin you and I may have in our lives.

Phil Snyder

MarkBrunson said...

Errant sophistry, Phil.

Read what I wrote again. More importantly, actually read, mark, and inwardly digest what Jesus said.

You're simply wrong. Stop rationalizing your wrongness and move on.

plsdeacon said...


If I am wrong, I have Holy Scripture, approximately 3000 years of moral teaching, and the vast majority of the Church on my side. You, however, have no scripture, no tradition, and only a small section of the universal Church.

I urge you to stop your willful pride on this issue and humbly accept what the Church has always taught regarding homoerotic behavior. I urge you to recall you baptismal covenant and continue in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship. The path you are on is outside the Apostles' teaching and leading you away from their fellowship.

Phil Snyder

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

You have successfully pulled this discussion completely off track, and once again chanted your Johnny One Note theme. I would ask that if you are really interested in the subject you acquaint yourself with a more sophisticated understanding than the demonstrably false incantation about the tradition, the teaching of the church, and the Scripture. As I've said before, simply stating a falsehood over and over again doesn't make it true. I did not, by the way, reject any earlier comment by you, so it must have gone into the ether. But I am not welcoming any more comments such as the previous one, especially when they are off the topic -- which is about ecclesiology, not sexuality. I welcome your comments, but I wish to keep the discussion at a level of rational discourse. FWIW, Mark's comment was similarly a mere contradiction. The problem is that arguing in slogans is of little help. Unfortunately, it seems you have a few very fixed ideas or theses that you think it sufficient merely to state.
So, I will post no more comments in this post concerning sexuality. If anyone wants to get back to the theme of the post, fine.

Erika Baker said...

I have been thinking about this post for a few days now and I wonder whether there isn't an inherent tension between the belief that discernment of something new is always for the whole church to arrive at, and the statement that the church should not speak in terms of victims and scapegoats for the greater good.

Wherever you have a few who discern something new, they will at some point have to ask for continued victimhood of those they support, until the majority has caught up.
And if some of those victims no longer agree to be victimised, but the discernment process hasn't moved on sufficiently for the whole church to agree, then there is really only the option to impose victimhood or to court unilateral decisions against ones belief of what Church is.

Is it possible to solve this tension?

MarkBrunson said...

If Tobias feels that my post should be rejected, I will happily tell you where you are wrong by e-mail - petrus332000@hotmail.com.

If you address me, I will hold you accountable, though, for all that your teaching has wrought, directly and without flinching.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mark, I did find your previous comment to be off the topic and really addressed to Phil, and I hope he takes the opportunity you offer to continue the discussion in another venue. I think it is important for people to address each other in such a context. I know how difficult can be as people feel they are talking past each other. Finding some common ground to start with, if possible, is a good way to proceed.

I think tension is inherent in any system worthy of the name. This is part of the point of Ubuntu, and the dynamism of life. Part of the problem with the institutionalism I waS trying to describe in the original post, is that the institution tends to lose its liveliness even as it preserves its structure, when it places its being ahead of its reason to be.

In haste, let me add that my meeting with the Archbishop went very well, and it was a good opportunity to understand him better, and I hope vice versa.

Also it has been a joy to meet some of the fellow bloggers face to face...

Erika Baker said...

thank you.
I agree with your point that the institution must not place its own existence above everything else.

But I wonder whether that is what is truly happening. In most theological debates people on both sides genuinely believe they are representing the truth of their faith as they understand it, and they are genuinely worried that the other side's views are against what God would want from us.
When we say we want to preserve "the church", we may be saying nothing more than that we would like to preserve our understanding of a true living faith.
And those who try to move us forward and who want "the church" to move forward, really wish everyone's understanding of faith to develop and to encompass a new truth.

I wonder how many there are who truly place the institution above everything else?

I hope you'll be able to tell us more about your perception of the Archbishop and the deeper understanding of this position you have come to.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Just grabbing a moment between meetings, (and a nap!) ---
I didn't have any particular situation in mind, and what I'm saying here could apply to secular institutions as well as churches. But let me give you an example: I once heard a seminary administrator complain that it costs so much to run the seminary per seminarian that it is a loosing proposition. And, "if only we didn't have any students we'd be fine." And I think she was serious. The problem is that it looses sight of what the seminary is for; the maintenance of the institution becomes detached from its reason to exist, its purpose and function, and maintenance sets in as the primary mission.
Another analogy I heard is that the owners of the railroad system in the US saw themselves in the "railroad" business rather than the "transportation" business, and so were caught off-guard when new technologies emerged. ONe might say the same thing is happening with newspapers -- the ones who see their mission as printing are failing, the ones who see the bigger picture as being about communication are adapting.

plsdeacon said...

This brings up an interesting question. What is the Church? Two paradigms I keep hearing for the Church are "Santuary for Saints" and "Hospital for Sinners." Being a good Anglican, my answer is "yes!" The Church is a place where we come to worship God and to be fed by His Word and Sacraments. In Church, we are prepared for the fight against sin and death in our daily lives. Church is also a hospital for sinners. It is a place where we come to be "saved" or "salved" (they have the same root word) by Jesus - to have our wrongs put right and to be made whole.

In regard to moving "on" (I would rather not call it moving "forward" as the Church has not yet determined a direction for this new change.) we have a dilema. A large part of discernment is the councils of the Church. As an IT professional, I know how important (critical!) customer buy-in is. We do not move on to the next stage in a project until we get approval from the customer. We may prepare for the next stage and we certainly plan for the next project. But until the customer says "go!" we don't go. Often in preparing for the next phase (say coding or testing) when we haven't gotten buy-in from the customer, we go in the wrong direction.

When reacting to what we consider an injustice, there are two thruths that we need to keep in tension and to understand. The first is that men and women don't like to have their injustices shown to them and will rebel in favor of injustice. The second is that God speaks through the Church. It is up to us to discern whether the voice of our brothers and sisters around the world and within the United States is the first or the second.

When changing the moral teaching of the Church (or trying to come to a new understanding of that moral teaching), I would say that we need to be very cautious. We move away from our brothers and sisters at our peril.

Phil Snyder

MarkBrunson said...

Thank you, Tobias.

I respect you and your writing and felt the option of inviting personal discussion would be the best way to handle the possible deviation.

He has not, of course, deigned to converse in a way that would require anything other than mindless declamation.

Fr. Gawain said...


I'm please that you are rereading Hobbes. I am right now reading a book who discusses Hobbes' theology. A much more interesting conversation partner than Hooker, in my view.