Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Shape of the Church

At our recent General Assembly, a workshop with Scott Daniels re-introduced me to Nietzsche's analogy about slaying the dragon. It was his way of explaining the post-enlightenment attack on authority in the name of individual freedom. Each of the dragon's scales represent a command from authority and as they're attacked, the dragon is slain.

We live in a world where the dragon is long dead. We've prioritized individual determinism over authoritarian rule. It's all but inevitable (and probably good, in most respects). People are individuals, after all, and our recognition and respect for that reality is important to the flourishing of humanity.

I think Nietzsche's point was that society will keep hacking away at the dragon until it's dead. We'll go after institutions and authority until none remain. Nietzsche saw the problem from a long way off - if we kill authority, from whence does authority come?

That is ultimately our contemporary question.

From a Christian perspective, our tendency has been to reinforce the dragon, saying that killing it is wrong and those who try are evil. This isn't entirely consistent, though, since much of the Christian story is that of championing the underdog and standing with the oppressed - so being anti-anti-authority is not something we can sell out for with integrity.

At the same time, though, we're believers in community - believers that the individual is not the end all and be all of existence. We believe we're all connected in our shared existence and what each of us does affects every other.

There has to be some means of recognizing the individual, but not as ultimate authority. In other words, we've got to stand with the dragonslayer, but also stick around after the beast is dead to work together to pick up the scales that make sense for community. We are not our own; we're part of something bigger. We shouldn't be denied our independence, but we must also not be content with our independence and in doing so, deny our interdependence.

We must fight tooth and nail for individual rights and freedom, but we must then call these free individuals to sacrifice some measure of that hard-won individualism for the sake of community. We can say, "authority resides in free individuals," but existence is bigger than that. The dragon is doomed, if its not already dead, stop guarding the body and help us pick up the pieces. Authority comes in relationship - the very relationships we all need to be truly human. We have to be together, to work together - not to tell each other what to do, but to help each other do what we exist to do.

The dragon might be a terrible idea, but not every scale is worthless. Authority must take on a different shape, especially as it pertains to the Church. The age of institutionalism is over; authority works in new and different ways. Although, just maybe, we've had those ideas all along. Whatever the new shape of the Church, it must not be a dragon.

Perhaps we should try a slaughtered lamb?

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