Individualism and the Church

The objective understanding of church fellowship as pulpit and altar fellowship stands in sharp contrast to the subjectivism that followed in the wake of Schleiermacher. For the latter fellowship arises from below, by the banding together of like-minded religious individuals. This fellowship as religious sociability or camaraderie creates the church. Everything is topsy-turvy here. The individual comes first, the church second. Fellowship as human inter-personal relations defines the nature of the church rather than being derived from the prior nature of the church and understood therefore as common participation in the church’s goods. The results of such thinking, incubated for over a century in sentimentality and secularization, are today everywhere in evidence as a full-blown pathology: the church and her fellowship are expected to abdicate their own spiritual priorities, and to make themselves useful instead as emotional “support-groups” competitively servicing the “felt needs” of autonomous individuals/consumers, who in turn pursue their own inalienable rights to self-determined “self-fulfillment”. In such circumstances, and under the lash of pragmatism, it becomes in principle impossible to distinguish any longer between services and circuses, edification and exploitation, faithfulness and fraudulence, love and lunacy. (Kurt E. Marquart, The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance, Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, vol. IX, pp. 45-46 [emphasis added].)



2 thoughts on “Individualism and the Church

  1. And just for a little balance:

    “We read among other things in the Evangelienharmonie of Chemnitz, Leyser, and Gerhard:

    “‘For even as all citizens of a free city of the kingdom, as many live in the city, have a common right and equal liberty, so far as the republic is concerned, and as they nevertheless for the sake of good order elect senators, and place a mayor over them to whom they deliver the keys and statute of the city, in order that he may exercise them in the common name of all and govern the republic according to them, so do also the citizens of the city of God. They have of course a communion of all saints, and all things are theirs, whether it be Paul or Peter, life or death and present or the past, 1 Cor. 3:21: they possess all things under the one Head, Christ, who by his bloody merit has purchased everything necessary for salvation for his church , and in it in particular for every member, also for the most insignificant one: nevertheless, for the sake of good order they elect certain persons to whom they transfer the administration of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, as there are with us deacons, pastors, doctors, bishops, or superintendents and the like in order that everything with us may according to the teachings of Paul, 1 Cor. 14, be done decently and in order.’ (Harm. ev. c. 85, p.1687)

    “If we had been the first to write this, our opponents would cry murder against us. They would exclaim: There you see how the Missourians introduce their American democratic ideas into the church’s doctrine. However, it is well known that neither Chemnitz, nor Leyser, nor Gerhard were Americans or democrats. Nevertheless, the church is here likened to a free republic, in which all power of state, all offices and titles originally, so far as their root is concerned, rest in all citizens, none of whom can, however, make himself president, or mayor or senator, but whom the citizens through free election clothe with these powers, offices, and titles which originally rest in them. Thus Evangelienharmonie wants to say, it is also with the church.”

    “The Congregation’s Right to Choose Its Pastor”, C.F.W.Walther, trans. Fred Kramer, ed. Wilbert H. Rosin, Concordia Seminary Publications, St. Louis, 1997, pp.57-58; taken from Der Lutheraner, Vol.17, No. 8 (Nov. 27, 1860), pp. 57-60.

  2. Sure, it says we’re all free individuals in the “republic of the church,” but nowhere does it say that you make yourself part of the republic.


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