Lesson 3: The Established Church – The Balanced Life

When Constantine accepted Christianity in the 300s, the counterculture community became one of many institutions performing their functions for the common good. This Established Church took the role of providing religion for conventional society. She has been part of the establishment in some form from that time.

The Established Church serves sometimes as the conscience of society but also sometimes as the advocate. She brings order in numerous ways, anything from defining obligation to organizing the year according to the Christian story. Inevitably this means the priestly becomes more important than the prophetic, religious practice is standardized, and care formalized.

Life becomes a journey. Repentance is not so much dying to a former way of living as a constant renewal and sanctification. In order to compensate for human frailty, confession, penance, and absolution are an essential part of the journey. The Way is the pathway to a more loving life that will be found ultimately only in the next life. Waiting for Jesus’ return to rule becomes somewhat irrelevant.

Some argue the Established Church loses the urgency and immediacy of the early Countercultural Church. Bob reminded us it also offers some advantages enabling the Church to address world needs, such as hunger, war, and economic inequality. Strangely enough, the monks who originally withdrew to keep the Radical Lifestyle eventually developed the one which has prevailed ever since. This Balanced Lifestyle is exemplified by the Benedictine Rule. Let me list some of its features.

1. God’s will is done by conforming to the patterns God built into creation.

2. The balanced life, giving appropriate time to worship, work, study, eating, and rest, is the measure for judging quality of life. Being too busy to gather for meals, spending too much time at work, or neglecting any area is a major failure.

3. Moderation in all things is the standard. For instance, economic life provides for the basic material needs, not luxury.

4. Discipline is the means for controlling human nature. Classically this has been especially applied to sexuality.

5. Obedience is the primary virtue. The Christian overcomes self interest by knowing her place and role. Doing things the right way begins with respecting authority. Hierarchy provides law and order as well as guidance.

6 Stability is basic, necessary for staying close to ones responsibility for family and community. Classically that has meant knowing and remaining in your spatial and social place. It still includes being faithful in your relationships, which are clearly defined.

7. This lifestyle restricts violence and warfare. Just War Theory places pacifism. Good examples are The Peace of God in 989 which excommunicated anyone attacking clergy, monks, pilgrims, women, or children and the Truce of God in 1017 which forced warriors to refrain from fighting Saturday through Monday, in Lent and Advent, and on holy days.

This is a very different lifestyle. It would seem to affirm Juan and Bob’s assertion that there is no “one and only”, authentic Christian one. Its call to moderation, discipline, stability, and realism would certainly bring order to the chaos of modern life.

Of course, not everyone agrees. The Peace Churches often caricature it as the “The Constantinian Church”, arguing substituting just war theory for pacifism perverts true Christianity. Also, when it becomes simply an institution run by paternalistic clergy, it can be self-serving. A number of our readers have suffered from, and at least two have actually been purged by the abuses of the hierarchy.

So what does having two optional lifestyles mean for us? Is the Radical the more authentic? Certainly every reformation tries to recapture it. Marlin suggests it at least serves as a standard forcing him constantly to correct and check his actions. Rebecca made a wonderful statement of how it gives her courage in her call to unconditional love.

Can the Balanced Lifestyle really represent Christ? Is the Establishment Church a perversion, a compromise, or maybe just a realistic compensation for human frailty?

Next week I’ll offer the fourth and final classic lifestyle. My goal for finding a modern lifestyle by the end of the summer has become more difficult. We might have to settle for options. I heard Juan offering a good standard when he claimed there might be options, but they all should involve investment in lives of others in terms of love and forgiveness.

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