Church As The Great Community
My wife and I recently subscribed to magazine copies of First Things. First Things remains one of the few things I read regularly, I decided I would like a physical copy in my house to encourage more reading and blogging interaction. So here I am starting timidly with R.R. Reno's article entitled "Against Human Rights."
The opening section deals with Reno's apprehension about the current obsession with human rights (which is deserving it's own interaction). This profound emphasis on rights has led to increased state protection. On the right you have Trump promising protection of jobs and other right-oriented things. On the left you have Sanders promising protection of health car and other left-oriented things. Against this protection of "human rights," the political landscape of America has never felt more divided. But how divided are we? And what is the root cause? Reno attempts to answer that with a subsequent section dealing with Yuval Levin's The Fractures Republic.
He opens this section on hyper-individualism with the sentence "We suffer from political nostalgia, not political polarization" (5). By this, he means that the great divide we see across the political landscape is less about progressive polarization of ideologies and more about large disagreements concerning about nostalgic preference — our memories and not our enemies have drifted further apart. With that premise, the section ends with Reno writing that "We need to get our minds around the singular political reality of our time: The postwar era is over" (7). This political nostalgia has collaborated with the hyper-individualism that has overcome America — we are all seeking individualistic protection. In between these sentences, Reno leans on Levin to argue that the current political nostalgia of the left and the right is a figment of post-war imagination and incapable of being recaptured — resulting in the strong "grassroots" movements of Trump and Sanders.
All of this is particularly interesting to me as a young individual not experienced with the post-war "greatness" of America. All I have experienced is the post-Republican glow of Reagan. I will leave the valuable insights and criticisms of all political sides to the reader. Instead, I would like to focus on the conclusion of Reno's article dealing with community as the answer to hyper-individualism. His consensus is that the post-war unity of the United States is incapable of being replicated. This lack of unity only works to stress our current hyper-individualism and current mainstream entities' incompetence reversing these issues. He states, "Our individualistic era places us in the paradoxical position of trying to encourage people to opt into communities of commitment" (7). The "us" in this case is the post-war church that does not find solidarity in past American wars. The solution is a "social contract" into the community founded by Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. His suggested solution is "'living communities' of obligation and commitment...to provide atomized people with the options of non-optional solidarity" (7).
This idea of the church as the true community and beacon in the world has been on my mind for the last year. I have primarily discussed this concept in the scope of ministry to SSA and celibate individuals. A community of decisive decision making ultimately falters — Reno's "non-optional solidarity" contradicts such attempts. So where are conservatives to look for a non-decisional community? Typically the answer is the biological family or traditional marriage.
The resulting response against hyper-individualism has thus been to huddle around the biological family. But even this social sphere has been polluted — it is not exclusively Christian as much as it is cultural. Instead of being a mere signpost to the reality of Christ's body, traditional marriage and the biological family has assumed the place of Christ (eg. it is antichrist). The biological family eventually dies — which is why it must replicate itself — and the names change. Even in this pseudo-resurrection it points to Jesus Christ. The body of Christ exists eternally in this resurrection and holds the name of "bride." In another similar context I quoted Rosaria Butterfield,
"The church remains as a beacon of who God is. Not the Christian family. Not the Christian college. Not individual celebrity Christians who do a lot and get a lot of attention for doing the lot. The church alone is commended by God to hold this privilege." - Openness Unhindered (176)
The church alone is the community of God capable of providing solidarity to people. It alone is the "non-optional solidarity" that requires the free-will decision of man. Reformed Theology properly emphasizes the unconditional election of God requiring the responsibility of man. And why? Karl Barth wrote, "The answer consists in the commands which God issues to the Church" (The Great Promise, 11). The solution to our hyper-individualism is a commanded community — the church. The greatest community in all of history is found in the Scripture — the church.
R.R. Reno's Article can be read by First Thing Subscribers here.