This is an archive of the old Stones Cry Out site. For the current site, click here.

« But What Can One Do? | Main | "I have here in my hand a list" »

November 25, 2006

Without Conscience

Catching up on reading this morning, I happened across the editorial Without Conscience in the September issue of Touchstone magazine. The editorial discusses the various movements in mainline Protestant churches and in the Catholic church that tend to water down, or dispense with entirely, basic tenets of the church in the name of "conscience" or "pluralism," or whatever. These corrosive elements have tended to be irreversible and, once entrenched, do not gladly suffer any “pluralism” in the form of tradition:

Such “pluralism” cannot work in practice, because it does not mean variety within a greater unity, but the anarchistic assertion of every individual will. This explains why in those traditions now dominated by the innovators, pluralism on their fundamental matters is severely limited (the traditional Episcopalian cannot impede the desire of a woman to be ordained). That those now in power once appealed for diversity on these matters but now refuse it is a lesson to those bodies in which the innovators have not yet gained power.

The editorial also discusses the rationale for why these "innovators" stay within their traditional bodies, rather than availing themselves of all our pluralistic society has to offer:

But why insist on “conscience” at all? We live in a pluralistic society, which means that Christians dissatisfied with their church have an endless menu of other groups to choose from. Almost any disgruntled Christian can find a nearby church whose life and teachings he likes better.

The dissenters appeal to “conscience” because it offers them a way to eat their cake and keep it too. As far as we can see, dissidents remain in the churches whose traditional teachings they deny mainly because they feel a stubborn sense of “ownership” to which belief is irrelevant—the sense that “It’s my church, and no one is going to drive me out”—and can explain their dissent, no matter how thorough, as the attempt by faithful members to correct a church in error. (The extent to which many are economically and otherwise bound to the body whose teachings they partly reject also should not be underestimated.)

The editorial does not break new ground but does succinctly capture the pressures on the traditional denominations from those who want to improve upon the Gospel that has been handed down from the early Church.

The editorial almost has a tone of puzzlement as to what is going on. It is as if Messrs. Hitchcock and Mills, who authored it, continue to be surprised by this now very old attack on Christianity from within.

For my own part, I am not surprised. In its infancy, when its doctrine was formed, Christianity was a marginal and radical movement, often peopled by the poor and dispossessed. That it has in ensuing years managed to gain some power within the secular world does not change what it is--a movement that cares about spiritual matters and not as much worldly matters. We are to make believers and disciples, not edifices and bureaucracies. Institutions are worldly things. We should not be surprised that institutionalized religion then is susceptible to worldly corrosion, anymore than other institutions, such as educational institutions, are susceptible to the same pressures.

That does not mean that we traditionalists should give up, nor should we flee our traditional denominations. Rather, must continually remind ourselves whom our real enemy is, and that he will not abandon the attack on whatever belongs to our Lord. That we will be in the midst of those attacks should be an encouragement that we are where the Lord wants us.

Thus, with love, patience, charity and wisdom, we should continue to defend the faith, and our churches, from the attacks of the world. In doing so, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater—that is, we should understand that the “dissenters” are beloved children of God. They need to hear the true Gospel, repeatedly if necessary, every bit as much as the unchurched. That is our duty as Christians.

We should also continue to look outside of our specific denominations, whether evangelical, Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, and take up the cause with like-minded traditionalists in those other traditions. This is not to say that we need to give in to our doctrinal differences. We need to understand, however, that that which brings us together, Christ crucified and resurrected, is much greater than that which may divide us.

Perhaps, then, by our mutual cooperation and support, we will have churches whose foundations and bulwarks have been strengthened to withstand the attacks from the enemy.

Posted by Mark at November 25, 2006 10:07 AM

Trackback Pings


"That it [Christianity] has in ensuing years managed to gain some power within the secular world does not change what it is--a movement that cares about spiritual matters and not as much worldly matters."

I find this a shocking statement, coming from a follower of the Jesus who separated the sheep from the goats based entirely, according to the scriptures, upon what they did and didn't do for the "least of these."

I suppose if you're talking about a church that didn't concern itself with petty political bickering and bureaucracies, then okay. Hopefully
that's what you're talking about.

But surely not a faith that doesn't "care as much about wordly matters" - would that the church would begin to be concerned about such...

Posted by: Dan Trabue at November 27, 2006 09:55 AM


No need for you to be shocked. I am not a gnostic nor am I unmindful that we are instructed by Our Lord to care for the least of these among us. I meant "worldly" as in things that this world values (such as worldly fame, worldly fortune, worldly power), not material sustenance. I think my use of "worldly" would be generally understood by many Christians. Nonetheless, when I get a chance, I'll clarify that part of the post a bit.


Posted by: Mark Sides at November 27, 2006 03:57 PM

I stand corrected. Thanks.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at November 27, 2006 05:02 PM