VI. The Churh Well Lost (Continued)

C. Clericalismticism

[The modern parson] is a skillful, active, and quick man,
who finds it perfectly easy,
with the aid of attractive conversation and bearing,
to introduce a little Christianity-but as little as possible.
[The priest's] whole existence as a combination
of civil servant and disciple of Christ
is entirely inadmissible,
directly contrary to Christ's ordinance.
[The priest] walks in long robes,
which Christ, however, does not exactly recommend
when both in Mark and Luke He says, ...
"Beware of those who go about in long robes."

A major aspect of S.K.'s criticism of the church was his anticlericalism. Again in this case there is no Brethren material that forms a direct counterpart. However, a correlation can be made by noting that the Brethren form of the ministry specifically (and without doubt deliberately) avoided just those usages of which S.K. was most critical.

S.K. questioned the very constitution of the state-church ministry, asking, "Can one be a teacher of Christianity by royal authorization?"4 He saw that the arrangement leads to a truly serious conflict of interests. The matter of financial support becomes a problem:

Only in one case can a teacher of Christianity, who is bound by an oath to the New Testament, defend himself for being maintained by the state--namely, when he has been arrested, and, let it be noted, arrested for the sake of Christianity.5

If one cannot impart to men so much of a picture of the importance of Christianity that they pay willingly, neither should anyone take their money. Christianity is too high-born to patronize the state.6

In contrast to the clergy of his own day, S.K. looked back to the situation of the early church:

But there was a time when Christianity was preached by witnesses for the truth--there were no livings in those days, inasmuch as Christianity (incredible as it is!) had come in without any help from livings.... O ye revered figures whom Christianity so touched and moved that it and ye conquered your hearts, and ye resolved, and kept the resolve to preach Christianity in poverty and lowliness, [this was] genuine preaching.7

The Brethren practiced the very thing that S.K. seems to have had in mind; they recognized the right of the minister to accept contributions toward his support and yet their leaders regularly served on a purely volunteer basis.

S.K. also took the clergy soundly to task for another aspect of their "professionalism," their tendency to substitute theologizing and rhetoric for a demonstrated way of life. Such preaching completely misses the point:

The speaker who does not know how the task looks in daily life and in the living-room might just as well keep still, for Sunday glimpses into eternity lead to nothing but wind. To be sure, the religious orator is not to remain in the living room, he must know how to hold fast the total category of his sphere, but he must also be able to begin everywhere. And it is in the living-room that the battle must be fought, lest the religious conflict degenerate into a parade of the guard once a week; in the living room must the battle be fought, not fantastically in the church, so that the clergyman is fighting windmills and the spectators watch the show; in the living room the battle must be fought, for the victory consists precisely in the living-room becoming a sanctuary.8

Here is a "secular Christianity," although definitely not one that threatens to become incognito in its worldliness or to become "of the world" in the process of being "in the world."

"Living-room sermons" require a peculiarly qualified preacher. His basic qualification is one that churchly orthodoxy specifically disavowed but which was central in sectarianism. Not the credentials of his ordination, not his eloquence, not his theological skill or doctrinal correctness, but the quality of his experience and life, sectaries would say, is the primary requisite of the minister. Kierkegaard too took his stand clearly in this tradition:

Christianity not being a doctrine, it is not a matter of indifference, as in the case of a doctrine, who expounds it if only (objectively) he says the right thing. No, Christ did not appoint professors, but followers. If Christianity (precisely because it is not a doctrine) is not reduplicated in the life of the person expounding it, then he does not expound Christianity, for Christianity is a message about living and can only be expounded by being realized in men's lives.9

Obviously again, the Brethren minister would seem to have come close to the Kierkegaardian ideal. His church actually was a living room (if not a barn); he had neither the ability nor the inclination to indulge in speculative theology; and he had been chosen minister by the friends and neighbors who knew him best, and that precisely because of the quality of his Christian life.

Finally, as part of the same pattern, S.K. denounced clerical vestments. As surprisingly early as 1847, he wrote:

I am well aware that in the matter of canonicals some prelates use broadcloth, others silk, velvet, bombazine, etc. but I wonder if the true Christian canonicals are not these: Being derided in a good cause, being scorned and spat on, the degree thereof would indicate the clergyman's order of rank.... But to preach about Christ decked out in finery and furbelows to a crowd of curious gapers! Disgusting!10

And in the Attack proper, the fusillade was made just that much more devastating:

The decisive point is that when the teacher acquires 'canonicals,' a peculiar dress, professional attire, you have official worship--and that is what Christ will not have. Long robes, splendid churches, etc., all this hangs together, and it is the human falsification of the Christianity of the New Testament.... It is not true of the clerical order as it is of other orders, that there is nothing evil about the order; no, the clerical order is, Christianly considered, in and for itself of the Evil, is a demoralization, a human egoism, which inverts Christianity to exactly the opposite of that which Christ had made it.11

It will suffice to note that the vestments of a Brethren cleric consisted of a clean pair of overalls (or the eighteenth century equivalent).

Copyright (c) 1968