CHAPTER III: Classic Protestant Sectarianism:
In Which a Church Is Not a Church?

Precisely to the concept "Church" is
to be traced the fundamental confusion both of
Protestantism and of Catholicism--
or is it to the concept "Christendom"?

If S.K. is to be treated as a sectary, it behooves us to be very clear as to what we mean by "sectarianism." It is not our task to present a full-scale study, but we must pursue the matter far enough to make plain just what we are saying about S.K. when we mount him under the label. This clarification is all the more crucial in light of the various ways the term "sect" is used and misused among us; our concern is as much to establish what we do not intend by the word as what we do.

The "church/sect" typology is the fruit of a half-century of scholarly labors culminating in the work of Ernst Troeltsch in the opening years of the present century.2 Although Troeltsch's work needs to be modified, supplemented, and reoriented at points, yet in the way of establishing terminology, defining categories, and then analyzing the historical phenomena accordingly, it has not been surpassed. Troeltsch is still indispensable for sectarian studies. Some modern scholars have ignored or belittled him to their own hurt; we shall depend heavily upon him.

The most serious weakness of Troeltsch's approach is his interpretation of ecclesiology as being essentially a sociological matter rather than an ideological or theological, one. However, as shall become apparent, he was not nearly as guilty in this regard as are some of his successors. He was conscious of the partialness of his perspective and practically invited someone to supplement it:

This theory [the church/sect typology] is connected with a whole series of further distinctions, which belong to the subtler realm of religious psychology and to theological thought.... All this, however, really belongs to the history of doctrine. For our present subject it is vital to remember that the idea of the Church as an objective institution, and as a voluntary society, contains a fundamental sociological distinction.3

Troeltsch was in no sense a socioeconomic determinist; his basic position seems to have been that ideology has sociological manifestations no less than that sociological conditions determine ideology. In fact he went out of his way to insist that the Reformation was essentially a religious phenomenon and not in the first place a sociological one.4 Nevertheless, Troeltsch's work does show a sociological lopsidedness that requires supplementation if not correction.

The theological perspective which Troeltsch lacked perhaps has been supplied most adequately by Emil Brunner in Volume 3 of his Dogmatics. But if Troeltsch's weakness was that he lacked the theological acumen of a Brunner, Brunner's was that he dismissed Troeltsch too quickly:

Ernst Troeltsch, who was familiar with the sociological approach, but who, as an idealist theologian, had but little insight into the spiritual nature of the Ekklesia, quite simply reckoned the New Testament Ekklesia as belonging to the "sect-type of Church"--a judgment in which there was doubtless some truth, but at the same time a great deal of error.5

Brunner's work could have had enhanced precision and value had he adopted the made-to-order terminology and categories provided by Troeltsch, rounding them out with his own meanings and insights. In our presentation we shall attempt to do what Brunner failed to do; what follows is to a large extent Brunnerian content in a Troeltschian framework.

But before discussing what sectarianism is, it is of vital importance to refute a widespread misunderstanding. The Troeltschian typology was popularized and made the common background of American ecclesiological thought through the offices of a highly influential book by H. Richard Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism (1929).6 Niebuhr's thesis was then tested and proved through the brilliant sociological study made by his student and later colleague Liston Pope.7 And since that time this view has carried the field. 8 It should be noted that Niebuhr later connected, if not repudiated, his first position.9 But the damage had been done; his retraction has not begun to catch up with his original proposal.

This "hypersociological" view is founded upon several principles that must be seriously challenged:

  1. A theory of socioeconomic determinism is certainly skirted, or implied, if not openly maintained:
    The adoption of one or the other type of constitution is itself largely due to the social condition of those who form the sect or compose the church. In Protestant history the sect has ever been the child of an outcast minority, taking its rise in the religious revolts of the poor, of those who were without effective representation in church or state and who formed conventicles of dissent in the only way open to them, on the democratic, associational pattern.10 Niebuhr underlined this assertion by proceeding to use "the churches of the disinherited" as a synonym for "sects." But if this be the truth, then to establish S.K. as a sectary signifies nothing more meaningful than to call attention to a freak situation in which one of the "inherited" (S.K. lived on his patrimony) talked like one of the "disinherited"--thus making S.K. "the poor man's theologian."
  2. Closely related to the above is the further assertion that sects inevitably and in comparatively short time evolve back into the church type: "The sociological character of sectarianism, however, is almost always modified in the course of time by the natural processes of birth and death, and on this change in structure changes in doctrine and ethics inevitably follow. By its very nature the sectarian type of organization is valid only for one generation.... Compromise begins and the ethics of the sect approach the churchly type of morals. As with ethics, so with the doctrine, so also with the administration of religion.... So the sect becomes a church."11 But this point, too, would have derogatory implications if allowed to stand as part of S.K.'s sectarianism. His witness, then, would be of no particular relevance or import, not a valid type but merely a primitive and transitory stage on the way to true churchism.
  3. The basic error of the hypersociologists, the point at which they lost contact with Troeltsch, seems to be this: they committed the quid pro quo of assuming that what they identified as sectarianism on the twentieth century, industrial, religiously pluralistic American scene is the same phenomenon that Troeltsch identified as sectarianism on the classic, Reformation, established-religion scene of sixteenth to eighteenth century Europe It would he foolish to try to deny the accuracy of sociological case studies like those of Pope and others; they have established at least part of the truth about how modern "sects" arise and develop. But it does not follow that everything that has ever been known as a sect reflects the same pattern.

    Troeltsch suggested that in the course of their history at least some sects do tend to change their nature and lose the purity of their primitive sectarianism.12 But he did not interpret this as a natural evolution from sect into church propelled by a socioeconomic dynamic. He made a countersuggestion--and a much more emphatic one--that the sociologists have overlooked:
    The Church-type itself, just because of this element of tension between pure Christianity and adjustment to the world which exists within it, has had a very changeful history, and is today becoming entirely transformed.... Protestantism no longer represents the pure Church-type.... More and snore the central life of the Church- type is being permeated with the vital energies of the sect and mysticism; the whole history of Protestantism reveals this very clearly. title="Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, 2:1007-09." href="notes3.html#f13">13
    Pope's statement that "movement on the scale between sect and church is, with minor exceptions, in one direction only,"14 is seen to hold true only within his own narrow orientation.

    Troeltsch's analysis seems eminently superior to that of the hypersociologists: the ecclesiological changes so readily apparent in Protestant history are not indicative of any dynamic principle within the typology itself but rather a breakdown and realignment of the whole typology in the face of a drastically changed world. This is not to say that churchly tendencies and sectarian tendencies are no longer operative or distinguishable; it is to say that the Troeltschian typology cannot be applied as clearly and cleanly to the contemporary scene as Troeltsch did it to the post-Reformation period.

    Indeed, Troeltsch himself prohibited the transferal of his typology to the modern period. He concluded his long and masterful opus by saying:
    Our inquiry is over. It was possible to treat it exhaustively as far as the eighteenth century.... With the nineteenth century Church History entered upon a new phase of existence. As a result of the dissolution of the unity of civilization controlled by a State Church, combined with the development of the independence of modern thought, it has since then no longer possessed a fixed and objective ideal of unity. The result has been that the social philosophy of the Christian community has also suffered an undeniable disintegration, through its dependence upon continually changing conditions.... Under these circumstances it is impossible to give a description of the present situation, and to deduce from it principles for the future.15
    And recent studies in the Radical Reformation strongly support Troeltsch's contention that uncritical shuffling between classic and modern sectarianism is out of order.16

    Ours, then, is a plea for the right to use Troeltsch's concept of "sect" free from all implications that the hypersociological school has read back into it, a plea to disassociate "sect" from the image of store-front, fundamentalist, shouting churches of the poor white trash; for if this be sectarianism then there is no need to say anything more about S.K. being part of it.

    We have used the term "Classic Protestant Sectarianism." The intention is specifically to distinguish "classic" (Troeltschian) sectarianism from "modern" (hypersociological) sectarianism. The word "Protestant," in turn, serves two purposes. First, it distinguishes the sectarianism in which we are interested from that of the Roman Catholic tradition. Scholars are agreed in tracing a sectarian strain through medieval Catholicism, leading up to and apparently affecting rather directly the radical wing of the Reformation. Without denying any of the real relationships and affinities between the Protestant and Catholic strains, it is apparent that they are enough different in character and milieu that they can and should be differentiated. And if S.K. was a sectary at all, surely he was one of the Protestant sort.

    But in the second place and perhaps more importantly, we use "Protestant" to mean "orthodox," or more precisely, "not heterodox." Of course in one sense the very fact that a sect is a sect indicates that it has slipped out of closely defined, churchly orthodoxy--ecclesiologically, if in no other way. We then are using orthodox in a rather broad sense, to include, say, any group that could have qualified according to the admission requirements of the present World and National Councils of Churches. Thus the word "Protestant" excludes the esoteric cults and the freethinking, peripherally Christian societies which so frequently are classed together with the sects. Troeltsch took considerable pains to set up his typology precisely so that the sects could and would be distinguished from these other groups. We propose, then, to compare S.K. with Classic Protestant Sectarianism and nothing else.

So much for what we do not mean by "sectarianism"; we proceed to our proper work of explaining what we do mean. In what follows the spectrum analogy is my own contribution; the terminology and categories are drawn from Troeltsch; the description and analysis of those categories depend heavily upon Brunner.

The analogy that accounts for the accompanying chart is taken from the field of physics. It is a spectrum analysis of visible light. The background of the diagram is a continuous field of color, i.e. white light separated into all its constituent, monochromatic wavelengths. A number of implications from this spectrum are crucial to the analogy. The chart bears the names of what physicists call the seven primary, or rainbow, colors. Actually, however, there is nothing primary about them; they happen merely to be hues that are conspicuous to the human eye; they are not even arranged symmetrically on the spectrum.

Any given point on the scale is simply and only a specific wavelength of light; it is in no way dependent upon any other wavelength for its existence or definition. There is here no theory of color mixing; green is no more a mixture of yellow and blue than blue is a mixture of indigo and green. Greenish-yellow is just greenish-yellow, not some of green and some of yellow; it is only the limitation of our terminology that forces us to use a hybrid term; but the greenish- yellow is no less "pure" a color than is bright yellow itself. Likewise on the ecclesiological spectrum, no one type is any more "primary," any "truer," any "purer" than any other; the fact that a given church happens to fall directly on a primary color implies no value judgment one way or another. Further, there is here absolutely no implication of movement or polar attraction. To move left from blue center is not to say that one must drift on into green (or vice versa); any point is as legitimate a stopping point as any other. Sooner or later, of course, value judgments will come into any discussion of ecclesiology, but the spectrum itself is purely descriptive; the chart has no way of defining what is a "good" spot for a church to fall.

Theoretically there is one wavelength that is yellower than those on either side of it are, but as a matter of fact this can be only an arbitrary decision of the human eye. Yellow, then, must be considered as a range of wavelengths--but a range, note well, the outer boundaries of which simply cannot be defined, located, or demarcated. This does not mean that yellow is in any way a vague concept or that no real distinctions can be made between yellow and green. It does mean that yellow can be defined, discussed, and understood only by looking at the bright center, not by trying to determine how far it extends in either direction. Ask not, therefore, whether Methodism (for example) is in the yellow or in the green; it is more yellow than Congregationalism but more green than the Baptists.

Against the colorful background of the continuous spectrum appear dark, absorption markings known as Fraunhofer lines. These come about when a given substance betrays its presence and identifies itself by "blotting-up" the particular wavelengths of light that come at its characteristic spot on the spectrum. We propose to do for ecclesiology what Fraunhofer first did for sunlight by analyzing the spectrum and identifying certain of the lines.

Note that this spectrum and these lines hold only for the classic period, Europe of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. We have heeded Troeltsch's warning that in the modern period the pattern has been so broken up that it is problematical whether the same techniques of analysis will apply. To put modern churches onto this same graph sooner or later would result in distortion-although, obviously, many of the ecclesiological principles explained by the chart still are in operation on the present-day scene. By the same token the line that does appear refers to the group as it existed during its primitive, classic phase; whether each or any of these is still operating on the same wavelength we will not venture to judge. Also, we have not attempted to include every group that could be spotted here; the proliferation (particularly toward the red end of the spectrum) is endless. Fraunhofer originally identified 754 lines out of the now more than 25,000 that have been discovered; our proportion is equally modest.

This spectrum enables us to arrive at rather precise definitions of some terms that commonly appear in ecclesiological analysis. In a number of cases we still will need to allow one word to carry several different meanings (because human language simply does not conform to discrete laws), but communication can be vastly improved nonetheless. In each case the definitions are listed in order from the broadest to the narrowest.

  1. Church
    1. The spectrum as a whole, i.e. the ecumenical body of Christ
    2. Any given line on the spectrum, i.e. a church, or the churches.
    3. Any line except those of the orange-red end of the spectrum, i.e., an organized, "orthodox" group as opposed to a "spiritual religion" or a "cult" (again, the admission requirements of the Councils of Churches might be taken as a rough measure).
    4. A line of the violet-indigo-blue-to-green end of the spectrum, i.e. an example of the Troeltschian "church"-type.

      In most instances the context in which "church" is used will indicate the intended meaning; however, confusion is a real possibility when we realize that the first three definitions include the sects while the fourth specifically excludes them. Whenever, in the pages that follow, misunderstanding seems possible, we will use quotation marks to denote "church" in sense iv.
  2. Protestantism
    1. Anything other than Roman Catholicism. Anglicans, Southern Baptists (despite their protests), and even the Eastern Orthodox churches tend to get pulled into this category.
    2. The indigo-blue-green-yellow-to-orange sector of the spectrum, i.e. all those groups whose heritage and theology trace back to the Reformation.
    3. The indigo-blue-to-green portion of the spectrum, i.e. the Reformation "churches" (Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican).

      Kierkegaard very often assumed a iii usage, i.e. he spoke critically of "Protestantism," but in a way which, although applying directly to the Reformation "churches," could have little if any reference to the Reformation sects.

      It is here appropriate to consider a crucial question: Were the sects truly Protestant or were they not? The only accurate solution is to have it both ways. This Troeltsch did very explicitly:
      [Anabaptist sectarianism] attacked the new theological dogmatism, the compulsory State Church, and the tendency to secularization [of the Reformation "churches"].... The Anabaptists deliberately opposed the results of this compromise, and in so doing they opposed the whole idea of the Church, and of an ecclesiastical civilization. This violent o~ position, however, proves that in reality it had been caused by the Reformation itself....
      "In the Baptist [read Anabaptist movement we are dealing with a by-product of the Reformation, which is closely connected with the Scriptural purism and moral earnestness of the Reformation, but whose deep inward opposition to the ecclesiastical idea of the Reformers is also quite evident.... At bottom, therefore, the whole movement belonged to the Reformation. It was caused by the Reformation; it appealed to its principles and ideals, and it remained in closest touch with it.
      In the last resort, however, the sect is a phenomenon that differs equally from the ecclesiastical spirit of Protestantism and of Catholicism. It is an independent branch of Christian thought; it is the complement of the Church-type, and it is based upon certain elements in the New Testament ideal.17
      Insofar as they sought to reform the Reformation by appealing to Reformation principles and ideology, the sectaries surely admit the nomenclature "Protestant" or even "Protestants' Protestants." But insofar as they drastically were opposed to the way the Protestant "churches" were taking, just as surely they must be differentiated from Protestantism. The only thing to do is to leave the word "Protestant" open so that the sects can be considered as both in and out.
  3. Sect:
    1. In an entirely neutral sense, synonymous with Church ii, i.e. referring to any line of the spectrum. This usage is somewhat antiquated though still found in legal documents.
    2. In an anything but neutral sense, referring to any position on the spectrum other than one's own, in short, a subtle way of impugning another church's pedigree. In this regard it is interesting to find in the literature of the sects depreciating references to the "churches" as being "sects"; sects as well as churches found it in order to deplore the others' "sectarianism." It is in this sense that "sect" carries connotations of narrow-mindedness and fanaticism. But that the word connotes such derogation is no accident; "sect" was designed specifically as a swear word for bludgeoning one's ecclesiological enemies. It is undoubtedly in the effort to avoid this stigma that there has been some tendency of late to substitute the word "free church" for "sect." This, however, seems an unwise move, because, as we shall see, the term "free church" needs to be reserved for a slightly different concept. The better alternative is simply to live down, rise above, and transform the ugly word "sect"--just as has had to be done with "Yankee," "Protestant," and even "Christian."
    3. The green-yellow-orange-red end of the spectrum, i.e. anything other than a "church." This usage groups together too wide a range of ecclesiology to be meaningful--although it did come in handy when, for instance, a Lutheran wanted to imply that a Mennonite is no different than a Münsterite. But we see here a tendency that seems to affect ecclesiologists generally: they are able to make and maintain the finest distinctions in that area of the spectrum where they happen to live; but once they get a few shades beyond, they start expanding their categories in fine style. Troeltsch fought valiantly to prevent this from happening to "sect" when he spelled out a very clear distinction between "yellow" and "red";18 would that it had been kept as clear since.
    4. The green-yellow-to-orange middle of the spectrum. This is a broad, generic usage of "sectarianism," but, we maintain, a proper one.
    5. The yellow range of the spectrum. This is the more specific and technical but equally proper use of the term.

      \ In the pages that follow we will not use "sect" in sense i; we expressly deny senses ii and iii; we may use iv at times; but for the most part we intend the closer distinction of iv For instance, as regards S.K., our thesis is not merely that he shows certain iv-type sectarian tendencies but that his own Fraunhofer line would fall in the bright yellow of v.
  4. Free Church:
    1. Synonymous with Sect iv. As we have noted, there is some tendency to use this as a nice word--or at least a later terminology-for "sect." Troeltsch used the term "free church," but in another sense.
    2. The green range of the spectrum. Troeltsch's usage would indicate that "free church" is primarily of British origin, referring to those British churches which were different from "churches" in that they had adopted the principle of voluntary membership but which also were different from the sects in that they still retained such churchly marks as infant baptism, creeds and confessions, a strong clerical caste (or episcopacy), etc.19 We will follow Troeltsch and avoid usage I; thus is made possible a real and significant distinction which otherwise would be lost.
  5. Spiritual religion:
    The red-to-orange end of the spectrum. The word "spiritual" suggests that direct inspiration here begins to dominate over the objective biblical and historical controls that have given the church its form and structure up to this point.

    Troeltsch used the terms "mysticism" and "spiritual religion" interchangeably, although it can be questioned whether "mysticism" is an ecclesiologically useful term at all. In fact, the word means so many things to so many people that we would prefer to avoid it altogether.

    Frankly, our typology encounters difficulty at the red end, not because the pattern fails, but because spiritual religion can take either of two different lines of development. Both strains clearly classify as spiritual religion, but they are distinct enough to require separate terms in identifying them. Spiritual religion, then, shows itself either as "atomism" or as "cult."
  6. Atomism:
    The phenomenon of the red end of the spectrum in which the concept "church" is dissolved into an ultra-individualistic, totally unstructured independency.
  7. Cult:
    The other phenomenon of the red end, in which the group is structured and organized-as opposed to atomism-but over an esoteric, directly revealed pattern, i.e. depending upon a special, private revelation (and we would include throwbacks to Old Testament modes) rather than upon the New Testament norm.

In all of the foregoing we have attempted to follow Troeltsch as closely as possible. He did not propose a spectrum, but the terminology is his, and our "colorful" definitions are intended to conform to his usage. The one exception regards the bipartite division of spiritual religion; Troeltsch simply left out of account those groups that we have denominated cults. It is important that they be included in the picture, if for no other reason than that they do not unconsciously get slipped in with the yellow sects, where they do not belong. Rather, they seem clearly to qualify under spiritual religion, as we have proposed.

There is one other basic term that can and should be related to the spectrum. We are still following Troeltsch in suggesting that Pietism cannot be located at a point or even on a range of the spectrum. It is a broad, unfocused movement of sectarian tendency and emphasizing many sectarian motifs, but ecclesiologically it has manifested itself in different ways at different points of the spectrum. For example, the main thrust of German Pietism under the aegis of Spener and Francke deeply influenced the life of the Lutheran Church but without changing its "blue" status. Even so, Pietist influences did loom large in accounting for the green of Methodism, the yellow of the Church of the Brethren, the orange of Moravianism, the atomist red of men like Tersteegen and Ernst Christoph Hochmann, and the cultic red of groups like the Ronsdorfers and Buttlarites.

When written with the small "p," we intend pietism as referring to this sort of tendency whenever, wherever, and on whatever part of the scale it appears. Capital "P" Pietism refers to the identifiable historical movement originating within the Lutheran Church of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, organized around Spener and Francke. Radical Pietism refers to the left wing of this movement, which manifested itself in the red-to-orange end of the spectrum.

At this point we turn to Brunner for help in analyzing the ideological content of our spectrum. It is not easy to fit Brunncr's discussion of ecclesiology into this Troeltschian framework, for Brunner chose to ignore his predecessor and operate within an entirely different scheme of thought. However, it is our assumption that the concepts of the two men are compatible, and the following represents a rigorous effort to correlate them.

What has been said heretofore would indicate that "sectarianism" is predominantly, if not exclusively, an ecclesiological concept, i.e. one referring to a doctrine of the nature and form of the church. This is a misimpression we shall be at some pains to correct; sectarianism is a religious perspective which includes a whole catena of beliefs. A particular value of Brunner's presentation is its demonstration of how ecclesiology depends upon and immediately involves a wide range of interests. He quotes with approval the formula "ecclesiology is Christology and Christology ecclesiology"20 and it would be just as accurate, in addition to "Christology," to read "pneumatology," "pistology," and even "sociology."

However, many scholars seem to have a penchant for grasping one of these doctrinal strands, making it the key, and relegating the others to subsidiary status. But this is as futile an exercise as, say, trying to identify the central principle of Reformation thought: is it the sovereignty of God (theonomy), the authority of scripture, justification by faith alone, or a felt existential need for salvation? Obviously one can start with any of these and immediately proceed to any and all of the others; all were integrally involved in the Protestant development; and there is nothing to be gained by trying to give one preeminence over the rest. just so with sectarianism; we are dealing with a core of principles, not a core principle.

Thus we have chosen ecclesiology as the principle for the constructing of our spectrum, not by way of implying that a sectary chooses to become such on the basis of a conviction about the nature and form of the church (this may or may not be the case), but because, in ecclesiology, doctrine must manifest itself in concrete ways that can be plotted and dissected much more precisely than would be the case with Christology, pneumatology, or whatever. We will see, however, that the spectrum now can be interpreted according to these other principles as well as by the outward form of church organization. Henceforth, then, we intend "sectarianism" to imply a total religious perspective and not simply a doctrine of the church.

  • Eccelesiology:
    Approached from this point of view, the spectrum represents something like the following. In the violet range the church is understood as: a (i) hierarchically authoritative (priestly dominated), (ii) formally constituted (the entire life and organization of the church is closely prescribed by church law), (iii) territorially comprehensive (the church is coincident with the community and the citizenry belongs to the church as a matter of course) (iv) institution (in contrast to a fellowship, or Gemeinde) transmitting (v) an objective deposit of grace through (vi) ex opere operato sacraments administered by (vii) a sacrosanct priesthood.

    In the blue sector, (i) hierarchical control is greatly weakened but there is still a strong clergy/laity distinction. (ii) The life of the church is still rather highly prescribed though perhaps less so than in the violet. (iii) There is no change as to territorial comprehension. (iv) The church is still essentially an institution. (v) There has been a radical shift at this point, for the "objective deposit" is now understood as (vi) "the Word of God," a much more personal and subjective entity than the sacraments. However, this "Word" is still highly objectivized through the emphasis upon its dogmatic definition in creed, confession, and symbol. It must therefore be administered by (vii) an academically, theologically qualified clergy.

    In the green, there is a general "loosening-up" in all categories, but the drastic change comes in (iii) territorial comprehension, because the church now is disestablished and membership is voluntary. (v, vi) Religious experience, as opposed to dogmatic definition, is growing in prominence, but there is still (iv) a rather strong institutional bent seen in the retention of such churchly accouterments as infant baptism, creeds, clerical authority, vestments, etc.

    In the yellow of sectarianism, (i) the government of the church is completely democratic and nonauthoritarian, strongly congregational in its orientation. The clergy/laity distinction has become a purely functional one, without any sacerdotal implications whatsoever, although the group is still highly enough structured as to require "offices." (ii) Worship and church life have become quite free and informal; vestments, liturgy, the church year, orders of worship-all have been sloughed away The sacraments have been retained as acts of obedience to New Testament commands, but they are called "ordinances" expressly to avoid the churchly implications of "sacrament." (iii) Membership is now emphatically voluntary, and infant baptism has been rejected in becoming consistent with that emphasis. Further, any sort of territorial consciousness has been completely transcended; wherever two or three members happen to be, there is their church; political boundaries are beneath their notice. (iv) The church is now essentially a Gemeinde rather than an institution. (v, vi) The Word of God still stands as a powerfully objective norm, but the dogmatic understanding of that Word has been radically de-emphasized; any sort of creedal definition has been expressly rejected, and systematic theology has lost its appeal. The Word of God now must involve the inner movings and leadings of the Spirit-in conjunction with the objective authority of its written letter.21 (vii) The written Word is interpreted and the living Word experienced directly~though by the Gemeinde rather than by individuals in isolation-so there is no need for the mediatorial role of a clergy.

    In the orange sector the church begins to lose all structure. (i) There is now no clergy, even in the functional sense. (ii) Outward organization is at a minimum, and the sacraments are not observed even as ordinances. (v, vi) The Bible begins to lose its role as either a pattern of organization or a definition of faith. The subjective action of the Spirit is moving into domination.

    In the red sector, under the alternative of Atomism, the concept of the church as a structured fellowship is gone, and there are left only individual Christians, each under the direct operation of the Spirit within him. Under the alternative of Cult, organization and even institutionalism again appear, but the New Testament revelation is no longer normative; that objective standard now has been replaced by another, namely esoteric, private, extrabiblical inspiration.
  • Enthusiasm:
    This word customarily has been used in a highly prejudicial sense, but if understood etymologically as the immediate action of God within the heart, it becomes the accurate designation for one of the core principles of sectarianism (not as entirely different from or independent of ecclesiology but as a closely related aspect of the total religious perspective). Brunner makes the connection explicit when he gives over the first chapter of his ecclesiology to a discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Our spectrum can be read as gradations of enthusiasm, though in such case it will not allow as many and as fine distinctions as when we read it ecclesiologically. Now the chart is essentially bipolar. At the violet end, the revelation of God is understood predominantly (if not exclusively) in objective terms by way of sacraments, the scriptural word, creeds, dogmatics, institutions. At the red end, God's revelation is understood predominantly (if not exclusively) as subjective, as the immediate, inner working of the Spirit. Sectarianism falls midway between these two poles and is seen to be an attempt at retaining the authority of the normative, objective biblical revelation while yet giving due place to the enthusiastic role of the Holy Spirit.

    In this regard we note the appearance of a pattern which will recur time and again and which thus becomes part of the basic dynamic of sectarianism. The sectary, in virtue of his place on the spectrum, is by nature a dialectician (though for the most part subconsciously so) striving to maintain a balance between two complementary principles. Thus it is perhaps not entirely by accident that S.K., the sharpest dialectician of all time, also should show up in the yellow center
  • Faith:
    As Brunner's book moves from pneumatology into ecclesiology, so does it move from ecclesiology into pistology. Our spectrum can be interpreted according to the nature of faith. At the violet end, faith is correct beliefs:
    Faith was misunderstood as affirmation of doctrine or facts. In this manner correct doctrine became the object of faith.... At the same time as the priestly sacramental institution there came into being 'orthodoxy,' the belief in true doctrine, and the guarantee of this belief by Church creed or dogma.22
    At the red end' which is only implied in Brunner, faith is life, the pious life of love: It doesn't matter what you believe, your manner of living is what counts." The middle way of dialectical balance is ascribed by Brunner to the New Testament church, but it is also a characteristic of sectarianism: "Thus the Ekklesia has to hear a double witness to Christ, through the Word that tells of what He has bestowed upon it, and through the witness of its life, through its being, which points to Him as its vital source. These two testimonies of the Ekklesia through Word and life corroborate each other, and neither is fully effective without the other.... True faith is indivisibly both, faith in Christ and existence in Christ." 23
  • Individualism:
    Here again the spectrum consists of gradations between two poles. The violet extreme understands the church to be a collective. Brunner puts the matter most succinctly:
    The interpretation of communjo sanctorum in the neuter sense is the source of spiritual collectivism, which confuses the nature of fellowship with the nature of participation in a thing. The thought of a sanctum in which individuals participate has no place in the New Testament. For "that" in which the individuals participate is precisely not a thing, but a person--the Christ. Participation in something creates a collective; fellowship with the Christ creates fellowship with one another."24
    The red extreme of atomism (which, again, is not in Brunner's picture) rejects sociality, sees the church-if church it may be called--as ultraindividualistic, every man for himself. Sectarianism is the dialectical attempt to recognize both the corporate and the individual aspects of Christianity through "fellowship" (Gemeinschaft).
  • The Work of Christ:
    Although this principle may not operate on the spectrum quite as neatly as some of the others, it does seem to have a valid application. At the violet end, the work of Christ is seen predominantly (if not exclusively) as atonement and justification--thus the emphasis is on "the Christ of faith." At the red end, particularly among some of the atomists (and admittedly it is here that the pattern might be a little difficult to demonstrate), the work of Christ is seen predominantly, if not exclusively, as that of teacher and model--thus the emphasis is on "the historical Jesus." In the yellow center (and here the pattern is again very clear) there is once more the attempt to give dialectical recognition to both emphases; the sects give much more attention to discipleship (Nachfolge) than do the churches, while striving nonetheless to retain a strong concept of Christ as divine Savior.
  • Relation to the World:
    This is a very real aspect of sectarianism which, unfortunately, has been emphasized out of all proportion. Even Troeltsch tended to make it central; the "hypersociological school" would make it all controlling. However, we can recognize the truth in the position without following the sociologists all the way. In particular, we maintain that for the most part (and especially so during the classic period) the sectarianism of a person's faith determined his relationship to the world rather than his status in the world determining the sectarianism of his faith.

This reading of the spectrum has some resemblance to H. Richard Niebuhr's famous "Christ ... Culture" typology25 and perhaps can be correlated with it to a certain extent. However, our interest goes only far enough to cast some light on the nature of sectarianism; we will not attempt a detailed analysis of all the various options of Christian social ethics.

At the violet pole stands "the Church of (ideally, in control of) the World"; at the red pole stands "the Church outside of the World," disdainful of and inimical toward all worldly values and influences. At the yellow center stands the sect, "the Church in tension with the World," striving to he in the world in a real and influential sense while not being of the world. Again, the dialectical balance is a fine one; and in this case historical reality tended to confuse the matter, because the classical sects also were kicked out of the world. Thus it is not easy to discern to what extent the sectary's actual relationship to the world manifested his ideology or his misfortune; to achieve a balance between in the world but not of the world is particularly difficult when one is not wanted in the world.

There probably are other doctrines and principles that could he read into--or explicated out of--the spectrum. The goal we have had in mind is not a definitive presentation but merely the clarification of what we intend by "sectarianism," the sort of sectarianism with which we propose that Søren Kierkegaard be affiliated.

However, as we stand poised to begin in earnest the demonstration of S.K.'s sectarianism we are faced with a major procedural problem: What is the body of sectarian literature to which the Kierkegaardian. literature should be compared? From what writings are we to draw the motifs, markings, and clues of sectarianism for which we hope to find counterparts in the works of S.K.? We could let any and all writers of such bent speak for this view of radical discipleship. This at once would make our project easy-and valueless-for we could then compare S.K. with John Wesley at one point, with George Fox at another, with Menno Simons at another, roaming the field at will. And of course somewhere among such a host of writers one could find a quotation that would parallel almost anything ever written by S.K., or anyone else for that matter. Certainly our demonstration would be much more possible and convincing if we were to pick just one, typical sect as a "control" and then make the comparison straight across. If S.K.'s ideology shows any marked resemblance to that of one such sect, then surely it may he assumed that S.K.'s religious orientation is essentially akin to that of classic, Protestant sectarianism.

The group we have selected to serve as this "control" is the eighteenth century Brethren (forerunner of the modern Church of the Brethren and related bodies). In the first place, it is inconceivable that anyone might argue that this was not a typical sect; it has all the hallmarks. In the second place, this does make a direct comparison quite possible; the collection of eighteenth century Brethren writings actually is much smaller than the collected writings of S.K. There is no problem in ascertaining what the Brethren believed and stood for; their writings display little or no variation of opinion among themselves; they represent more of a fixed quantity than does the single author Kierkegaard. And furthermore, our case can be made by using the Brethren; there is no need to go beyond their writings in order to get a fully rounded picture either of sectarianism or of S.K.'s relationship to it.

It must be made emphatic at the outset that no claim is either intended or implied regarding any sort of special connection or affinity between S.K. and the Brethren per se. Indeed, we are not even suggesting that S.K. would have joined the Brethren (or any other sect) had the opportunity presented itself; there are a whole gamut of personal factors that make such a matter totally unpredictable. However, the Brethren can be used--and here are to be used--imply as an example of a broad religious perspective for which, we are convinced, S.K. does show a real and basic propensity.

Copyright (c) 1968