The Latest Affront to Catholicity

In People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology, the final book of his four-volume series with Westminster John Knox Press, Michael Horton deals with the concept of catholicity in a particularly poignant manner.  In his mind, the most urgent threat to the catholicity of the church presently is the mindset of consumerism that has pervaded even the gathering of God’s people and given rise to ‘rival catholicities’:

The current phase of ecclesial division is actually welcomed in the name of mission.  It is not the catholicity of ethnic bonds or race.  Though closely related to socioeconomic status, it is not exactly the same.  Rather, it is the catholicity of the market.  Not only separate churches, but also separate ‘churches-within-churches’ are proliferating, each targeting its unique market (p. 206).

Put more sharply, ‘Ecclesial apartheid is expanding, as each generation and demographic market is treated to its own study Bibles and devotional materials, small groups, and ‘worship experiences’ (p. 205).  For Horton, the carving up of the church according to individuals’ cultural preferences, far from affirming diversity, ends up undermining the properly multigenerational and multiethnic character of the church and turning out discrete, homogeneous clusters of persons who operate in their own niches.  Recalling Paul’s condemnation of the Corinthians’ factious approach to the Lord’s Supper (‘For do you not have homes for eating and drinking?  Or do you despise the church of God?’), Horton discerns a parallel in our market-driven strategies: ‘Do we not have our own homes and social networks for pursuing our tastes in music, style, politics, fashion, and hobbies’ (p. 208)?  He is critical of the contemporary ‘incarnational’ ministerial impetus and advocates a recognition of the local church as a ‘strange assembly of spiritual relatives we may never have known, much less chosen, in our ordinary course of life’ (p. 212).

Do you think Horton is on target here?  If so, what are some of your thoughts on moving forward?

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3 thoughts on “The Latest Affront to Catholicity

  1. On target. Especially offensive are the conservative/Republican churches, Protestant and Catholic both.

    The Bible never told us to “Vote Republican”; but plenty of conservative media networks, from Pat Robertson’s CBN, to EWTN/EWRN’s conservative “Catholicism,” assure us implicitly, that it did.

    A true, ecumenist catholicism, WOULD be helpful here.

    In general, media analysts think that it all stems from the 1980’s proliferation of media outlets. Which resulted in “narrow-casting” instead of broadcasting: appealing to very small niche markets. Which means that many people can and do, often, fall down a very, very narrow rabbit hole.

  2. I would agree that there are problems with the church aligning itself with the Republican agenda, but I think it’s safe to say that there are also plenty of Christians who have taken to the Democratic agenda and seem to think that the church qua the church has a responsibility to support that agenda.

    At any rate, I think Horton is at this point focused more on the problems with separating generations of believers based on traditional vs. contemporary worship services, youth group, etc.

  3. Religious consumerism rules!

    According to Wiki there are now well over 30,000 Christian denominations, sects and sub-sects in the world.

    Speaking of the GOP, I would say that it is now essentially psychotic in its “character”. Especially as benighted crazies such as Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, and yes Sarah Palin are now leading spokes-persons for what is now called “conservative” in the USA.

    Brought to one and all by Fox “news”.

    What is worse is that so called conservative religious groups and outfits are also supportive of these benighted ranters.

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