Church Types

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

Deuteronomy 30:19

There are only two religions in the world, the right one and the wrong one. They are quite easy to tell apart. The wrong one is based wholly or in part on man's works, the right one is not of man's works. The wrong one says don't worry it will be alright, the right one says your dead and one heartbeat from hell. The wrong one says you've got time, the right one says today, now. The wrong one makes allowances, the right one demands sinless perfection and— provides it for you.

In the forward to the book "Forerunners, A History of the English Baptists" lies one of the great truths of religious understanding, a description of the true Church and its false counterpart.

 "No modern reader of some of the earlier histories of the Baptist can fail to be surprised at the extraordinary way in which their descent from the New Testament is traced through such groups as the Montanists, the Novatianists, the Paulicians, the Albigenses, the Waldensians, the Lollards and others, all of whom are claimed as Baptists. The instincts of the writers who made these excursions into genealogy were sounder than their scholarship. We cannot now agree that all the groups they so industriously enumerated were Baptists, but they did belong to the same type of Christianity, and of that type Baptists have been the spearhead. In this connexion we owe a great deal to the insights of Troeltsch who, in his monumental work, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, has shown that from the first Christianity has shaped its life and organization according to two main patterns. For the proper understanding of the history of the Baptists, it will be necessary to sketch the salient features of both types, since they have often been developed in collision with each other and Baptists belong unmistakably to one of them. Troeltsch calls one the Church-type and the other the Sect-type, but he uses the term "sect" in default of a better and without implying that the Sect-type is more sectarian in spirit than the Church-type. For the moment we may accept the terminology of Troeltsch and with his help proceed to sketch the main features of both, postponing any discussion of the question whether it is possible to discover more satisfactory designations for them.

The most prominent feature of the Church-type is the stress it lays on the institutional character of the Church which is thought of as being in exclusive possession of the supernatural life. It thinks of the Church as the Body of Christ and as an extension of the Incarnation and, therefore, in possession of a life and tradition which carry within themselves a certain divine authority. It conveys its divine life to the individual by means of its sacramental system. Hence, it emphasizes the need of infant-baptism as the sacrament of initiation which brings the child under the supernatural influence of the Church. In conformity with its sacramental character, the Church-type of Christianity usually possesses a sacerdotal ministry whose members are graded in a hierarchy. As a divine, the Church is thought of as in possession of a holiness of its own quite apart from the personal holiness of its members. For this reason its sacraments are not rendered inefficacious by the sins of those who administer them. For the same reason, it can accept the secular order without contamination, and does not hesitate to accept State patronage and control. It endeavours to become an integral part of the social order, utilizing the State and the ruling classes and weaving these elements into its own life, seeking to dominate the masses and thus to cover the whole life of humanity. In spite of all compromise the institution remains holy and divine. Similarly, its stability remains unaffected by the extent to which its influence over individuals is actually attained. From the masses it is content with an average level of religious and moral attainment, for it regards the highest levels of the religious life as reserved for a special class who are divinely called thereto. In so far as the Church-type aims at the stabilization of the social order and makes terms with the State in return for its patronage, it becomes dependent upon the upper classes and, therefore, conservative in its tendencies. In this way the distinction between the Church and the Kingdom of God tends to be blurred; and, for that reason, all millenarian ideas are ruled out.

The Sect-type of Christianity starts from the Christian experience of the individual believer and stresses the necessity of a genuine, if rudimentary, Christian experience in all who would join a church. No man can be born into this type of Christianity. He can enter it only by personal choice, that is, on the basis of conscious conversion. For this reason, infant-baptism frequently becomes a stumbling block, when it is retained by the Sect-type, which stands for a voluntary community whose members join it of their own free will. Thus, the Sect-type organizes itself in comparatively small groups. Being convinced that organization should follow life and not precede it, it tends to disparage the idea that the Christian community as a whole must precede the individual. It organizes itself apart from the State and is indifferent to the authority of the State and the ruling classes, whom it makes no attempt to weave into the fabric of its life. At times this attitude to the State has led to the rejection of the oath and the refusal of military service. The adherents of the Sect-type are usually drawn from the lower classes and, for this reason, it has always been more radical and democratic than the Church-type. It offers them a religion which men, who are believers and are therefore under the direct rule of Christ, can manage for themselves, instead of one managed for them by the hierarchy or the upper classes. It stands for a lay Christianity, for brotherly love and religious equality. Rejecting all sacerdotal notions, it often permits the sacraments to be administered by laymen. It tends to be critical of official spiritual guides and theologians. Its followers prefer to make their own appeal direct to the New Testament. In both range and content the asceticism of the Sect-type differs from that of the Church-type. The ascetic ideal of the former is one which is possible for all and is appointed for all, whereas that of the latter is prescribed for special classes, such as priests, monks and nuns, or for special circumstances. The Sect-type refuses to recognize a double standard of Christian living and is radical in its ethical demands, often exercising a strict discipline over all its members. It urges them all to aim at a personal, inward perfection, which is more than an average morality on good terms with the world. It calls upon its adherents to renounce the world with its pomps and pleasures. At the same time, it rejects all quasi-physical ideas of holiness, insisting that holiness is a quality not of things but only of persons, and is to be found in the common performance of the moral demands of Christ. It, therefore, takes the Sermon on the Mount seriously and, sometimes, almost as a New Law. It feels compelled to reject the notion that the Church is in possession of an objective, concrete holiness, which it can impart to mankind through its sacraments and which is something quite apart from the personal holiness of its members. In its worship the Sect-type tends to revolt from ordered and liturgical forms and prefers a worship which is free, spontaneous, enthusiastic and un-stylized. The tones of its piety are not aesthetic and ritualistic but ethical and prophetic.

Now that sufficient has been said for the reader to recognize the two types, the question may be raised whether we can discover less question-begging names for them than those employed by Troeltsch. it has been suggested that "Group-type" would serve better than "Sect-type" and also bring out the fact that the Sect-type does not aim at establishing mass churches. Unfortunately, however, the term "group" is now associated in the minds of many with the Oxford Group Movement. A better suggestion is to apply the term "voluntary" to the Sect-type and the term "institutional" to the Church-type. In the structure of the former the voluntary element is certainly stronger than the institutional. By it church-membership is made a matter of individual free-choice, and church-organization takes the form of voluntary associations. Moreover, the term "voluntary" has often been employed in Britain to indicate institutions free from State interference and control, which are supported by the voluntary gifts of their members. But the term "institutional" is not free from objection, as it may suggest to some readers a church which provides an institute with recreational facilities for its young people.

Other suggestions are "Catholic" for the Church-type and "Gathered" for the Sect-type; "comprehensive" for the former and "confessional" for the latter. No suggestion is likely to command universal approval. Probably no serious harm will be done if we keep fairly closely to the terminology of Troeltsch in the following pages, and are careful to remember that he does not use the term "Sect-type" polemically, as its opponents have often done, to suggest that it possesses a larger share than the Church-type of the sectarian temper.

The adherents of the Church-type have always been more numerous than those of the Sect-type. Thus arose the tendency, which has not yet spent itself, for the Church-type to regard the Sect-type as an inferior side issue or an unfortunate exaggeration or abbreviation of ecclesiastical Christianity, which alone has any right to exist. "There can, however, be no doubt," says Troeltsch, "about the actual fact: the sects, with their greater independence of the world, and their continual emphasis upon the original ideals of Christianity, often represent in a very direct and characteristic way the essential, fundamental ideas of Christianity." "The essence of the sea does not consist merely in a one-sided emphasis upon certain vital elements of the Church-type, but is in itself a direct continuation of the idea of the Gospel." Troeltsch admits, however, that though both streams take their rise in the depths of the same mountain range, their waters are differently coloured and have a different taste. The idea that the Sect-type of Christianity is of comparatively recent growth is, then, one which will not bear examination. Sound scholarship has made it clear that for several centuries the Christian Church fluctuated a great deal between the Church and Sect-type. Indeed, the Church-type became dominant only after Christianity had taken up into itself, from Judaism and the heathen cults, sacerdotal notions of the Christian ministry and had compromised its independence by forging an alliance with the State. It was never able completely to suppress the Sect-type which appears in the Montanists, the Novatianists, the Donatists, the Cathari, the Paulicians, the followers of Peter of Bruys, the Waldensians, the Franciscans, Wyclif and the Lollards, and the Hussites. In all these movements may be traced, in varying degrees, an attempt to assert the spirituality of the Church, an insistence that doctrines and institutions must be judged by Scripture, and also an awakening of the spirit of free lay discussion. The Paulicians, who flourished in the Eastern Church during the eighth and following centuries, and the followers of the French priest, Peter of Bruys, who lived in the twelfth century, definitely rejected infant-baptism in favour of that of believers only...."

Forerunners A History of the English Baptists
by A. C. Underwood, D.D.
The Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland

The idea that I promote here is not to extol the Baptist but warn of the dangers of the institutional Church type. It is not limited to Christianity, most all religions other than biblical Christianity are of this type. They are political instead of spiritual, Islam being the current news headliner. Religion is used to make the people unwilling pawns in the radical grab for physical control and the enslavement of people.