The Sacral Solution to Megachurch Capitalism?

The Rev. David Robertson says about Tullian Tchividjian’s resignation from his ministerial position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church,

There are honourable exceptions to this, but it seems that the American megachurch tends to reflect the American corporation, rather than the biblical concept of the church. Corporate churches tend to be run like corporations, with corporate boards, corporate facilities, consumer mentalities and corporate leaders with corporate salaries. … The trouble with the corporate model of church is that it leaves the CEOs (otherwise known as ‘senior pastors’) as a combination of business manager, advertising guru and celebrity personality. And that is a very lonely and isolating position. Maybe a return to a more biblical pattern of church, with elders and preachers as ‘under shepherds’ and answerable to the wider church, rather than the stakeholders (shareholders?) of the local corporate church entity, might provide a better context for accountable ministry.

I am of much the same opinion, but King-Ho questions whether the megachurch is simply a product of American capitalist culture, pointing out that Charles Spurgeon was neither American nor a part of the postindustrial neoliberal order. He adds, ‘Whilst it is undoubtedly true that pastoral ministry is characterised in the Scriptures with imageries of the “shepherd”, I do wonder whether one (say, in the Middle Ages) may argue that the “shepherd” model is just yet another “reflection” of the contemporary “secular” culture – just of a feudalism rather than capitalism?’ Perhaps, he says, cathedrals and the Jerusalem Temple were a sort of pre-capitalist megachurch, with a diocesan bishop or a high priest as the centralized CEO figure. That a model of polity (and, by extension, of authority) is not capitalistic does not make it necessarily biblical or ‘less secular’.

While I share the concern that Christians in ritual and organization, as in morals, should not simply ape the ungodly, I find the imitation of ‘secular’ organization, at least in moderation, to be rather good than bad. Indeed, I think it as much a problem as ‘secularization’ that the solutions proposed are clericalist in tone. This kind of solution is prone in its turn to something like ultramontane Papalism with its centralized figure in Rome, which tends in the face of challenges to have the whole world conform to the canons and the liturgical usages of Rome, rather than deal with licensing usages locally as orthodox. Even Presbyterianism has its own version of this tendency, though less bureaucratically centralized, in the biblicist compulsion to justify its form of worship as mandated by holy Scripture. (In both cases it is imagined, or comes to be imagined, that the whole world is to have but one form of worship treated as pleasing to God.) But holy Scripture and the Ghibelline tradition, their principle articulated by the Reformed confessions, hold that the determination of things in themselves indifferent – such as the appointment of bishops, the organization of the visible Church as integrated with society, and the form of worship used – has a place for the king or the other civil magistrates, and indeed that in such matters, under God, the king is supreme.

Indeed, if the ideal is for society to be thoroughly Christian and thus locally to be the Church, the fact cannot be escaped that the king is inseparable from the duty to protect the gospel and, as head of all things not by nature æternal, to rule. Just as clear is that the things we often call ecclesiastical, or churchly, cannot so differ from the rest of (to-be-Christian) society that Christians live virtually double lives between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’: the call is for our entire lives on earth to be, not sacralized, but godly, characterized by the grace of the Holy Ghost and ruled by the imperium of Jesus Christ.

Thus, when we read of the worship in Christianized Rome, such as in the Ordo Romanus Primus, we do see it reflecting the civil order and calling the people to sanctify that order. Before Mass on solemn days, the Ordo Romanus Primus orders thus:

Thus, on solemn days (such for instance as Easter day) first of all the collets of the third district and the counsellors of every district meet at daybreak in the Lateran Palace, and proceed on foot before the pontiff to the stational church: and the lay grooms walk on the right and the left of his horse in case it stumble anywhere. Those who ride on horseback in front of the pontiff are the following:– The deacons, the chancellor, and the two district-notaries, the district-counsellors, and the district-subdeacons.

Not only do we have deacons, subdeacons, and collets (acolytes), belonging to one of the seven ecclesiastical districts, but also accompanying the Bishop of Rome we have the city’s chancellor and the district notaries and counsellors. Clearly this pomp, having both ecclesiastical and civil officers, reflects the fact that the entire city, both ecclesiastical leaders and civil, is concerned with the work of worshipping God. It also reflects the city’s social hierarchy by attaching officers to the Bishop in the approach to the place of worship. Thus the retinue both reflects and sanctifies the city’s organization.

Even when the Bishop of Rome has gone into the church sacristy and the deacons have exited to their duties, there remain with him ‘the chancellor, the secretary, the chief counsellor, the district-notaries, and the subdeacon-attendant’. Thus, even where he dresses for worship, the Bishop is accompanied by several of the civil officers. When he dresses, it is the chancellor and the secretary who arrange his vestments so that they hang well.

The offertory is even more elaborately organized according to rank and office, and I think it better to direct the reader to read about it than to try to describe it myself.

It is sufficiently shown, I hope, that according to the Ordo Romanus Primus the ecclesiastical offices are organized quite like the civil, and that the civil officers even take special parts in the conduct of worship itself, expressing the integration of Church and state. But the cæremonial, though concerning and involving the civil officers, is also recognizably about the holy, the divine, the supernatural: it is about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

To be sure, the existence of clerical officers distinct from the civil, and even in some ways parallel to the civil, is significant. But the significance is not that they, unlike the civil officers, are sacramental: for the civil officers too, even qua civil officers, are integral to the logistics of worship. In other words, it is not mere involvement in the sacrament that distinguishes the clerical officers, because even the lay officers of the city are ministers in the sacrament. Furthermore, it was commonly accepted in the Middle Ages that even a layman could baptize an infant. In the end, the holiness of the Church is not saved by a mere sociological difference between ordinary and sacramental parts of life, and between ordinary and sacramental persons. For is it not just as much a tragœdy when a prominent Christian layman is caught in adultery as it is when a priest is caught in adultery? And is it not just as wicked for a whole commonwealth to be ruled by capitalism as it is for an ecclesiastical corporation?

The Church’s clerics do lead the way in the commonwealth by publicly upholding and insisting on the standards of the word of God, but neither proximity to sacraments nor distinction from laymen, nor the formulations of orthodox sacramental theology, can make them holier. It is piety, and piety alone, that makes for human holiness. Sacramental theology is indispensable, but it is only a servant to sacramental piety, in which we long all week long to behold the holiness of the Lord in his temple the Church (and first of all in ourselves), and, while longing, to trust that the Lord has provided his precious body and blood and seek his righteousness by doing what is lawful and right. If we do so, as Ezekiel says, we shall save our souls alive; and the clerics who do so with diligent faith will help many do the same. It is for all of us to approach the sacraments with reverence and godly fear, with awe at God’s dreadful power to make us holy. To the source, then, that we may be one with the sacrifice of our Lord! May the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which were given for us, preserve our bodies and souls unto everlasting life.


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