Monday, April 26, 2010

The Theology of Fallibility Part IV

Reforming the Church

It should be evident to all that the paternalistic hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has lost contact with the Spirit of God and is no longer its instrument. The pedophile crisis, the effort of the hierarchy to cover that up and the attitude in the hierarchy that their primary objective is not to convey the message of Christ but to do anything to protect their own power, prestige and wealth has made their very existence idolatrous. The hierarchy as presently constituted is the exact opposite to the movement based on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that Jesus announced at the last supper.

This process whereby the hierarchy lose their commision from God and need to be reformed and replaced has occurred several times in the history of the Jewish-Christian church. Ezekiel (Chapter23) sees God in a vision detaching himself from the Temple in Jerusalem in the form of a chariot becoming flexible and mobile. Ezekiel then has a vision of God upbraiding the shepherds (the hierarchy) of Israel (the Temple Priests) for having failed to feed his sheep and abandoning them, to meet their own self interest. This is an exact parallel with what is happening in the Catholic church at this point in history.

God then revealed a new understanding of shepherding in which God himself would be the shepherd, "Behold I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep!"

Judaism and Christianity are both religions of the collasping Temple. There is always a connection between the collapse of the Temple and the Spirit of God bringing into existence a new form of shepherding. It was the collapse of the Temple in 587 BC which led to the creation of text based Judaism. And, again, the collapse of the Temple in 70 AD which led to the creation of Rabbinic Judaism.

In every case the collapse is part of God's plan to get through to his people and help them to get beyond something that is no longer worthy of them. It took a long time, but only after Ezechiel achieved a certain form of indifference to the fate of the Temple was he able to receive the vision from God of God himself shepherding his people without any intermediary.

In the gospel of John, Jesus identifies the new Temple with his body and the body of all who have received the indwelling Spirit. I am sure that anyone who has experienced God's love and has been freed from self-rejection, and then takes the final step under the guidance of God's Spirit of freeing themselves from external Church authority, will also hear the call to ministry in their hearts. In this very process they have become members of the Church of the Holy Spirit.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are at present in a new stage of the collapsing Temple and the emergence of a new form of shepherding. Joachim of Flores in the 13th century saw three stages in the development of God's church. The first was the Church of obedience to the Father, the Church of Israel; the second was the Church of the Son, Jesus, which he identified with the hierarchical Catholic church. He prophesied that there would come the day when the hierarchical church, becoming superfluous, would in time dissolve and in its place would emerge the Church of the Holy Spirit. I believe that time is now.

Ministry in the Church of the Holy Spirit will come from a direct call of the Holy Spirit to any baptized person from within their spiritual self-awareness. The task of authority will be to listen prayerfully to what the Holy Spirit is saying through the people of God. All authority will proceed from the bottom up and not from the top down. Every community should prayerfully discern spirits to select among their members the one whom God is calling to leadership. That individual could be a man or woman, married or single, gay or straight! The Church of the Holy Spirit must become a totally democratic church with no caste system, no higher or lower, totally equal, women with men, gays with straights; everyone posessing the Holy Spirit within them; eveyone an authority.

For example, who knows what God wants from women? Obviously, only women can discern what God is asking of them. The task of authority in the evolving Church of the Holy Spirit is to enter into dialogue with its women members and discern carefully what God is saying to the Chrurch through its female members.

Another example, who knows what God wants from the lesbian and gay members of the Church? Obviously, only the lesbian and gays! No one can tell us from outside what God wants of us. We are alone in knowing with an experiential knowledge that our love for each other contains the divine spirit and brings with it the kind of peace and joy that indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit.

How, then, can we help the Holy Spirit in her task of transforming the hierarchical Catholic Church into the democratic Church of the Holy Spirit. As I see it the whole Protestant reformation was a premature and aborted attempt to bring about that transformation. Many Protestant communions have developed a much more democratic structure, closer to the Church of the Holy Spirit that Jesus intended. The Roman Church could learn a lot from our Protestant brothers and sisters, if it had the humility necessary to open itself to dialogue with them, seeking their help in its reform from their charism.

The urgent necessity for reform makes the call of a new world-wide Church council imperative! But if the new council is just a repetition of Vatican II with only male hierarchs present, it will necessarily fail to undertake a radical transformation of the Church. The very existence of the hierarchy is the problem and we cannot expect the hierarchy to vote themselves out of existence.

The Second Vaican council took the first step when it redefined the Church as "the People of God." The new council, then, must be a council that truly represents the "People of God". The Second Vatican council also set the agenda for the world council of the People of God when it restated the Christian doctrine of freedom of conscience:

. .Every man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of man. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals and from social relationships [Vatican Council II, 1966, n. 16, pp. 213-214].

The council must seek out what church organization respects the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every member of the Church. How to so organize the church that every baptized member has a say, or at least a representation, in the governing body of the church. How to guarantee that church leadership makes is primary task to listen carefully to what the Holy Spirit is saying to it through the people of God. These are the primary tasks of the new council.

Let us all pray to the Holy Spirit to come and rescue the Catholic Church from its present bondage to a male clerical hierarchy!


  1. An extraordinary statement, John, which I've linked at Open Tabernacle. This needs to be widely read and disseminated. You have articulated so much more cogently and powerfully what many of us are fumbling to express. Thank you for this.

  2. John,

    I’ve come here from a friend’s blog because he cited your creative article.

    If the sole purpose of the Church was to promote a “Christianity of Values” then I would agree with you, but since it’s not, then, of course I don’t. As it stands now, both inside and outside the Church, we breathe the air of the reduction of faith to a certain vision of the world and life, to a morality or a set of values that, as such, can be admired or fought against. There are those, like Christians and some from the secular world, who uphold them, and others who fight against them in the name of the principle of the radical self-determination of the individual. But they all attempt to build a “Christianity without Christ.” It seems to me that you want to do the same thing, the only difference being that you pit the Holy Spirit against Christ and His body. Moreover, if what you assert is true, then Christ lied when He said I will be without you always, until the end of the world.

    Remember, the Tripersonal God is always the protagonist and He has a method.

    Moreover, it does not help your cause to cite a person whose writings were condemned and refuted by St. Thomas Aquinas and others.

    I agree that the Church needs reform but I do not think that your creative plan is a good model for reform. Christ will reform His Church as He sees fit.

    I agree with Jayden that your creative story needs to be widely read but I would add that the errouneous premises in it need to be vigorously refuted.


  3. John,

    Jayden posted a comment on the other blog that I'd like to also post here because Jayden's comment highlighted that one of my statements needs clarification:


    You are correct that a condemnation "in and of itself" can change with time but as of now that hasn't happened to Joachim of Fiore and so I believe it's best not to cite him because it muddies the water. Of course if someone cited Arius I would also tell them that it's probably not a good idea to do so. However, I wasn’t asserting that John’s proposal should be dismissed because he cited him, I was merely saying that it’s not a good idea and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify that!

    However, I do think there are serious problems with John’s premise and I have posted a comment on his blog so that I can have a conversation with him, if he so desires, because I’d like to understand why he promotes this unusual (and in my opinion erroneous) ecclesiology.

    BTW John, I went to the actual blog and sownloaded some of your other posts so that I have a context for this one.


  4. Henry,
    I read your comments with great interest. I have the feeling you seriously misunderstood my article. I absolutely deny that I substitute a Christianity of values for a belief in the divinity of Christ! Secondly, in no way do I "pit the Holy Spirit against Christ and his body." I merely assert the fundamental teaching of Christianity that Christ sent his Spirit who dwells in our hearts. Finally, I agree with you that Christ promised to be with us always but that 'us' signifies every baptized Christian. I gather that for you it means the political institution of the hierarchy and not the individual baptized person.
    I would like to talk to you personally! You can reach me at

  5. John,

    I read your reply to me with great interest and I can see that you are very clever with words and seem to use them like Pollack rather than Vermeer (both of whom are great painters). I certainly have no problem with your assertion that I may have misunderstood your article; so yes, perhaps a dialogue would be helpful.

    I posit that the “us” is a “both/and” while you seem to posit that it’s an “either/or.”

    Lastly, your choice of words - political institution of the hierarchy – is really interesting especially when one considers that human beings use words to identify something to someone.

    I will write to you as soon as I can.