Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Repost: The Religious Feudal System

Another oldie but goodie from way back in 2009! Any post that mixes ecclesiology and Monte Python is a guaranteed winner!


I have a burr in my saddle about something and it led me to thinking about the feudal system. As you probably know, this was one of the primary modes of economics and government in the Middle Ages in Western Europe, a thousand year period between the 5th and 16th century (which coincidentally is about the same time between the rise of Roman Catholicism and the start of the Protestant Reformation). One of the keys was the idea of fiefdoms in a feudal society, where small, quasi-independent local lords ruled over a fiefdom. They had their own castle or stronghold and their assigned peasants. Those peasants, as I understand it, like the lord were loyal in some way to the king of the land but their real loyalty was to the local lord. After all, he was the one they knew and who provided them with protection and to whom they provided service.

Each “local church” in fact if not in theory operates like a fiefdom. There is a king, Jesus Christ, that we pay homage to but our real concern is on our local fiefdom called the “local church”. We recognize other fiefdoms as more or less legitimate, i.e. other local churches, but because they are THAT church and not OUR church, because they have a different worship style or affiliate with a different denomination we stay clear of them. Sure there are people hurting or in need in other areas but our focus is on the people in our fiefdom. Let the lord, er pastor, of that fiefdom, um local church, take care of his own people. We have problems enough of our own to deal with. Thus we become focused on the issues and problems of our own little fiefdom even as we claim to recognize the universality of the church. Essentially we live our lives on our own plot of land and isolate ourselves from the greater Body of Christ.

Even the economic system works in a similar fashion. The “members” of the local church work the land and pay a portion to the pastor. The pastor in return provides them with doctrinal protection and services that they don’t want to do themselves, like visiting the sick and the widows. A feudal lord was granted his position because of lineage and power, a pastor is granted his position by his education and ordination. The medieval lord had a sword, the pastor has his pulpit. Peasants weren’t allowed to have swords lest they rise up against the lord, church members stay clear of the pulpit lest they wonder why they pay someone to do what they could do themselves.

On the other hand, you can go too far the other direction and make the Roman mistake of overemphasizing the link between interconnectedness and centralization of power. Medieval Rome had a virtual monopoly on Christianity and maintained that grip by any means necessary, even if that meant putting malcontents to death. Neither the neo-feudalism of the traditional church or the stifling authoritarianism of Rome represents the Biblical church.

The proper and I believe Biblical road is to see the Body of Christ for what it is, all of the redeemed everywhere and for all time. That means that in truth and not merely theory that the Presbyterian down the road and the Christian in Tanzania are members of the same church as you. They are not relegated to distant relatives because they are in a different “local church”. One of the things that has been hard for me to get used to is that different speakers each week at church. I have to say I am coming to enjoy it. I like that we have guys from other assemblies come and speak to us. It shows an interconnectedness that is missing from the fiefdom church model we are so used to. It is almost unthinkable to have a someone other than the pastor teach. If he leaves for vacation, he arranges "pulpit supply" from outside of the congregation. Why not do as the Bible teaches and disciple men in the local gathering to maturity so that they can also be part of the gathering of the church in a meaningful way? I have my own theory about that.

It is not a good thing when you can see parallels between Monthy Python and the local church. I am just saying.

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