We in the U.S. know that one of the primary foundations of our democracy is freedom of speech. That is being able to say something different from our leaders and not suffer serious consequences. In my opinion this is what has allowed our country to remain so strong over the centuries. Many times criticisms lead to change and though we might not realize it at that time that is good for us. It makes us better; it makes us stronger. Without freedom of speech I doubt our country we even exist today.
Anyone who has studied church history at all knows that it is not a democracy but instead has for most of its history a very vertical oriented top-heavy organization. When the leader of the church, or even most of his immediate underlings said something everyone was expected to quickly get in line with his words. Dissension is just not allowed. Anyone who even hinted of a disagreement were quickly handled. In the past anyone proclaimed a heretic, which basically meant they didn’t agree with their leaders in some aspect, had all of their writings burned so they would not pollute the church. And many followed their books into the flames.
Thank heaven at least in the last few centuries heretics are not so severely handled but that does not mean that they are not severely dealt with. Many think only of the Catholic church when they think of the power structures. No Catholic, especially the cardinals and bishops would go against anything that the Pope proclaims. But this situation also occurs amongst the Protestant denominations as well.
If you even hint that you don’t agree with all the various creeds and statements given by your denomination’s leadership you will also be chastised or even kicked out. I know personally of a Lutheran minister who was brought back from an overseas mission and stripped of his sermon rights because he dared to join in prayer with those in other Christian groups. It seems that most denominations and that includes the Catholic church (although they don’t like being called a denomination) just won’t accept any straying from the stated doctrine of their group. They all claim that it would stain their institutional purity. About the only denomination that I am aware of that doesn’t do this are the Quakers. But since they are adamantly opposed to creeds in general that seems a natural to them.
This lack of accepting fellowship with other Christians is one of the most serious problems causing the generally sharp decline in the institutional church. Their arrogance in thinking that they are pure and others are not is driving away membership especially among the younger generations. The emergent church movement, although not yet well-defined , generally prefer a very horizontal structure if they have a structure at all. Creeds and such are just not important to most of them.
I will be posting more about the emergent movement in the coming weeks. There are several books that are well worth the read if you are interested. I will be getting into that in later posts.