Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The Communal Dimension of Christianity

In the newest issue of Traces, the magazine of the Catholic religious movement Communion and Liberation, there is a series of articles concerning a conference held in April at Georgetown University in Washington DC on Msgr. Luigi Giussani's book, The Risk of Education. One of the articles conisists of an interview with Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who was one of three speakers at the event. In the interview, Hauerwas spoke about how American culture is far more secularized than most people think, stating that "the Christianity in America is not thick in practices that actually form bodies to understand better what it means to be Christian." His explanation of this is very interesting:
    That has everything to do with the kind of Protestantism that shaped American society, which both produced and has then been reproduced by a certain understanding of the relationship with God that is gnostic in character. By that I mean people in America that are religious think that they have a relationship with God, which they go to church to have expressed. It doesn't occur to them that the only relationship with God that you can have--at least the God that we Christians worship--is through the mediation of the Church. So it simply becomes unthinkable for Americans to think that outside the church there's no salvation when in fact that's true: outside the church there is no salvation. The mediated character of Christianity is simply unknown and that means your educational task is not surrounded by the kind of thick practices that are necessary to sustain it (as any serious business).[Emphasis added]
To be a Christian means (among other things) to belong to the Body of Christ, which is the Church. You cannot be a Christian and not be a part of the Church: to state otherwise is to assert an ontological contradiction. As Hauerwas states, we do not go to church to celebrate and express our already-existing relationship with God... that relationship with God is given in, by, and through the Church.

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