Rauschenbusch on the church

“The Kingdom of God breeds prophets; the Church breeds priests and theologians. The Church runs to tradition and dogma; the Kingdom of God rejoices in forecasts and boundless horizons. The men who have contributed the most fruitful impulses to Christian thought have been men of prophetic vision, and their theology has proved most effective for future times where it has been most concerned with past history, with present social problems, and with the future of human society. The Kingdom of God is to theology what outdoor colour and light are to art. It is impossible to estimate what inspirational impulses have been lost to theology and to the Church, because it did not develop the doctrine of the Kingdom of God and see the world and its redemption from that point of view.”

Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, 1917.

Comments (7)

  1. TimN

    ‘But The church is not an abstract society,’ Don Angelo said, raising his voice, ‘The Church is what it is. It has a history of nearly 2000 years behind it. It is no longer a young lady who can permit herself acts of foolhardiness and indiscretion. She is an old, a very old, lady full of dignity, respect, trations, bound by rights and duties. It was of course founded by the crucified Jesus, but after him there came the apostles, followed by generations and generations of saints and popes. The churhc is no longer a small, clandestine sect in the catacombs, but has a following of millions and millions of human beings who look to it for protection.
    ‘Sending them to war is a fine way of protecting them,’said Don Paolo, seeming to forget prudence for a moment. ‘In the time of Jesus,’ he went on, ‘the old synagogue was an ol, a very old, lady with a long tradition of prophets, kings, lawgivers and priests and a large following to protect. But Jesus did not treat it with much respect.’
    Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine, 1937

  2. Luke

    Dear Rauschenbusch…might I ask how we can distinguish between “men of prophetic vision” and nutters? …Can I decide? Pretty PLEASE? Now then Lora, is that where we need the Church? Sola scriptura is arguably a Pandora’s box of schism and subjectivity without some checks and balances. I could do without the dreary dogma, and as Wilco sings, “theologians don’t know nothin about my soul,” but I find myself hesitant around all this “new church(es)” talk. Perhaps I would not be so inclined if someone could give me some kind of confidence in prophetic vision outside of the church not inevitably causing dissolution ad infinitum. Can we frame the discussion more in terms of creating the space for prophetic witness WITHIN the Church?…or am I just getting conservative in my old age?

  3. eric

    can someone (maybe luke) explain to me what the actual problem is with dissolution? ad infinitum or otherwise, i think i might be all for it. there’s a lot to be said for division, focus and starting over. why do we fight corporate monopolies and support church monopolies? why grow the church when you can shrink it?

    however, it seems to me that the rauschenbusch quote is all about creating a place for prophetic witness within the church. isn’t that what he explicitly complains about at the end of the quote – that the church hasn’t put enough focus into that?

  4. Lora (Post author)

    Luke asks: “might I ask how we can distinguish between ‘men of prophetic vision’ and nutters? …Can I decide?”

    Luke, consider it yours. Actually, that’s a question I’ve been pondering for awhile now. I’m kind of troubled by the use of the word “prophetic” within the church. I think it’s too easily claimed by groups who are on the leftward fringes of the church to justify whatever cause they’re pushing, and then used to rationalize said actions when the rest of the Mennonite church becomes uncomfortable. Granted, I think we need the people who make us American Mennonites uncomfortable; we’ve gotten so acclimated and acculturated that I think the early Anabaptists would’ve separated from us and Menno is probably rolling in his grave.But as far as the prophets go–aside from being crazy–well, they truly loved their people, and I’m not sure many of us within the church can claim such pure motives these days.

    I put that quote up there because it made me think, but honestly, I like tradition. And I’m fond of the idea of an old church. I thought of Eric’s post a few days ago as I was sitting in the sanctuary of a Greek Orthodox church. I’m not yet ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and start all over. That, and I’ve been reading too much Wendell Berry lately, so I’m inclined towards the idea of just committing myself to a place and a people and sticking with it, through hell and high water.

    I vacillate between wanting to hold onto the tradition and preserve what’s there (creating space within the church) and Eric’s idea of shrinking the church, but with the latter idea, how do you figure out who belongs and who doesn’t? Do I get to claim that? Do you? … Can we frame this in terms of creating space within the church? Absolutely. But the “priesthood of all believers” has kind of screwed us over in that regard–we may not have many church splits anymore, but it’s too easy to just leave and join another church. How do you create space within the church when it often seems as though the members are barely committed to each other?

  5. eric

    that’s a great point lora – i love the sense of commitment to a place and a people through… well, maybe not hell, but certainly high water. abuse, for example, should not be tolerated in a congregation any more than it is in a family system – but that’s hardly what you’re talking about. i also don’t like anyone making too many claims about who’s in and who’s out.

    problem is – i don’t see either of those being at odds with what i’m saying. small/focused and open/welcoming are not opposites. neither do you have to throw out any babies to start a new church. tradition and new creative approaches are not opposites – they are grounded in each other. starting over every year doesn’t mean just keeping what you are comfortable with and throwing the rest out – or kicking out everyone you don’t like – it just means talking about what you do and why.

    my mother’s church is in the radical process of exploring femanin language for god. people are leaving. no one is being kicked out – but the church is taking a stand. membership is not more important than a strong purpose. but what happens when membership becomes the core focus of the church? ask constantine. i don’t really like the results.

    my grandma’s church has a strong mission for personal relationships. it’s grown to big to accomplish that mission in the way they would like – so they are splitting. hooray for them – they call it ‘planting’.

    i fell in love with the sung eucharist when i attended a service at the westminster abbey in london. since then i’ve been obsessed with anglican eucharist and catholic mass. there’s something brilliant about that kind of structure that we are missing in the mennonite church. i also love mennonite hymns. if you want to talk ‘traditional’ vs. ‘contemporary’ i fall squarely under the ‘traditional’ banner.

    i also think everything should be questioned and re-examined on a regular basis. why? exactly.

    when you ask questions you have to struggle to answer them. you have state it out loud. you have to say what your purpose is. i don’t care if your new church looks like the greek orthodox or the local bar scene – just have a good reason for it and make it something you believe in. i would suggest both – the menno approach to music, the catholic approach to art, the quaker approach to silence, the local bar approach to atmosphere, etc.

    the main point is: we get way too caught up in thinking certain things go with certain other things. hymns are for old people – praise songs for young people, dirges are for funereals, etc. in my church i would refuse to sing either one for a while. we’re only going to sing songs written by members of the congregation. maybe for five years. then we’re only going to sing gregorian chants. then we’re not going to sing at all – another five years. then maybe we’ll sing only one song for a year. or five years. i’m talking about an approach, not a thing. for me, the mass is about as new as it gets.

    think different. gregorian chant is the new praise song. try new things – like the oldest thing you can think of. it’s not about throwing anything out with anything else – it’s thinking creatively about what we do and how we push ourselves to do it in ways we haven’t thought of. sing a birth song at a funeral and a funeral song at a birth – you just might learn something new about life and that song. you might see a different side of something.

    it might blow your mind.

    or it might suck. so then do something else.

    when we know the way everything ought to be, we rarely experience anything new, or learn anything, or grow. if the church doesn’t challenge us, who will?

  6. Lora (Post author)

    “if the church doesn’t challenge us, who will?”

    Indeed. And amen. Eric, I’m glad I fleshed this one out, because I understand your post on tradition much better now. Beautiful comment.

  7. luke

    Sorry about not having more time to contribute to this discussion, but I am thankful that our dialogue brought the following question up:

    What is the actual problem with dissolution?

    Reflections: I think that this is a point of contention between many young Menno’s interested in the Church. Should we be concerned with splits or not? Do we have commitments to our current Church(es)? How far do those commitments extend? You may feel the answer to that question is obvious, but I’m not so sure.

    Lora, I think you were spot on with this point:
    “…It’s too easy to just leave and join another church.”

    That is getting to the heart of my qualms with dissolution and “focusing and starting over.” Are we taking the easy road?

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