Negotiating Authority

A section of Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence deals with an issue of the Protestant Reformation that is freshly alive during this season of “disaffiliation” by various congregations seceding from the United Methodist Church. It’s the issue of authority:

Always without fail, the thing that gets lost early in the process of a reconfiguration is any clear and general understanding of who or what is to be used as the arbitrator of correct belief, action, and control. The Reformation … (answered) the question almost immediately, Sola scriptura, scriptura sola. Only the Scripture and the Scriptures only. ... No more Pope … only the Good Book.

The obvious … benefit … was that once a new source of unimpeachable authority has been duly constituted and established, things always begin to wind back down from chaos to relative stability again. … Sola scriptura required absolute and universal literacy if it were going to work.

The most obvious problem of universal literacy is … different interpretations …. We may laugh and say that divisiveness was Protestantism’s greatest gift to Christianity, ours is a somber joke. Denominationalism is a disunity in the body of Christ….

Denominations have problems. Congregations have problems. Negotiating authority and accountability can be as difficult within an independent congregation’s four walls as in a culturally diverse denomination.

From a review of Cathleen Falsani’s Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Practice.

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