Recently, I was at a professional gathering of clergy and laity and the discussion turned to the doctrine of original sin. A person posed the following question:
If there is no great emphasis on original sin anymore, if we believe that people are basically good and that humanity can progress (Pelegias), then what do I do with Calvin? My church tells that I should believe in Calvin. What do I do with Calvin?
I really thought that this was an insightful perceptive question. Anthony Burguess, author of A Clockwork Orange, stated that history has been a conversation between Augustine, who developed the theory of original sin, and Pelegias, who basically observed that human nature was, in essence, good. How does Christian ministry respond to the needs of people and to the nature of humanity?
The Reformed tradition emphasized that the Biblical Canon, in this case the Old Testament and New Testament, were the source of revelation regarding God to humankind, sola scriptura in the words of Martin Luther. According to John Calvin, the significance of Christ was expressed in a three-fold manifestation of prophet, priest, and king: Munus Triplex - The Triple Cure - Christ as Prophet, Priest.
So are people bad or good or somewhere in between? I have been wondering about this again regarding the events that surround a particular church. There is a large church that has recently decided to withdraw its membership in its member denomination. The reason presented for this action was the congregation's disapproval regarding the denomination's position on same-sex marriage, GLBTQ clergy, etc.
This particular church has a large physical plant which is located on prime real estate in a downtown location. There was a strong possibility that there would be a protracted legal fight regarding between this congregation and the denominational authorities regarding ownership and disposition of the property. Now, what has developed is that this congregation will pay 1.5 million dollars to the local denomination headquarters and they will be able to own the church free and clear. The additional caveat is that no other church in the area where this church is located will be able to use the name of this congregation (the name being First Presbyterian Church).
The lawyers representing this congregation obviously argued their case well. The saying goes, "history is always written by the victors. " My concern, however, is what happens to the people in this congregation. Yes, there will be many members who will wish to stay with this congregation as it affiliates with another denomination. However, there will be those people who will feel lost, the "diaspora" those who still identify with the old denomination, but now find themselves with having no spiritual home. Who will be concerned about the spiritual well-being of these people?
How do we negotiate the "better angels of our nature" with our insatiable human desire to conquer and to maintain control? Are we more like Augustine or like Pelegias?
What would Calvin do?
I hope the answer would be that there would be love and charity, mercy and justice in unity for all in Christ's name.
May it be so.