Christ Without the Church?

Christ Without the Church?

Anne Rice has been much in the news because of her announcement that she is leaving Christianity. No more church for her, she says.  Not that she is abandoning Christ—just the institutional church. “I refuse to be anti-gay,” she says. “I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.”I found Anne Rice’s 2005 spiritual autobiography, Called Out of the Darkness, where she chronicled her return to Catholicism, very moving. It was clear that she had come to a genuine faith in Christ. When I read her comments about homosexuality—very personal comments, expressing her devotion to her gay son—in that book, however, I said “Uh oh!” to myself. Not because I was ready to question her faith commitment on that score, but because I worried that that sort of strong advocacy she was expressing would alienate her from Evangelicals and conservative Catholics—the folks most likely otherwise to celebrate her marvelous testimony of  profound Christian commitment. It is clear now that the alienation has gotten to her. Some folks obviously wanted to use her to support their agenda, and she has refused to play along.

I am saddened by her decision. At the same time, I am encouraged by her clear testimony of a continuing commitment to Jesus Christ.

The fact is that she is only a much-publicized version of something that has been happening a lot in recent years. The growing movement of Christians who love Christ but can’t find spiritual nurture in “church” is a phenomenon that we—those of us who love “organized” Christianity, warts and all—have to reckon with. Maybe her manifesto is in fact God’s call to start doing the reckoning.

It is easy to decry her decision—as some have done—as yet another manifestation of a “Lone Ranger” approach to the spiritual life. But that is too easy. (And not fair to Tonto either!) The fact is that many representatives of the church who are most critical of a yes-to-Christ but no-to-the-organized-church approach don’t seem to have the same hostile attitude toward, say, a Thomas Merton, who ended up spending much time as a hermit, because he found that more spiritually enriching than active involvement in a community of monks who spent most of their time maintaining lives of silence. Or toward the men and women of the past who lived alone in desert caves, writing prayers and meditations.

Some people forsake organized Christianity for superficial reasons—even stupid ones. But there are others who separate themselves from Christian community for what I suspect are profound motives. I say I “suspect” here because it all remains a bit of a mystery for me. And then there are those who may not be right up there with the Desert Fathers and Mothers, but neither are they acting on stupid impulses. They constitute a challenge that those of us who care about both Christ and his church need to begin to take more seriously.


  1. Next February I will celebrate my twentieth year as a Christian after coming to faith as a thirty-something adult. Very involved and committed, first at my newly born faith church, then the larger church I joined when I needed more depth and, lastly, the third church, where I had such hope that it would practice an orthodox christianity in an intellectual university town.

    Alas, the disappointment I feel! And for all the reasons opposite of Ms. Rice. Where she doesn’t want to be anti-gay, I am alarmed at the growing acceptance of homosexuality and the inability of the church to address the issue theologically. By that I mean, not procreatively, but through a theology of the body. Where she doesn’t want to discard secular humanism, I worry again that too much progressive human ability has overtaken the mystery of and dependence upon God. I could go on.

    At the root, it seems, is the Protestant churches proclivity to morph into a religion du jour. There is no there, there. I toy with the idea of joining the Catholic Church for the stability of their years of tradition and the pontificate, but alas, again, a few serious theological issues arise in their doctrine.

    Yes, yes, we can point to God and to Christ, but that leads to isolated spiritualism.

    As a good friend said to me, “If the protestant church would act like the protestant church people wouldn’t be leaving.” I do believe he was talking about the reformed protestant church.

    Comment by Diane S. — August 9, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

  2. I was saddened by Ms. Rice’s recent dismissal of the church from her understanding of what it means to be a Christian. While many Protestants would be shocked, the statement made by Cyprian and others, “Outside the Church there is no salvation,” was made and endorsed by Calvin and others as well. By dismissing the church for its refusal to abide her “pick and choose” approach to the faith, Rice has simply joined the ranks of so many folks who have taken up the notion that they can have Jesus apart from his actual teaching.

    Comment by Walter L. Taylor — August 10, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  3. Rice may be on to something too. I understand where she is coming from . It seems that the modern Church is content to be defined by what we are against rather than what we are for.

    The Apostle Paul said that our spiritual nurture comes from our positive affirmations not our negative declarations. In Colossians 2:20-3-4 we hear that spiritual growth does not come from saying “no” to things of the world as much as it is birthed in saying a more powerful “yes” to God in Christ.

    We are invited to set our minds on Christ and on things above. We are called to look to Him, run the race to Him, fix our eyes on Him …. we are not called to declare that Disneyland is wrong or that Christians should be Republican because of their stand against abortion …. We are to be above that as Christ followers. We get to proclaim the greatness of our King. We get to tell the world there is hope in Christ. We get to be positive in a broken, dark and negative world.

    Ms. Rice found a Christian community that is more clearly defined by what we are against than what we are for.

    Comment by Kevin Waters — August 12, 2010 @ 5:53 am

  4. That reference was supposed to be Colossians 2:20-3:4

    20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

    Colossians 3
    1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

    Comment by Kevin Waters — August 12, 2010 @ 5:57 am

  5. There is so much need for good teaching and training on ecclesiology! what a deficit exists!

    Comment by Steven Hovater — August 12, 2010 @ 9:01 am

  6. You have said much about those who “cannot find “spiritual nurture” in “church” The growing pheonomenom you cite identifying a gowing tendancy to seek the Christ outside of “organized religion” points to a significant failure of the chursh in hoping to placate the wandering suplicant by omittilng the cardinal injunction that Christ Himself pointed to -the fact that He gave us the vehicle he launched to drive us on the path to Him. His church. For what other reason did He “establish” it? Now, the “church”, whatever it is to each of us, is only a place where we “get” permission to feeol good about ourselves and poorly about most others. We now go to Safeway for our daily bread. If we let the “church” fail us we have not let Christ “do His thing”.

    Comment by Edmund E. Jacoutot — September 23, 2010 @ 10:52 pm