Taken out of context this phrase is understandably provocative. However, its author, an eminent church historian, employs it with reference to the church’s disproportionate attention to academic theology at the expense of pastoral ministry before Vatican II – an imbalance that Pope John XXIII (now canonized) addressed with his insistence on aggiornamento, i.e. updating the church for the modern world.
After I read the phrase, the expression ‘organic church’ entered my mind. As our society becomes more and more interested in things organic, it isn’t surprising that these two words would be eventually linked. Never having encountered the term before, I began pondering the possibilities of its significance. When I later consulted the Internet (indisputable authority that it is), I was startled by how my interpretations of its meaning differ from popularly espoused conceptions.
Mindful of my general ignorance of ecclesiology, I find the term ‘organic church’ pregnant with fruitful implications and, popular conceptions aside, offer them for your consideration.
An organic church is whole and integral. Any inauthentic aspect it might absorb over time is either jettisoned or transformed by the force of its own vital authenticity. Its diversity – a consequence of its adaptability through time and place – strengthens rather than weakens its integrity. Its wholeness reflects the unity it possesses among a membership that is at once and forever local, universal, past and present.
Providentially cultivated an organic church is rooted in the inexhaustibly good soil of faith and nourished by the natural (even supernatural) and abundant grace of the Holy Spirit. It heals and sanctifies a world whose fallen nature is already redeemed by our Lord’s incarnation, passion and resurrection.
An organic Church is universally welcoming. Though some may consider its “cost” of membership a deterrent an organic church embraces all willing to accept its ‘good news’ and to lead lives accordingly inspired and guided by the Gospel.
Like any organic plant, an organic church experiences change without losing its identity. It is both institutional and dynamic. Informed by tradition established since its inception and responsive to ‘the signs of the times’ it accepts change without compromising the continuity of its leadership, the authority of its dogma, or the universality of its mission.
I wonder if the hierarchs gathered at that First Council of Constantinople in the year 381 considered the word ‘organic’ when they identified these attributes as the four marks of the church?
Dana Robinson is chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.