As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been doing a bit of genealogical research lately. I discovered that one branch of my family tree descends from the Schwenkfelders, followers of a self-taught Protestant theologian named Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig. His main theological premise was that the Bible without the inner work of the Holy Spirit was just a dead text. He clashed with the Lutherans on some points of doctrine about baptism and the last supper and as a result Schwenfelders were persecuted in Germany and many of them fled to Pennsylvania.
I never knew that this group existed, and so I’ve been digging up everything I can about them. There is a Schwenkfelder Library, which has a Word Press blog. One of the articles says:
The oldest records of the concerns of the Schwenkfelder community in Pennsylvania can be found in the minutes of the Schwenkfelder General Conference. General Conference minutes are a historical record of the discussions and concerns within the church such as: monetary distributions out of the Schwenkfelder church charity fund, interactions with the 19th century Schwenkfelder historian Oswald Kadelbach, questions arising as to whether or not an “outsider” can become a member of the society, and many rules and regulations about marriage and dress.
Isn’t this always the big question for a religious group? What are the requirements to be considered part of the in-group? Should we let outsiders join in? If we do, how much do they have to conform to our ways? Which of our traditions and habits are essential to be “us” and which can we dispense with?
As I also mentioned in my posts, I’ve been reading the letters of St. Paul in the New Testament and he wrestles with exactly the same issues. Can gentiles join in? If they do, do they have to follow our dietary laws and be circumcised? If we say they do not, does that mean we have changed what it means to be “us?”
It is the question behind my post yesterday about a church firing a musician because he was gay. This is “not us.” Being “us” means not being gay.
I came across it in a review of my novel. The character of Ian, who is alienated from the church, starts to learn more about Christianity when he is hired to be a custodian at a church. The reviewer did not approve of non-Christians working in a Christian church, even as a custodian.
What are the boundaries? Who is allowed in? What do you have to do to be an insider?
It’s just the nature of things. Any kind of group has to define some sort of definition of what it is and is not to have any kind of meaning. Arguments over who is an insider and who is an outsider are part of the territory.