Are We A Remnant Church?

The Bible loves telling the story of the underdog.  From Abraham charging recklessly into battle to save Lot to the rise of “The Way” in a pagan society, the Bible could be one large story about the underdog overcoming adversity.  This story demonstrates God’s control over all affairs (Exodus 7:1-5, Jeremiah 18:6), a truth everyone seems to understand.

A secondary truth this way of storytelling gives us is that while God is supreme, we are quite limited.  Even though God performed all the signs and wonders so that the Egyptians freely parted with the Israelites, only a small remnant of that group actually reached the Promised Land.  (Numbers 14:26-35.)  Though Abram’s descendants were as numerous as the stars of the sky (Genesis 15:5), only a remnant would actually live in the land they were promised.  (Isaiah 10:22)  St. Paul also picks up on this theme when he speaks about the remnant “chosen by grace.”  (Romans 11:5)  It is clear this concept of a remnant is important in Christianity.

While this importance shouldn’t be downplayed, I fear that many Catholics are learning the wrong lesson from this teaching.  Somewhere (and I’m not sure where) we began to instantly associate “remnant” with “small minority” and “small minority” with “the true faith.”  Everyone began building their own factions within the Church, all claiming to be the remnant of the Bible.  Implicit in the concept of the so-called “Benedict Option” [1] is the idea that they are that remnant not just in society, but in Christianity as well.

This has gotten to such absurd levels that American Catholicism can hardly be described as a church but more akin to a roving band of ecclesial warlords leading their militias.  Combine this increasing sectarian nature of the Church with a growing marginalization, and you get a Church not only isolated from the world, but isolated from each other as well.  Pope Francis condemns this as the “self-referential Church.”

To defeat this self-referential concept of Christianity, we must tackle the true meaning of what the bible’s remnant is.  In the Bible, not all remnants are created equal.  While most people pay attention to the remnant of Isaiah, the Bible mentions another remnant which is also worth paying attention to: The Remnant of Jeremiah’s time.

After the fall of the Kingdom of Judah, a small group of Israelites were left in the land by the Babylonians.  These individuals immediately started a power struggle for themselves, with one leader killing the other.  Once the new leader had secured for himself his power, he asked Jeremiah to bless “this remnant.” (Jeremiah 42:2)  Rather than issue a blessing, Jeremiah offered them a warning:  their current plan would almost certainly lead to their destruction.

I find this story quite relevant for our times.  This remnant came into being after centuries of mostly weak and sometimes terrible rulers.  They were mostly bereft of any security or stability.  A foreign culture and power had overcome all that they knew and held dear.  They left the lands they belonged to so that they could now live out the truth as they understood it.  Can we Catholics not at least partially identify with this?  Have we not been through several decades of (with some notable exceptions) mediocre leadership?  Has not worldly thinking overcome substantial quarters of the Church, something Paul VI noted now four decades ago?

While we can sympathize with this viewpoint, we have to ultimately reject it.  Jeremiah notes that their goal was a noble one.  They looked to a place “where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor suffer hunger.”  (Jeremiah 42:14)  While a noble impulse, one cannot ever fully escape the effects of sin.  Retreat from sin, and it will simply occupy the spot you fled, and continue pursuing you.  Retreating from society will only cause the decay of society to accelerate.  You might have been an avenue of God’s grace to improve the situation.  Without you, there are fewer opportunities for that grace to shine.

Opposed to this remnant is the remnant the Bible praises:  the elect chosen by grace.  They are the remnant not because of their size, but because they are the “first fruits” of creation offered to the Lord.  (Revelation 14:4)  This remnant came from all “nations, tribes, people and tongues”, that is, from every walk of life.  (Revelation 7:9)  They didn’t retreat from the world.  On the contrary, they endured “great tribulation” (persecution) as well as “hunger and thirst.”           They lived a life defined by suffering and tears.  Yet it is this witness that gives the world hope, and causes God to intervene to protect His people.

While it may seem this way, I don’t intend for this article to be an intellectual exercise, or just a studying of Old Testament curiosities.  As a traditionalist I see the false concepts of a remnant theology devastate my brothers, just as Catholics of all stripes have watched the self-referential Church leave behind at the same time a Church more educated and yet more ignorant than ever, a group whose certainty of mission is only rivaled by their certainty to avoid actually having to carry it out.

The first step towards restoration is not to form a remnant and isolate.  It is to seek out what we were called to be, and go out and do it.  The next time you feel drawn to a remnant, don’t look at their size.  Look at what they are defined by and how they act.

 

[1] A concept that mostly centers on Christians retreating from the world to preserve truth until the current crisis in the world and Church ends.

image: Whitby Abbey / Shutterstock

Kevin Tierney

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Kevin Tierney is the Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane. He and his family live in Brighton, MI. Connect with him via FB  or on twitter @CatholicSmark.

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  • http://www.saints365.blogspot.com Debbie Gaudino

    Excellent article Kevin! Self-proclaimed remnant groups seem to always wind up imploding and the witness of their self-destruction drives people away from the faith rather than towards it. This article is a great word of caution..

  • Mary

    I don’t understand “joining” the remnant. The way I understand the remnant is that there are fewer in the Church who actually believe what the Church teaches and live it, than there are people who just claim the identification of Catholic. I don’t even know what a self proclaimed remnant group is.

  • gla1946

    St. Pius X Society is the REAL Remnant Church.

  • http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com/ Kevin Tierney

    I kinda figured the article spoke for itself, but here goes:

    When you see the tendency to proclaim yourself as above others, as part of the “chosen few” who still get it while the rest of the world (or church) burns, then yeah, such a person falls into the problem.

    The simple fact is that as human nature has taught us, there will ALWAYS be fairweather followers of God. The prophets warn about it constantly, and it was such a common occurence St. John had to write an epistle about how to come to terms with it, and the author of the Hebrews had to warn about it every other verse he wrote. (over 50% of the verses in Hebrews warn against apostasy while still thinking they were part of the Church.)

    This mentality normally leads to isolating yourself further and further from everything else, believing you will simply go into survival mode. This happened during Jeremiah’s time, and he condemned it. It undercut Israel’s role as a witness to the nations, and if they withdrew, they withdrew the chance to bring people to repentance a la Jonah and Nineveh. A Catholicism which is inward looking cannot survive.

  • http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com/ Kevin Tierney

    While that’s part of it, this really goes beyond the typical identifications. I’d think just as much of the Catholic blogosphere (in all circles) ascribes to this mentality. That shouldn’t be surprising given how weak the Church in America is.

  • BillinJax

    “Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and
    religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears
    to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests,
    your bishops, like bishops, and your religious act like religious.”

    —-Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, before the Knights of Columbus,
    June 1972

  • spiritualmystic

    The devil hates Jesus, and the devil is the ruler of this world and also the devil has much power in this world and he gives abundantly to his people. If you haven’t found that out being an underdog, then you certainly haven’t found Jesus.

  • Maria

    What might be more important could be if we recognise how much debt of sin, esp. of idolatry of giving time , attention and thus honor to craetures is, in our own hearts, families and thus , how we give only a remnant of what we ought to , to God !
    That , in turn , invites in the enemy , who , like the prowling lion, tries to do its job, of taking away any remnanat of faith and love for God and neighbor – of wanting to see the other too, to have a good realtioship with The Lord !
    Thank God , for The Eternal Sacrfiice and its infinite merits and may we be blessed to take in more of same with love and adoration , on behalf of all in our lives too , to free us from the clutches of idolatry !

  • Maria

    More of us also being able to take in the joy and awe that The Lord wants us to have , such as by being caught up , into the moment of Incarnation – what The Mother would have experienced , in The Holy Spirit , such moments also would bring forh fruits even with the remnnat of faith !.
    .same for the moment of The Immaculate Conception- the holiness and pure love of the parents of Bl.Mother – this , esp. for those moments of lonliness and pain that would come even in good marriages , from struggling with the idolatry of selfishness ;
    and taking in the deep trust that The Mother would have , standing at the foot of The Cross , The Lord knowing of her pain and both also knowing that one word from Him could put an end to the pain but submitting to His holy will, to undo the enemy induced idolatrous hold of rebellion against The Father , thus to strenghen and bless millions down through the centuries , through the outpouring of The Spirit , made possible by The Passion – may we too trustingly invoke , with The Mother , more of same , into many lives , in The Holy Spirit , that renews all, esp. when the idolatry of emotions clamor for fallen , enemy ways that want to come and destroy, life and true freedom for here and all eternity ! !

  • pbecke

    Spot on, Mr Tierney.

    The old saying, ‘Only in America’ cuts both ways. You have a lot of self-proclaimed, ‘holier and more Catholic than the Pope’ types, but always correspondingly egregious luminaries, who see and understand the way things are, and work to correct and re-balance them. A very insightful article, if I may say so.

  • Chris K

    I hear you. It is easy to assume the “circle the wagons” mentality in today’s society. But I am reminded not to “hide my light under a basket”. Then I am consoled with “be not afraid”…guess it all comes down to “Jesus, I trust in you”

  • RG

    The history of the Church in both the Old and New Testaments is one of a small number of people setting themselves apart from the world in order to live a better and more spiritually authentic life. And the world hates them for it. You think that you can change the culture and keep your family from falling into the pit of materialistic relativism, I’m happy for you. But I would argue that most people in these “remnant” groups are just trying to raise good and holy families and there is a much stronger Biblical and traditional basis for this than there is to become missionary families or some such lay-person-led movement. I’m sick of this throw your family to the wolves mentality prevalent among lay Catholics. For religious, fine. For married people our focus is to nurture and educate our children

  • RG

    So that they can join the fight by living their vocations as religious or married persons. Raise your children in Catholic homes surrounded by other Catholic families. Let them be safe as they develop and change the world in their future vocations as adults.

  • http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com/ Kevin Tierney

    There’s a distinction between being in the world, and being of it. We can’t retreat from the world. That’s just not possible as laypeople. Nobody doubts the good intentions of this concept. It’s just that good intentions need to be measured by Biblical standards, and in the sense the Church has always understood them. This escapism, even for good reasons, fails such a test.

    But as to the part about the lay-person-led-movements, that’s a point worth taken. We’re kind of in uncharted ground here. I don’t think the mantra of “pay, pray, obey” was ever actually true, but when it did exist, it really wasn’t the answer.
    And I would question if the point was really “setting themselves apart from the world in order to live a better and more spiritually authentic life.” That’s not what the Bible says. The Bible makes it clear, the Israelites were to be a priestly nation, preparing the world for the Messiah.

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