Two of my recent posts have tackled the issue of terminology in the Church and my position that it is not without consequence. The first go around, I challenged how much our understanding of the terms ‘worship,’ ‘church,’ and ‘love’ were grounded in the Scriptures. The second time, I took aim at the divide between ‘contemporary’ and ‘traditional’ ‘worship,’ challenging whether in either case the word ‘worship’ was the appropriate word to describe the purpose and nature of Christian gatherings.
From all this, one might gather that I would have resonated with the ‘anti-Church’ / ‘anti-organized religion’ spiel that Anne Rice unleashed recently. To a degree, and in a way, yes. However, if you read my reply to her you will see that there is a serious point of departure between our positions. Namely, Ms. Rice is unable to distinguish between the ‘organizational Church’ and the ‘Organic Church.’
Put simply, there is no good deed done by any Christian anywhere or at any time that is not done by the Church, for the straight forward reason that the Church is composed of people who are, quite literally and in reality, the Body of Christ. This is an organic relationship. The Christian Scriptures are abundantly clear that in a very real sense, Jesus is still incarnate on the earth through the people, who are his members. When a Christian helps a poor person- it is Christ doing it, hence, it is the Church doing it. If a Christian comforts a grieving person, it is Christ doing it- therefore it is the Church doing it.
This is a heretical way of thinking for people who do not take the Scriptures at their word. I outlined this reality in the previous posts, but I did not give in them this vivid piece of Scripture from 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 which relies on all this really being the case:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
For now I shall leave aside the teaching on sexuality provided by this text, but Ms. Rice and those who think like her should ponder whether or not this text allows people to participate in ‘creative’ sexual expressions and think that this has no bearing on membership in Christ, whom she still adheres to.
It is the Church Organic that is described in the Scriptures, and it is the Church Organic which will see the New Earth.
The same cannot be said of the Church Organizational, however.
According to the book of Hebrews, when Christ took his place as priest in heaven, the functions of the priesthood here on earth was abolished. (See for eg, Heb 10:11-18). It is difficult to imagine there still being a need on the other side of the veil for denominational presidents, pastors, human care committees, and the like. The Church Organizational is not an eternal entity. The people who compose the Church- the Church organic- are the ones that will live forever.
Unfortunately, it is a habit of the human creature to endlessly create bureaucracies, committees, and hierarchies. “Give us a King to rule over us like all the other nations!” we constantly cry out. “We can do so much more if we combine our resources nationally,” we argue. And someone has got to administer those resources, no? And someone has to monitor the one administering those resources. And someone has got to appoint both of those guys. And then one must be concerned that the resources are distributed fairly- but when you add layer upon layer of decision makers it becomes pragmatically impossible to know all that is needed to make good and proper decisions in all circumstances. Policies need to be drawn up- and someone has to draw them up. A father might tell one son that he can go across the street but forbids the other son. The latter protests- but the father knows that this one never looks both ways. In a bureaucracy, you could never get away with this sort of case by case analysis. The people must be homogenized.
And homogenization requires some measure of grinding, processing, boiling, and trampling upon the people.
The Church Organizational has a bad rap not because ‘organized religion’ is bad but because organized anything tends to grind people up and spit them out. (It is one of those tragic and sad ironies that many of the same people who decry the Church Organizational are happy enough to turn people over to government bureaucracies. *sigh* )
It can be argued, and will be argued, that there is no way to avoid some kind of organization. Let it be granted. But let us not be fooled into thinking that this pragmatic reality comes with some sort of holy warrant. Let us never forget that however we choose to organize ourselves as Christians, it is only we Christians that will occupy paradise. The organization itself will be utterly forgotten. Only the organs will remain, and the Body in whom they reside.
Christians must be constantly aware of the fact that the form of a thing isn’t neutral. The form itself will have consequences. The form may not be unbiblical- but the consequences might be. Until Christ returns and puts things to rights, thinking carefully about the forms and monitoring carefully the consequences will be… or should be, at any rate… part of the Christian experience.
We should be careful not to go beyond what is written (1 Cor 4:6) when contemplating how, when, and why we should ‘organize.’ Not every conceivable structure has the same Scriptural weight. When we see ‘organization’ in the Scriptures we should ask ourselves: “Is this here because it reflects some kind of divine order of things or were the early Christians merely behaving pragmatically?”
As a case in point, consider Acts 6. In this account, we see the apostles already struggling with the problems of bureacracies- the Hebraic Jews were apparently being favored over the Grecian Jews. They solved this problem on the fly by appointing a committee of men to deal with the issue. What does this teach? Does it teach that every local congregation should have a committee of men to make sure that Jewish widows get their fair share? What if a congregation doesn’t have Jewish widows? “Oh, it’s the principle, you fool!” you say. Indeed it is, but not that we should argue that Scripture orders us to have a committee to distribute food, but that rather we can change up our organization on the fly as the situation warrants it.
On the same basis, we may determine that our organizational structure itself is causing problems.
It is my contention that it is. It’s causing big problems. Not many of the sort that many ‘anti-organized religion’ think, but big problems nonetheless. Any objective evaluation shows that the transmission of the Christian faith is in shambles in America and elsewhere.
A pastor in Nevada chastises me, “The little old ladies in our congregation are extraordinary in their faithfulness. They do everything in the church. They run the committees, their generosity pays the bills, they tend to the facilities. My congregation is 95% filled with these little old ladies who are lions in the faith.”
No doubt, they are the lions in the faith. Yet in under 10 years they will all be dead from simple old age. 10 years from now, when they have all passed to be with Jesus in his glory, and there are just 10 people left in the congregation, might we stop to wonder if the reason for this is not because the church is being faithful to its principles, but because it is not?
How can we call it faithful if the youngest person in the congregation is 40 years old? Does that really sound consistent with the Scriptural vision for believers? Seriously?
It may seem like I have slipped into a digression, but it is not the case. The Church Organizational is like any Entity Organizational. If it gets too large, it is too slow to adapt to new threats and challenges and identify new opportunities. True, with a large size comes more resources to deploy in regards to the threats and opportunities they do recognize, but let us remember that in the Church Organic we aren’t looking to pad the bottom line. We want as many people who were on the gentle road to destruction to be rescued, redeemed, and saved.
If the Church Organizational is actually harming the Church Organic, it is clear that something must be changed. Sacred Cows are for Hindus, not Christians. Organizations cannot love. Only people can. But people not only delegate their ‘love’ to the organizations, the organizations ask them to! And since organizations cannot love, and the people have delegated their love to this committee or that one, isn’t it obvious that the result will be that we will be perceived as unloving? And who wants to be involved in that?