pictures. words (sometimes). blog nonsense.

Why I go to (an organized, institutionalized) church…some candid rambling

I have been deeply, personally hurt by the institutionalized church. I have been disgusted by the church. I have been mystified, disgusted, ashamed…there is no horror story that you could share with me that I haven’t seen, heard, or personally experienced.

But I still go to an institutionalized church. And I love it.

Why?

People are people, in church or outside of church, inside a relationship with God, or outside a relationship with God. Our common denominator is our fallibility and our ability to inflict harm on each other.

To be distant from God.

To sin.

Do the people inside the church have the ability to rip your guts out?

You better believe it.

Personally, I was raised thinking that church was wherever two or more people were gathered in his name. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s an idea to which I have adhered to since then. As a result, I don’t think I’ve approached church with the same expectations that many seem to approach Sunday morning (or any kind of organized fellowship). My disappointment, therefore, has been proportional to my expectations. The organized church is not Jesus, nor do they control access to him.

I’ve also been a bit of an independent thinker my whole life (sometimes to my detriment!) Consequently, rarely have I jumped through the same “group think” hoops that many people are experiencing bitterness with now, after experiencing the dramatic disappointments that organized institutions can bring. I never tried to look a certain way, act a certain way, be someone that I wasn’t. I think the contemporary, growing discontentment with the westernized church is often very misplaced. To a large degree, I hate endless criticizing and analysis. Our problem is not with the church, but with faith, discipline, and relationship with Jesus. Are we fulfilling his commission to us? Are we living lives open and surrendered to him, learning from him in a personal, dedicated way?

People are people.

So why do I go to church?

People.

I think a lot of complaints with the church now are silly. Yes, silly. They remind me of my friends who are anarchists. There is no such thing as good government. I agree. I accept it. I am not even especially patriotic, to put it mildly. But governments are necessary, because they are a natural outgrowth of people interacting. They also help preserve and continue ideas. And they evolve and are even overturned as needed.

People are too quick to blame the idea for the problems. There is no such thing as a perfect church. But that doesn’t mean we should do away with them all together, anymore than it is to fix the problems of the government and the world by nuking the planet. That is never Christ’s vision (for either institution).

Both the Tabernacle and the Temple were ideas inspired and approved by God in the Old Testament. And then Jesus came and tore down the veil, became our great high priest, and put his spirit inside of us, for us to become his temple. It is trendy and “relevant” right now to duly acknowledge that Jesus met with people on the streets, in the markets…that if he were alive today, he’d probably go to bars and hang out on city corners. I am glad for this realization–it is long overdue.

Yet, in the New Testament, Jesus is depicted going to church (the synagogue) on a regular basis. His followers, well into Acts, are depicted going to the synagogue and meeting together on a regular basis. Not once is this discouraged. In fact, the opposite was preached.

Why?

Because they wanted to meet with other temples. Other believers.

People can have another common denominator, aside from their proclivity to destruction. And they have the potential to do good and testify to truth.

To me, church is just that. Meeting and fellowshipping with other people that have encountered God or want to, on any day of the week, anywhere. Nothing more, nothing less.

This has continued (imperfectly) for the last twenty centuries. The organization of how people have met together has evolved and been overturned countless times during that tremendous span of years. Organization is a natural, inherent, inescapable part of our frail humanity. Even the most stale of ceremonies today once had a rich, deep meaning to it that I still appreciate when I find it.

The problem with church is whenever we let our vision lose sight of the one who forms for the forms that we, in turn, create.

Then it is time to repent and choose a different way. To put new wine into new wineskins.

And that is true at school, work, around our dining-room tables, church…wherever.

Because people are people. All in need of forgiveness and change.

And so I continue to be part of church. As I meet in people’s homes, when I pray with friends I happen to meet…and yes, in a small building with a loud sound-system that finds it most convenient to meet on Sunday mornings. (My current church is not very traditional or institutionalized, btw).

I don’t blame the idea itself for its shortcomings. Like all conceptions of art, the form itself is a passive vessel that is shaped by the people who make it.

I have been blessed by the church. I have been moved by it. I have been challenged, provoked, loved….

Because people are people. And we are called to work at his work:

1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.

2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.

4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

I will meet with anyone, anywhere, that loves Jesus and takes these words to heart.

“Love me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength–and love your neighbor as yourself.” I will gladly meet with anyone, anywhere who wants to pursue and welcome this world-impacting love. We will then be having church.

It is possible (and good)…even in the organized, institutionalized church.

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7 responses

  1. thanks… I needed this reminder

    December 16, 2007 at 11:12 pm

  2. i just finished reading this blog. thank you for taking the time to write this. I am currently going through a somewhat difficult transition from a “major ministry” to a para-church organization and feel God has called my wife and I to be apart of a new church, but not a “church”, more like a movement. I look forward to continually following your blog.

    December 17, 2007 at 3:21 am

  3. Susanna

    thanks, jd. finding myself in such a place of confusion and a struggle with bitterness yet love towards “church”, I find your thoughts and wisdom are able to help me organize my own a bit.

    ps. as if YOU could ever be institutionalized.

    December 17, 2007 at 6:04 am

  4. Gabe

    Well said.

    It is far too easy and much too tempting to misplace our faith in people. It’s also far too dangerous. Regardless of the context, we will certainly be disappointed.

    That’s where grace comes into play.

    January 26, 2008 at 7:28 pm

  5. Jean Amico

    I happened upon your blog with a response to another post by someone who is “disgusted with the institutionalized church.” I wanted him to realize that he is speaking of people not an entity. He doesn’t see it. He is speaking these words in a public forum online and is also in a place of leadership at his “institution.” I wanted him to see that. I’ll send him your post. Thank You!

    February 9, 2009 at 5:53 pm

  6. I see that people are still reading this post (you are welcome here! thanks for saying hi–I appreciate it).

    A few thoughts on this sprawling ramble (badly in need of an editor!) two years after I wrote it…

    Lately, I’ve been searching out and thinking about the parts of the Bible that excite me. To be brutally honest, there’s a lot about it that doesn’t.

    This is compounded by the fact that I am currently surrounded by a culture that is passive-aggressive anti-scripture. In the midst of that, I’m currently endeavoring to find and hold on to the scriptures that thrill my heart, despite the fears, doubts, and questions that now loom larger than ever on my concious.

    The passage above is one of them.

    It deals with the very worst of religion (the inescapable sinful nature of humanity) in a rhythm that fills me with a dread of God that is unstained by fear. I am humbled and uplifted by the message and its promises in a visceral way that far outdistances any other Old Testament scripture I encounter.

    In days where I look at the church and I look at the world and my heart is numb, these are words that make my heart sing.

    May it be.

    February 7, 2010 at 12:01 am

  7. David Pell

    Eccl 7:7
    7 Surely oppression destroys a wise man’s reason,
    And a bribe debases the heart.

    June 23, 2011 at 9:06 pm

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