Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Institutional Church:

Is it Time to Leave?

Matt.16:15-18 - He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The word church represents the true body of believers who have been redeemed by Christ’s blood and who identify themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ. They also are encouraged, some might say commanded, to meet together regularly. And for two thousand years most believers have done so.

But over the years the local gatherings of believers have become more and more organized and business-like. It was Constantine who initially took the reins and help veer the church toward buildings, organization, and larger places of meeting. And with each small step toward organization and especially in the areas of finances and staff, the church began to morph into an ecclesiastical business. In fact, the average senior pastor spends most of his time in overseeing staff, meeting with people inside and out of the church, speaking on the telephone, having a say in the financial direction of the church, and generally relegating Bible study to message study and prayer to an embarrassingly constricted religious observance.

Most churches today do not have an official, church wide prayer meeting, and if they do, it is usually placed conveniently before choir practice or the Sunday morning gathering or some obscure time and place which guarantees a corporal’s guard in attendance. And if it is designed to last one hour it is considered a massive sacrifice of time. Prayer has long since been abandoned on any authentic, Scriptural level, and our lip service to its power can easily be defined as lying.

But while prayer was declining in practice and teaching, the use of money for buildings, staff, activities, and general upkeep has been skyrocketing. The normal church budget allocates at least 50% for salary packages, and much of the rest remains in house for other things. And that is if the church has no mortgage payment. But many churches pay incredible amounts weekly and monthly to the secular bank down the street just so they can meet a few hours a week in a nice building. Again, we can thank Constantine for initiating that concept.

But the bottom line is that most local assemblies are constructed and operate as a business and have little resemblance to the early gatherings of believers. Of course transportation and the general effects of the Industrial Revolution are undeniable, but it seems as though we have surrendered wholesale to their dictates. And the core spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith have been marginalized and even ignored. Even the Lord’s Supper has been rescheduled for monthly or quarterly observances, and the observance itself is streamlined in order to fit into the overall Sunday morning itinerary. It actually is a disgrace to the name of our Lord.

When something is practiced over and over again, and when something is embraced as a tradition, then it is very difficult to reassess it, to say nothing of deconstructing it. And this is where we are in the average western church construct. Most professing believers search for a church based upon what it offers them and their children and not the leading of the Spirit to where they can grow as servants. And money that is wasted, or lavished, upon the patrons of the local establishment is obscene. While millions starve and billions are headed to a Christless eternity we fare sumptuously at our own smorgasbord.

But without a sovereign move of God the local church is not going to change. And if that is true, then what are we supposed to do? Are we to be facilitators and enablers? Are we only going to criticize and find fault, even if what we say is true? Or is the Spirit speaking to us about something radical and out of the ecclesiastical box? The situation is desperate, but it seems as though we are not.

It is time to reevaluate our status with everything on the table. Perhaps God is calling those who will listen to come out from that religious system and into a spiritual gathering that is based upon the New Testament and that exalts the Lord Jesus. It is a very sad spectacle to see the millions of professing believers caught in a system that accentuates things like finances, politics, buildings, activities, and a laundry list of other things designed to keep westerners with short attention spans interested for the moment. But the spiritual practices that take time and passion and sacrifice that are designed to pursue the redoubtable knowledge of the Lord Jesus, well those have long since passed off the scene.

Even Bible study has become utilitarian. The Scriptures are now used to aid our earthly lives and provide for us a road map for success, instead of so illuminating the August Son of God so as to draw us to Him and allow the Spirit to make us like Him. And the more unpleasant teachings in the New Testament get scant reference and some preachers are even attempting to remove such teachings including suggesting there is only heaven after this life and all will wind up there. You can see where this whole thing is headed and on some level has arrived.

So again, we must pray and fast with utter seriousness about what the Lord will have us to do. It is difficult to imagine a different structure when you have only known one. And if some choose a different route than this redundant religious practice, they will meet opposition from family and friends. And they will have to sacrifice the fellowship they have enjoyed at a certain church, which by many standards is one of the strongest reasons people stay. And the safety of the flawed known is usually preferable to the danger of the unknown. There are many built in barricades against any sort of significant change.

And those who will step out of the boat must humbly admit to having many more questions than answers. It is much easier to see the glaring faults in the current western ecclesiastical structure than it is to acknowledge our own spiritual deficiencies and not allow those to become part and parcel of any different direction. The challenge is monumental, and the sacrifice will be great.

Lk.14:27-33 - And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.

33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

But there remains the other alternative. We can remain as we are and remain where we are, physically and spiritually. We can continue to trudge along with spiritual crumbs and only long for something more reflective of the claims made by our faith. In order for us to embrace that path we need only to stay as we are and avoid the inconvenience that comes with change. But perhaps we owe our Savior much more than that. In fact, we owe Him our entire lives. That, my friends, is a great debt indeed, but one which should be paid willingly and joyfully and with eternal expectations.

One day we will all give an account.


Anonymous said...

Didn't want to leave. Love many of the people dearly. Agonized if it was right or wrong to do so. In the end, just couldn't stomach the system that isn't following Christ. Don't want any idols. Just Him.

Diane said...

Pastor Rick, thank you for this word. I am slowly, slowly leaning in this direction. The people at my church are lovely, but we do not have a New Testament church. Do you have any recommended reading along these lines? I know about house churches; are there other options as well?

Anonymous said...


If you're not familiar with T. Austin-Sparks (an Englishman, who died in 1973), you might find his writings helpful (you can find many of them online). He began ministry as an ordained pastor and eventually left the organized church when he "saw" Christ for who He really is. I'm not sure what Rick would think of this recommendation.

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