I must confess that the writings of Bonhoeffer and Trueblood only lead me to greater disappointment in the current conditions of the "institution" of the church, and also make me ashamed at my role in the proliferation of these broken institutions as well.
As Bonhoeffer would call us to, "Life Together" I fear my idea of what this looks like, somewhat breaks from even his very exciting vision.
I was sitting at a Thanksgiving dinner in Berlin, Germany last month and someone at the table said, "I have to go to church on Sunday." Another gentlemen at the table asked, "How is that possible? If you are the church, then how can you go to it? You are it - you cannot go to it."
We are the church, if we are followers of Christ. This thought is exciting, interesting, boundless, and convicting. It is a much more exciting idea than going to some building every time the doors open and sitting and listening to a guy who according to Elton Trueblood in 'Company of the Committed', "...is the only one so inspired to deliver a message 52 times a year."
I go to this building that says Wedgwood Baptist on it. Inside I am introduced to the many programs of which I could participate. (The only exciting ones are for the kids.) I am distracted by a bounding man from the stage who is going to "lead me into worship" as if that is possible for another man to do. I hear from the same teacher every Sunday in a rhetorical format. Heaven forbid we ask him to repeat something, be clearer, or explain himself. I am expected to bring my entire tithe to that building, anything outside of that is then called, sacrificial. I then go and sit with some folks, a quarter of whom I trust, and many who I wouldn't leave my child alone with for 2 minutes. I am expected to look and conform to the expectations of the institution if I have any hope of 'being' a part of it'.
I have a friend who outlines the expectations of a church today. He says,
1. They expect you to attend regularly
2. They expect you to participate in only their programs
3. They expect you to only give to their institution
4. They expect you to not rock the boat
5. They expect you to keep your sin profile low
How right he is and I have kept up these expectations for most of my life. But I will not continue.
Expectation number one: 1. They expect you to attend regularly
There are so many wonderful, diverse, interesting people in the world and I'd like to know more of them. If I continually return to the same building, what are the chances of this happening? Not very good in my very white, very Republican,very Baptist, same format every Sunday church. By the way, I am all those things I just listed, but I'd like to get outside myself and my comforts and learn about others.
The Bible states, "that we should not forsake gathering together". I agree, but I think I have begun to disagree with my peers more on exactly what this looks like.
Jesus is beautiful, inviting, exciting, and real. We are expected to be this to the world. There is little bringing people to the institutions of the church other than parents bringing their children. There is no mass in-pouring of adult people in the US to the doors of church institutions. Why would there be - it doesn't look very inviting from the outside, and quite frankly, many of the people aren't that friendly inside.
I have a group of friends, about 80 guys over that over the last 15 years go fishing, hiking, climbing etc. for five days every May. These guys are my close friends. During our adventures there are great conversations and sometimes revelations and even salvation. I have watched God do more in the lives of these men on a fishing trip, than I've ever seen happen to people in a Sunday School class. I am not embarrassed to invite a non-believer friend to our May trip, but I would be scarred to invite them to the church institution I attend on Sundays.
Imagine one of my redneck buddies coming into church with me Sunday. He's only gone once when he was a kid and here he is in this pastel colored room, some guy is singing and jumping "you are so beautiful Jesus" and then some guy talks at him for 45 minutes. Next they pass a plate around for your money to go in. How is someone who has never met Jesus suppose to get any of that? I get it - Maybe you get it - but it is nonsense to a visiting non-believer.
Now imagine one of my redneck buddies coming on a fishing trip. One of the guys is on the boat and shares how Jesus saved his marriage by changing his heart and his attitude towards his wife. Later he sees a bunch of us together praying to bless the meal before we tear into our steaks and pop the top on our beer. God seems a lot more relevant in the everyday than in a stuffy sanctuary. I have watched men change their lives more in this environment than in an institutional church group.
I want to gather with my fellow followers of Christ, but I am tired of it being under the same roof, with the same format, with the same little expectations of each other. I want to gather, but not at same church place, same church time, and same church format. It's just not going anywhere - it's just comfortable.
Expectation number two: 2. They expect you to attend only their programs
Someone recently asked me to explain my denominational affiliation. I stated I'd prefer to not be known by anything other than by faith in Jesus, but if we must: I am more Catholic than Assembly of God, more Assembly of God than I am Baptist, more Baptist than I am Bible Church, more Bible Church than I am non-denominational, more non-denominational than I am Methodist. Good luck with you and I figuring it out.
If I so much as inform someone in the institution that I am going to a Catholic Bible study, you'd think I just became best friends with the Pope. By the way, I'd be very interested in a friendship with Pope if you know anyone at the Vatican that can arrange it.
I want to participate in life, more than programs. I do want training and to gain knowledge. I prefer this in the format of reading the Bible, other books and then discussing them with my believing and non-believing friends alike. I want to be in the program of life, not Master Life.
I do not go to church every time the doors open. This would steal from my time from my family, the lost in the world, and the friendships where I gain the most knowledge. We take our kids to church on Wednesday nights only, not because there's a program, but because we see a program that has had impressive RESULTS. If there were know examples of growth, I would not let them go.
I am attempting to broaden my participation in the organism that is the church, instead of chaining myself to an institution that calls itself the church.
C.S. Lewis writes in 'Mere Christianity' about discussing the different theologies within Christianity, "I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold." But, the world sees our division and not the unity to which we are called. And for some reason, we stick to our denominations with great pride. I have in the past.
Expectation number three: 3. They expect you to give only to their institution
I have heard more preachers mutilate and harm with sermons on tithing. Not that you shouldn't tithe. A believer should actually do more than tithe.
Have you ever heard that you are required to give 10% to your church? Sure you have if you've ever been in the institution, but you will be hard pressed to find any New Testament calling for this. In fact, what you will learn from the New Testament is that you are to give it ALL. I think 10% is a great place to start.
But then one must ask the question? What is the church? It's believers and people who need to be fed, clothed, loved, comforted, etc. We've turned it into providing for a huge staff, lights, cameras, action, and air conditioning.
Give. Give abundantly. But it is not all due to an institution building to relegate for you. James 1:27 gives us a great example of true religion. It does not include the preservation of an institution and it's specific programs. It defines real religion. Look it up.Expectation number four: 4. They expect you to not rock the boat
If you are going to be a good Baptist, Catholic, etc., be sure not to question the seminarian teachings of the institution. In their minds you will just be wrong.
At my office I encourage people to be thinking, reading, and testing to see if there is a better way for us to accomplish our goals. If someone has done their research, please rock the boat before we sink doing it the same old way.
You will only find this in lip service in the church institutions, because no one is really interested in change of any kind. Even if their cheese has been moved.
I recently read in ny Texas Baptist newsletter that the SBC is getting a task force together to decide how to get Southern Baptist evangelizing. Great, another committee. I have a radical idea, how about we disciple the people currently in the institution. Call me crazy, but it appears Jesus has already given us an example.
Change. I guess that's part of my motivation to write this blog. How we are doing church is not working. It's already dead in Europe and we are next.
In order to save the people we need to tear down the buildings and get involved in the lives of others in a sincere manner. In China and North Korea the church grows - maybe because the institution is not allowed to exists, so Christ lives in the hearts of the people, not the palatial institutions.
I hope everyone will try and play out that scene from the third Pirates of the Caribbean, and we get everyone running from one side of the ship to the next to get the ship flipped before the sun sets.
Starboard - Port. Starboard - Port.
Expectation number five: 5. They expect you to keep your sin profile low
Lord forbid you be a sinner.
Everyone at church always looks so nice, they have on their nice or cool clothes, they did their hair, they say the right things, they shuffle their cute kids around with big smiles. Fakers. We are all a bunch of fakers on Sunday.
Can you image the glares, fear, judgment and future avoidance that would happen if someone said, "I beat my kids this week." "I looked at porn this week." "I'm thinking about having an affair with the guy at work because my husband is a jackass." "I stole my neighbors chainsaw." "I wanted to spank the secretary with those tight pants." "I love on-line gambling." "I'd like to drink my life away I am so depressed." "I had an abortion." "I want to leave me spouse."
The institutions prefer we keep that to ourselves, or save it for in private.
Who are we fooling? No one.
I know me. I know my friends. I know my kids. You know you. So why does everyone pretend allez est gute?
I spend time with my wife, my kids and my friends because they keep me honest. They call me out. They tell me when I am doing something wrong or have stinkin thinkin. This seldom happens in the institution. There are some small groups that break past the faux, but few.
Bonhoeffer writes in 'Life Together', "..the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him."
Let me tell you I am so flawed...oh you knew that. You were thinking that reading this blog. I want to be around people with who I can be honest. I don't trust most of the people with my kids for more than two minutes, why would I trust them with the information about my demons? Why would I trust them when most of them can't wait for me to fail?
I fail. I failed today. I am depending on God's grace to make me whole and make me better and I am depending on my friends to battle with me. I seldom encounter this attitude in the institution.
I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to not follow a denomination. I have decided to go many different places. I have decided to give money to the callings of Acts and James. I have decided to rock the boat. I have decided to not pretend I am something I am not.
Psalms 133:1 "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity." This unity will not be found in denominational division. Better for us all to join the Catholic Church and work from within than stay fractioned and judgmental. Better to take our "gathering" to Starbucks and the park than remained behind closed doors.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, "Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies...So, the Christian too belongs not in the seclusion of the cloistered life but in the thick of foes." We take church to the people by not being in the building, but being a group outside the building. Tear down the building.
"The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people, O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ. If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?" - Martin Luther
Bonhoeffer ads, and I hope you will find this as profound as I did: "Life together under the Word will remain sound an healthy only where it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis, but rather where it understands itself as being a part of the one, holy, catholic, Christian Church, where it shares actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promise of the whole Church." Institutions are fatal. Tear down the building and save the people.
The world is not running to our institutional buildings, so why do we remain there? Let's take the church, you and me, to them. The church is not the building. The building is not necessary when we have the home, the Starbucks, the mall, the park, the clubs. The church can dwell in these places. We hang onto our denominations as if the denomination were our salvation. We are called to be of one mind. This will not happen until we are willing to not be society, a movement or and order. Oh to realize the truth of 'One Holy Church'.
I confess, my old habits make me want to hang onto that which is comfortable, but I am trying very hard to free myself from the years of institutional conformity and hold fast to that which is the Word and which is convicting and beautiful to me and I'd hope the non-believe: Christ alone.