Friday, May 29, 2009

Church - Part I

I want to do something different, content wise, with the next several blogs. Call it a series if you like. I have a vague idea where I am starting; no clue where it will end. I want to think about the nature and structure of the Church. I would welcome your thoughts or even future conversations.

In response to the statement, “I don’t like organized religion,” someone once asked, “Would you prefer disorganized religion?” My response would be that I prefer no religion at all. I have stated at other times that I think religion is a system that comes out of human development and, many days, misses the point. Jesus talked about relationships in numerous directions and how they were to be built on love. But the Jesus Way got to be quite large and the early leaders believed they needed to “organize” it all so it would be manageable. The problem is that the movement was also diverse to the extreme and the manageability became something akin to herding cats. So now, the earthly “body” of this Jesus which we call Church has structure, hierarchy, schedules, councils, conferences, convocations, resolutions, by-laws, boards, committees, denominations, doctrine, creeds, buildings all over the place, differences that divide and separate, lots and lots of meetings, and a notion on the part of no small number of groupings that, in reality, at the resurrection, God said “Yes” to Caesar and not to Jesus.

When I say “Oh my God”, I’m not swearing. I’m praying. Where do we start?

Since we are faced with such a massive amount of diversity, differences, and beliefs, I know of no other way to deal with this mess than to allow for some organization. But what shape could it take? I’m thinking the least that will really do.

So I will start with the presence of leadership in the church. Of course, we have this major division that corrupted the process from the start, namely, clergy and laity. Since the drive for power has become a hallmark in both camps down through the ages, that polarization only stymies any effectiveness. The clergy lead and use the laity to do things they don’t want to do or do not have time for. But no one likes to be used. So would a more balanced division of responsibilities be possible?

Going back beyond even the earliest church leadership and trying to understand the way of Jesus, it seems that the arrangement was a circle, not a hierarchy. The emphasis was on service, not power or control. Perhaps the one who “leads” ought to be the first in the trenches and the first to get their hands dirty.

What about allowing others from the laity to preach, lead communion (not assist), even baptize? And both male and female so participate. Pastoral Care….why must that be only the realm of the ordained one? I’ve known of those, not ordained, who could visit the sick, listen to the bewildered, show compassion in all things as effectively as anyone who has had the laying on of hands.

The book of Ephesians is designated as one of the letters of Paul, but a good number of scholars think that the epistle was written after Paul’s time by someone who knew him and his thought and who used Paul’s name. That kind of thing was common and acceptable in ancient times. Chapter 4 of Ephesians speaks of gifts that were recognized in the life of the church at the time. The first part of the chapter seems to speak to the developing need to somehow organize this “body.” I encourage you to read verses 11 -16 of that chapter. When you read it, take out the commas. They were not found in the Greek text. It also makes the whole reading flow with the idea of folk working together to build something, namely, the “body.” I am also intrigued that the pastor is not just pastor alone, but pastor and teacher. Should she or he preach? Probably so, but not with just moralistic diatribes. Even the proclamation should have an element of teaching to it.

It is important for the contemporary church to re-think or re-educate herself. Indeed, it is a must. Years ago, in psychotherapeutic quarters, there was the idea of how we are all programmed and conditioned by the “tapes” that have been made in our minds. The “tapes” cause us to see, think, hear, and respond in ways that are sometimes very unhealthy and often untrue. So, the gist of the therapy was that one should learn how to erase, at least some of, those present “tapes” and make some new ones. I believe it was described as the heightening of awareness or consciousness and learning how to live by truth as one understood it. The analogy applies to the church. Some things we must erase, and other things we must create as new.

More to follow.


  1. I agree Gary. It seems to me that Jesus wasn't enamored with the religious system of his day....I can't believe that he would be any more excited about the instituition bearing his name. I don't think the "church" would have survived without the virgin birth, sacrificial death, resurection, eternal life and the promise of heaven eternally for those saved few.

  2. Part 2....I believe the "church" has a place in the world. Church just needs to be redefined. Maybe church would be the place folks could go to be helped with their spiritual journey....Not a place to be told how to believe....A congregation of folks who love each other and pass that love on the the stranger....It seems the day of religious organizations with billions of dollars of assets, while millions of people suffer from the lack of basic needs, has come and gone.....Or has been exposed at least.

  3. Good point Doug. Don’t forget the “free ride” and boost that Constantine provided in the 4th Century. The infrastructure and platform for Christianity survived also to a large degree from the merger. As our esteemed professor West and you carefully point out, we have to be mindful of the motives behind some of the doctrines and pillars of the faith. Perhaps some of these motives only serve to perpetuate ends that the historical Jesus would have found perplexing.