Edit, on rereading this post, I realised some of my tone was particularly unhelpful and negative towards my friends who may hold a different view to mine on church, but who I still hold dear and value very much as compadres. As such, I've tried to remove all negative connetation to their view, and rather post positively why I hold to what I do. I apologise if the unedited version caused any hurt - please let me know if it did.
So, I've been engaging in an interesting conversation on facebook, via notes and comments, regarding church.
This matter of church has been something I've been thinking on and pondering for a while. It seems to be an accepted notion to champion the "institutional thing" as the real thing and right off anything that doesn't prescribe to that structure. A few months ago, I also held to this view - this structural thing has been so entrenched in our mindset that we can't seem to look past it in any way or form.
One of my first posts were going to deal with this topic, but I felt God impress on me that it wasn't the right time. I'm hoping now is better - possibly, I've rounded my thoughts out a bit, and aren't as fiery as I used to be... [hopefully even better after this edit] :)
I've had numerous conversations about these things, and the thing that interests me is the intensity with which people seem to hold to their views - you would think I was challenging the validity of Christ (which sometimes I think might go down easier than dismantling 'church').
What strikes me as worrying is the understanding that the biblical description of church is closely paralleled by the church in its current form. Passages like that in Hebrews, where the writer says 'do not forsake the gathering of the saints' or 1 Cor 12:21-25ish (I think) where Paul speaks on the giftings God has given to the church, as well as all the elders-and-deacon scriptures are often quoted and used to argue that because those things are present in the current church structure it must be right, and because they can't see how those things could be present in something that might depart from this preconception, they have no space for calling it church.
I think what's happening is they are taking the institutional thing (what we have now), comparing it with the bits and pieces in the bible and because the names are the same and the terminology is the same (most probably because the one evolved from the other, or because the translators of our english bibles, used words common to our church terminology so we'd be able to draw parallels, it is presumed that everything is as it should be.
I have a few issues with this way of reasoning. Just because you call someone a teacher or leader or prophet, doesn't make them such. Also, in the biblical context, these are spoken of as gifts, ie things that God has given to build the body. It isn't vocations.
I firmly believe that God wants to have a real relationship with every human on this planet. He doesn't want to have a middle man. He doesn't need the priest anymore - in fact, we are all called priests. So, why do we still look to that man that stands at the front of our building every sunday for the answers?
If we believe God authored the original, why are we so scared to follow His lead in possibly realigning us with His original words, but rather we hold on with everything we have to our interpretation of scripture through the lenses of upholding what we have today.
I fear that this structure has been created and packed full of all the 'right' terminology - we have meetings (which ticks the gathering together box) and we call people elders and deacons (to tick that scriptural box), we champion the leaders and teachers, shepherds apostles and prophets, and name it when we see it, so we can tick that box. We have teaching and sing songs in our meetings, so that means we've ticked the teaching and worship boxes. We use rhetoric and manipulation to equate serving others to serving the church. We have people placed on pedastals as pastors and apostles, so that we look more like the 'early church', we encourage people to read your bible in quiet times, and to pray. And so we think we've ticked most of the boxes, we're getting it right. We're doing the stuff just as it says it in the scriptures.
But do we ever stop and ask ourselves 'why'? What is the purpose for all these things. And just because we call it something, does it mean we're really doing it? And just because it's all in this nice little prepackaged box doesn't mean these things aren't all freely available without the package or joining contract (as life outside the box of organised religion)?
I'd like to propose that we start looking to Father and begin to trust that He will bring us into 'church' as we focus on Him. That He is the main thing and that everything else will fall into place as we focus on Him, and allow Him to lead. That maybe then we won't need to make the meeting into a religion, because it will be happening naturally. That we won't need to define elders or place people on pulpits as intermediaries between us and God, but rather those further along the journey will serve as fathers guiding those a little further 'behind'. That the focus of these fathers will be, as Jesus did, to point others to the one Father. Maybe in that context, we will find things like missions, and love and community happening naturally and without force. and people with the gifting to prophecy, or interpret tongues or be apostolic or teach will do these as their giftings flow and as God leads them - not because their paycheck depends on it.
I think we need to ask ourselves - are we building and keeping this institution alive because it defines us too much, or do we have the freedom to let go of it and follow God as He leads us into where He is taking us (if where He is taking us is somewhere different to 'church as we know it').
All this said, I don't know that this is the road for everyone. There are many, if not most, that are content within the institution, and the grace of God is such that He meets us where we're at. If that means He has to put up with religiosity to get to us, I'm pretty sure He will do it, and does do it. I just feel that there is a better way. A way that proactively faces towards God, and follows where He leads, not where someone else says He might be based on their understanding of a book written 2000 years ago. He is alive and speaking to us today. Don't get me wrong, the bible is fantastic and true. But I am hesitant to believe 100% someone who's monthly salary is dependent on keeping the institution afloat to be totally objective with their understanding on the biblical perspective of the institutional church of today - I'd rather ask Dad what's up and take it from there..
I know some of you might feel I've taken a baseball bat to the piñata that is the church, and this doesn't cover all my thoughts or feelings on this at all. I hope that, at least, it may serve as a starting point for discussion, and hopefully, might raise up some interesting questions or thoughts on it all.
What are your thoughts on what I've said? I'm eager to hear them - let's thrash it out in the comments!