“Imagine a church member of relatively low influence coming to the elder board and saying that the lead pastor is an abusive bully. That elder board is faced with a choice between possibly losing a dynamic, gifted pastor (and the ministry that goes with it) and losing a relatively inconsequential church member. It isn’t difficult to see which way that decision will go. Indeed, it was effectively made long before any accusations of abuse were made—when the church decided it preferred a “gifted” pastor over a godly one.”
Michael J. Kruger - Bully Pulpit
Anyone who has spent time within a large group knows that people are often cruel, prone to abuse and predictably corrupt. This broken condition of humanity has existed as long as men have walked the earth. One thing mankind is really great at is greed and narcissism.
Groups of any kind will gravitate towards some kind of organizational pack structure. A Church group as well will naturally migrate by necessity to some sort of organizational structure. We know that any leadership or organizational structure, if it is not careful to regularly review and check itself will fall into an unhealthy caste system. Since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden we have had all of the capacity within our flesh to be evil... as a matter of fact, Clay Jones, author of the book “Why does God allow evil?”, writes in an article for Biola university that as humans we are all “Auschwitz enabled”:
”if we had never become Christians, if we had been born in a different society or at a different time, could we have been a guard in Auschwitz or in a Soviet gulag? There really is only one honest answer, and like it or not, we were all born Auschwitz-enabled. Realizing this, historian George Kren and psychologist Leon Rappaport wrote in The Holocaust and the Crisis of Human Behavior: “What remains is a central, deadening sense of despair over the human species. Where can one find an affirmative meaning in life if human beings can do such things?””
All this said... evil still happens in the Church as shown by history. We cannot deny that bad things have happened in many fellowships who call themselves Christian. See my previous posts on “Judging the Church”...
What is the solution? Leave the Church?
I suppose that sometimes it can be necessary to leave the structured institutional Church when there are no healthy options available... I’ve had friends who had to do this for a season to heal from trauma. This is not a long term option however... we can't just shut ourselves off from relationships - we know deep down inside that we need community!
We should not expect to leave fellowship with other believers while still maintaining a healthy relationship with God. Just as a coal loses heat when removed from other coals we will fade away as we pull away from some form of genuine fellowship with other believers. Even as we are armed with the knowledge of how important community is, some leaders make "Church" about a sermon, a worship song, a performance or a program. In essence they end up treating their small group community as an extension of the institution they serve, thus creating institutional unity instead of healthy community that grows genuine faith.
The Church, in its purest form is fellowship with each other and God, so it stands to reason then that Gods purpose for the Church is corporate fellowship with himself and for us... as well as other believers! The gathering of believers is meant to encourage each other, to help each other to grow in character and oneness with our Creator. The gathering of Christian's is to create more Christian's... more followers of Christ, while also growing more in alignment with Christ ourselves.
We can see how important community is, and as I will share later even a small group of believers who are unaffiliated with a denomination can grow into disarray and serving man made institution instead of Christ.
Of course there is the cruelty of the Middle Ages, the crusades... I think of all the woundedness created by the organizational structure of the Church when it, like other human institutions became corrupted by bad leadership.
It seems that when the flesh touches that which is Holy it becomes inevitably corrupted. As such it is evident to me that being a part of the Church could possibly bring more woundedness... do I want that?
What do I do? Do I withdraw from the “Organized Church”?
I suppose I could... however as I already shared, even in a small group we have an organizational structure. There is a leadership structure in every man made institution and it will arise in any group... it is inevitable. My wife and I were in a Non- church affiliated Bible study and prayer group as young adults. At the time I strongly disliked the organizational stiffness within the institution of the Church, this group was amazing for me. Having grown up in the rigid structure of what some would call a legalistic Church... this group brought so much life to me as they actively gathered around and prayed for individuals.
We sang together with passionate worship. We had a leader or leaders who would facilitate the Bible study but they were just there to help us to not stay to late into the evening. The discussion was electric, it went everywhere. We laughed and cried and had real, genuine fellowship together in an arena of mutual respect.
Even this wonderful group eventually split up over a desire to provide more structure and guidance to it. It was a rough split that more or less ended the group. It was not the desire to structure it that created the division... it was the method! The desire to protect the institution and leadership organization of the "group" began to outweigh the true mission of the group... to provide Godly community!
If even a dynamic non- institutional Bible study can end in a wreckage what are my options?
Do I become a hermit?
Do I live off the land in a cabin at the end of a lake?
Oh but that brings on a degree of loneliness...
Hey I could bring my wife right? Or a good friend? Problem solved right?
But... alas then we have once again opened the possibility of being wounded and hurt... which is why I was avoiding Church. Then again, those that love us most deeply often hurt us the most.... even if they do not intend to. No one ever decides when they get married that they will hurt their spouse... and yet nearly every marriage goes through some period of woundedness caused by one or both spouses. Further to this... as is the custom of humanity the couple would likely bring children into this remote cabin life.
Anyone who has raised children knows that we do not have to teach kids to have evil thoughts, to act out, to act selfishly. It is automatic... and little children grow up to be adults... they will want their own cabins in this wooded lakeside experiment... or will they? They still have free will... maybe they will reject their parent’s teachings and leave?
I would want to maintain control of this experiment... to get away from the corruption of mankind... so perhaps I would also resort to gaslighting and manipulation when loving communication doesn’t work?
As I wrote this I thought of the movie by M Night Shyamalan called “The Village”. We watched this with our family once. In the movie, a group of people decide that they have had enough of the evil in the world. They leave to create a small remote village that is secluded away from the influence of a corrupt society that caused them so much pain.
They begin to raise families in this place and as they do they discover that in order to keep the children away from the “evils” of society they must find a way to scare the children away from the forests edge. They create monsters that the children are told live at the end of the clearing and elaborate stories of how the village walls protect them from these monsters. Through fear they manage to keep the children from escaping their perfectly preserved utopia away from the corruption of the world.
Eventually the kids grow older and with this comes love, jealousy, anger and all of the vices of human experience. Ivy, one of the children must leave and walk through the forest to find medicine from the real world to save a child from death. I don’t remember the ending but what strikes me is that all of the things the group wanted to leave behind FOLLOWED them into what was supposed to be this perfect little world... resentment, jealousy, hatred, violence, deceit and corruption. How is this possible? They left all that behind did they not? If the heart of man is good how could evil follow them to this remote place?
So... where are we? People are broken. Institutions are broken. Being a hermit is not an option because of how we are designed to live in fellowship with others. Ahhhhhhh!
But there is another problem... so far I've been looking at the evil outside of myself... but within my flesh also there is darkness. My soul has been redeemed but I still dwell in this decaying body of flesh. It is by itself, without some external force capable of darkness. This means whatever Church I go to becomes corrupted by my own presence.
I choose to love the Church!
Why? I mean...
I have been hurt by the Church
I have been sidelined by the Church
I have been bullied by some who attend Church.
I have been angered by the Church.
I have been accused by the Church.
I've been robbed by the Church....
WHY do I still love the Church?
More importantly... why does God still love the Church? We see this in Revelation 1-3 and in Jesus prayers in the book of John.
What is the Church? We need to define this before we start so our preconceived definitions do not hinder our minds...
Websters dictionary defines Church in the larger sense as “
"a body or organization of religious believers: such as a body or organization of religious believers: such as: the whole body of Christians, a denomination or a congregation”
I find it interesting that the definition uses both the institutional and the physical gathering of Christian’s in the same definition.
If we look at the Greek word translated "church" in many English bibles we see the word “ekklesia”. This word is the Greek word kaleo (to call), combined with the prefix ek (out). If we put this together the word means "the called out ones." In reading this definition one gets the impression that the Church is called out to live lives marked by character and apart from the corruption of mankind.
The English word "church" does not come from solely the Greek ekklesia but also connects to the Greek word “kuriakon”, which means "dedicated to the Lord."
From these two definitions we can see that institution has little to do with what the Church is meant to be... however as we will see further into this study the institution will have a place as well. What matters however is not whether there is an institution... but rather - is the community of the Church producing wholly devoted followers of Christ.
Can we say that the institution is creating an environment that is staying true to the definitions above?
In scripture we read a great deal about the church... or more specifically the “congregation”. In the the Old Testament alone the word is mentioned over 350 times. In the New Testament the word “Church” is mentioned over 180 times. Some sort of gathering of believers is absolutely a central element of following God!
In Matthew 18 Jesus says “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
In 1 John we read "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin."
In Proverbs 27 we read "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."
The book of Acts has several verses:
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."
"And all who believed were together and had all things in common."
"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common."
In Corinthians we read:
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ."
"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
1 Peter reads:
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
And then there is my favourite...
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Carey Nieuhof says of the church:
“You can’t disassociate from the church as a Christian any more than you can disassociate from humanity as a person.”
Even so, as so many have experienced trauma within the walls of the Church... does God love the Church?
The answer is yes! Trauma is a part of this broken sin soaked world. People sin and Leaders are part of the human race. We need to develop capacities to trust with boundaries... something the modern Evangelical Church struggles with.
Further to this... Just because a standard is not met does not negate the need for trying to meet that standard. As a hospital is meant to heal the sick... we are not rejecting hospitals because so many die within them... as well we strive for excellence within the body of Christ.
Removing ourselves from a flawed but sincere community will most certainly leave us in a place of woundedness. Working to remain in a community and grow together with other flawed individuals will almost certainly spur growth. Wherever we remove ourselves to... our flesh travels with us.
A flawed but sincere Church has started hospitals, schools, fed the poor, raised orphans, helped the weak... ran into disaster zones when everyone else ran away!
Rodney Stark, an American sociologist of re writes that medieval Europe's advances in production methods, navigation, and war technology "can be traced to the unique Christian conviction that progress was a God-given obligation, entailed in the gift of reason. That new technologies and techniques would always be forthcoming was a fundamental article of Christian faith. Hence, no bishops or theologians denounced clocks or sailing ships—although both were condemned on religious grounds in various non- Western societies."
Why do I love the Church though?
Because Jesus does... pure and simple. All over the Gospels we see this love portrayed... consider Jesus and His disciples - the first church. They also had it rough. The treasurer was a thief who sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. The Bible says he would steal from the ministry money... my friends... Jesus knew all about that and didn't sweat it. He had a master plan... he wasn't worried about protecting his ministry... because he was thinking of you!
The Church with all its raw humanity is meant to be where men and women are refined into holiness and grow in community with Christ and His followers.
Christ loves us in our broken state... and so He loves the Church in it’s broken state. He doesn’t want us to stay there though...
Consider the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation... Jesus is knocking on the door of the Church wanting to cloth us with HIS perfection...
I think if he wants to be a part of the Church as is evidenced by his disciples and followers in the gospels... SO DO I... in its messy, damaged, broken state... I want to be where God wants to be. In fellowship with other broken messed up people - being slowly perfected by His perfect grace and transforming power!