Frankly I am often distressed by the poor quality of discussion that goes on in the Western Christian world. This poor quality of discussion stems from the poor quality of thinking. Let me give you an example. Is the Church as we have always known it, often called the institutional church, broken and problematic or is it the Bride of Christ which needs to be respected and loved? That’s not a small or unimportant question. After all, if the institutional church is broken and problematic it needs to be confronted, addressed and changed. On the other hand, if it is the Bride of Christ, we who are Christians outside of this expression of Christianity, need to love and respect her. Both require lived out action. So which is it, a problem or a beloved Bride? It’s the wrong question.
There are two important statements about questions we need to understand if we are ever to get to the bottom of this particular issue. Statement #1: You never get an answer to a question you don’t ask. Statement #2: You never get the right answer to the wrong question. In this case the question is worthy of asking (we need the answer to this question), but it is the wrong question. I know it sounds like I’m not making sense so bear with me. This question needs to be asked (it is a worthy question). But it is asked in such a poor way that we will never find the answers we are looking for if we ask the question in this way (it’s the wrong question).
The problem stems from the way the question is formulated, which in turn rises from poor quality of thinking, which can lead to bad behavior. The question is formulated as an either/or proposition. Is it this or is it that? This kind of thinking is called dualism or dichotomistic thinking. Everything in this way of thinking is one or the other, this or that, black or white, good or bad. It is a very useful tool if we are dealing with physics, chemistry or biology. However, when we are dealing with other situations, such as human behavior or spirituality; thinking in this way becomes highly problematic. A group of human individuals rarely act in one way or the other. They will most likely respond in a variety of ways that reflect their values, culture, experience or the particular situation. What inspires one person to pray will inspire another individual to cower in fear. One person can do a particular behavior for noble reasons. Another person can do the exact same behavior with evil motives and intent.
When we are dealing with the behavior of the “institutional church” we are actually dealing with a whole lot of individuals and God. Humans don’t always do the same thing in similar situations, neither does God. Yes, I know God is never changing, with no shifting of shadow (James 1:17). But God does make decisions based on the circumstance. For example, both murder and adultery are against God’s law, worthy of death, as expressed in the Old Testament. Yet God forgave King David of both and didn’t require his life.
So instead of asking: The institutional Church: good or bad; worthy of change or respect? We should ask how does God want us to behave toward a system that is unbiblical and causes serious problems yet is filled with people God loves and is a system that God continues to use and bless despite its problems? This may be a more complex question but because it is framed in the reality of actual human behavior and the way God acts, it will lead to better and more carefully nuanced behavior.
So let me state it plainly. The church as we have always known it is structured in ways that are unbiblical and even contra biblical. This causes serious problems for people and for the Kingdom of God. These issues should be addressed…graciously.
At the same time, the institutional church is the Bride of Christ. He still loves it and so should I. He still uses it, so I should be willing to work along side of it, perhaps even in it, if God so chooses. I should be aware that different individuals within this structure can do the same sorts of behavior, some with noble intentions and others with wrong motive. So I need God given discernment as to how I respond or if I respond at all. Are all pastors, priests, vicars and bishops control freaks with evil intentions? Hardly. Are a few? Yep. Can God still call people to the institutional pastorate? Yep. So I need to tread lightly and with discernment when I address issues and not paint with too broad of brush. Nevertheless, the problems associated with institutional leadership within the Bride of Christ should be addressed, honestly, clearly, graciously and with discernment.
I get quite a bit of flack for some of the issues I addressed in Viral Jesus, not necessarily for the way I addressed them but that I brought up the issues at all. While that is not always pleasant, I’m encouraged that most who criticize me are merely angry because I brought up the issues, or that I come to conclusions they don’t agree with, not because I did it harshly. And, those who think I did so with evil intent (there are a few) do so by placing motives in my heart that actually aren’t there.
Pick a question and respond:
- Do you believe that we can ask good questions in ways that give us wrong answers?
- Do you think we should be angry at the institutional church and those who are in it because of its problems? Would you want to be treated that way? Do you think your theology and behavior is absolutely perfect and above reproach?
- Do you believe that we should avoid fellowship with those with whom we strongly disagree about issues of faith or ecclesiology?
- Do you believe every difference needs to be discussed and confronted?
 A term I don’t particularly like because it is so commonly used by some house church people as a pejorative term. It is often used as a bludgeon not merely a description.