When deconstructing church many analogously refer to the Church as an organism rather than as an institution. This enables a critique of organizations and institutions which take on the label of “church” and demand membership from believers but which are in fact only Christian flavored and inspired institutions whose essence is a legal incorporation as not-for-profit businesses and public-benefit-organizations. This distinction enables us to critique Church without rejecting the Ekklesia as a body of people headed by the risen Lord who remains relationally connected with His people, leads them in His ongoing mission, and unites them in Himself as a cross-cultural people. We therefore speak of the people as the Ekklesia and the institution as the Church. Where the essence of the Church is legal the essence of the Ekklesia is personal.
We understand that the Church is a diverse group of institutions which we may roughly divide as Catholic and Protestant. The essential difference between each is not institutional, as they’re both institutional models of the Church. Instead, Catholicism and Protestantism are divided by where they consider the ultimate authority of the faith to be.
- Catholicism – incorporating Catholics, Patriarchies and Orthodoxies – see Jesus authority as handed down to the Church which is divinely ordained to continue Christ’s work. And it is the Church which both determined what the Scriptures are and how best to interpret and apply them in an ever evolving and politically reconstructing society.
- Protestantism – incorporating the Denominations, Movements, Associations, and Independent Churches – holds to the Bible as the ever-present Word of God. It has transitioned from being the government to being a branch of the government to serving as not-for-profit business and public-benefit-organizations. Instead of being institutions guided by their respective Pope, they’re institutions guided by the Bible. And despite this difference in authority, in practice as Protestants function as businesses, they are no less institutional expression of the Church than Catholicism.
And it is here that we find the institutional model of the Church lays claim to believers and the Church, Catholic and Protestant, expects converts to Christianity to become church-going and -supporting members and volunteers who help make Church happen. In practice, they both gather believers to worship God and differ essentially with Catholicism disseminating the Eucharist and Protestantism the Word after worship. The problem with this institutional model of Church is that it makes a relationship with God synonymous with institutional participation, whether as visitors or members. The result is that when gathering for worship, and respectively to receive the Eucharist and Word, it is understood that people have met with God “by faith”.
But, for various reasons (though I believe mostly as a direct result of the work of God), people are leaving all religions in the West and therewith the Church. This is, in large part, because people are expected to believe in God by faith and they never to hardly ever get to meet with God in the context of the Church.
And, however and whenever one questions or critiques the Church, Catholicism and Protestantism both take this as an affront to their identity and God. After all, they argue, Jesus personal instituted the Church to continue His work and invested His authority in it. And as Jesus loves the Church, so must you!
But here’s the thing – Jesus never instituted the Catholic Church nor did He institute the Protestant Church. Simply check the time – Catholicism was instituted in 380 AD and Protestantism in 1517. Subtract 33 years and you see quite a large so between the Ekklesia instituted by the risen Lord and the Church traditions we have built. The people of God, united in Christ, existed prior to the incorporation of either expression of the Church and have continued to exist both within and beyond these institutions. And they’re alive and well beyond the failing of Christianity in the West.
When reading the Bible the very text itself challenges the notion of the Church as an institutional body or ethnic identity and incorporation. And when people experience the presence of God, it’s most often not related to or in the context of the Church. And though a number of Renewals have been capitalized on by the Church to grow their membership, and the Ekklesia has made use of Churches, over time every Renewal settles and ever Renewal-based Church transitions from meting with God to meeting about God. The result is that any personal relationship with God is superseded by the programs and offerings of the Church and people transition from a life-giving relationship with God to a transactional relationship with an institution. The Church draws in genuine converts but soon deconverts then from a relationship with God and schools them into meeting about God.
Of course there are exceptions, especially among those who count their new converts, but for the most part the business of the Church is relating to God then on the whole the latter happens mostly despite what the Church is doing rather than because of what it is doing. This is because Church is designed, intentionally, as a meeting about God in which God is understood to somehow have actually been met with “by faith”.
Does this mean that we reject the notion of meeting all together? No, it just means that we recognize that it is happening all around us. But we can still gather intentionally to meet with rather than about God. And when doing so experience this as a contributing rather than coopting our relationship with God.
We will turn our attention to the conflicted relationship the Church has with experiencing God and how to gather with others, without creating an institution or business, in order to meet with God in our next few posts.