I’ve been writing about the institutional model of church and understand both Catholicism and Protestantism to hold to this model, gathering people to worship and then respectively the Eucharist and Message. Yet the church is not an institution but rather an organism consisting of the people who are the Ekklesia. Nevertheless, despite the reality of the Ekklesia as the people the practice of the Christian faith as Catholics and Protestants has long centered what it means to be a practicing Christian on attending a meeting held in a building, by ordained staff or clergy with approved volunteers, and makes attendance and membership synonymous with a saving faith.Continue reading “Moving beyond Church as the practice of the faith”
Human beings live, work, and socialize with each other. We are inherently social individuals who may have our own private inner lives but who also need the company of and interaction with others. And when doing things together, and for the reciprocal benefit of ourselves and others, we prove to be mutually enriching, enabling, and contributive. It should not be surprising then that exercising and practicing spirituality is both a social and a relational endeavor rather than individualistic or self-centered.
Christians often contrast spirituality as self-centered and faith as Christ-centered, with the institutional expressions of Church demanding the sacrificial activity of going to a church, becoming an official member, and then volunteering and giving financially toward the work of the Church in service to God.
The problem I have with this contrast between spirituality and faith is that it’s a false dichotomy that isn’t being sufficiently critiqued. It also makes any questioning and critiquing of the institutional church synonymous with an offense against God. The truth is that we are not simply better together but instead only when mutually enriching each other through contributive participation. We need to question what the practice of our faith is, and the degree to which our religious institutions are enabling that practice or crippling it. And when seeking alternative gatherings, question whether we are simply changing the manner in which we organize our gathering or properly transitioning from gathering to meet about God to meeting with God.
Church, practiced as meeting only about God, may be likened to gathering for a meal where the guest of honor never pitches and where you may only ever or and eat a starter. On the menu may be a whole host of potential meals, but you don’t have access to them. Over time, a deep hunger grows within you and is coupled with a deeper frustration that something is amiss and disappointment that though you’re eating you are never truly able to get either full or nourished. But you are told to buy into the support the institution because it is the Church. You believe you are doing the right thing by doing so, perhaps even believing that you need to go to a Church in order to relate to God. But when do you meet with God? How do you meet with God during Church? How does Church enable and nurture a relational spirituality rooted in the immediate presence, voice and activity of God? Many attend and serve in Church for years and are quick to ask how we know we are hearing the voice of God or discerning God’s presence and activity. This is foundational stuff and evidence of the degree to which the Church may replace a relationship with God.
By doing church, many are doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Let’s meet differently for the purpose of meeting with God.
In the next post we’ll look at meeting with each other and the following post meeting with God.
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.
Christianity has long maintained a detachment from the self and attachment to Christ as part of individuals maturing toward Christlikeness. However, as an institution, and not-for-profit business, the Church proves quite the opposite. It is as though attachment to Christ had become synonymous with attachment to the Church.
A commonly held and reinforced assumption is that following Christ of necessity, and through divine ordination, includes membership to the Church. This view originates from the pulpit, is reinforced at church conferences, and gets regurgitated during conversations. The whole goal of church appears geared toward getting visitors to become members and volunteers who turn bring others into Church. And the purpose of a calling from Christ, or in response to the pulpit, is understood overwhelming by churches to mean schooling people toward professional careers in ministry as related to planting, maintaining, and growing churches and, if we must, parachurch organizations.Continue reading “The church as people or institution”
There’s something fundamentally wrong with the church, but it’s hard to put your finger on it – especially when people try to bite your finger off! And though there’s a ton of well researched and explored material related to the decline in church attendance and commitment to the Christian faith in the West, there’s little related to understanding what were actually doing when doing church and what the real problem is.
I stopped doing church back in 2006, which meant giving up my (successful) career in ministry as an urban missionary working with people seeking a relational encounter with God. I stopped doing this because people experiencing God would go on to join churches, then return a year later to argue that “church is not about God.” And I agreed with them as, after all, my relationship with God had little to nothing to do with conventional church. And though I had experienced God present in a church, specifically one focused on intimacy with God, this is, generally speaking, not what doing church is about.Continue reading “Why I’m “post-church””
The third key conversation that’s regular at Urban Mystic is about how to cultivate, nurture or develop a relationship with God. This conversation is tied up with people’s past experience of God and their present lack thereof. And the questions asked differ depending on whether people are spiritual but not religious, committed to spirituality and not religion, or committed Christians. Common to each is the realization that they’re not meeting with and experiencing God.
What’s common to each is that everyone has the capacity to recognize God’s Presence and hear God’s voice. Everyone has an awareness of God expressed as having recognized God’s Presence, activity and voice at some point in their life. Virtually everyone remembers a life experience where they were aware of God being there. This may be in a dream but that’s less common than being awake during the experience. Most experience God drawing near to support, assure, strengthen and encourage them during a life crisis while experience God protecting them during a life threatening situation. Also common to the experience is the tendency for others to explain their experience of God away. People don’t often tell this story because of the way others respond, but it continues to challenge the default faith position in society that God is not. Continue reading “Opening to God”
Within the developed world we’re seeing the rise of the “nones”, an increasing number of people who don’t identify with the world’s established religions. This is “the problem of God” presented anew in a postmodernising world and the second key conversation at Urban Mystic.
Being spiritual but not religious doesn’t mean that people aren’t spiritual. It simply means may no longer subscribe to the traditional suppliers of religious goods and services, the classic and few religious movements. People continue to turn to God after the death of God and after religion fails to capture their imagination and turn them into an adherent. Instead, they’re simply not religious. The nones have simply disconnected their quest for God from the faith of the classical, new and contemporary faith institutions and businesses. More and more people now describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, understanding that God and responsible and meaningful living is no longer synonymous with the religions and the cultures, values and mores of premodern civilisations. Continue reading “Rise of the Nones”