“Another cause back of our top-heavy and ugly over-organization is fear. Churches and societies founded by saintly men with courage, faith and sanctified imagination appear unable to propagate themselves on the same spiritual level beyond one or two generations.
The spiritual fathers were not able to sire others with courage and faith equal to their own. The fathers had God and little else, but their descendants lose their vision and look to methods and constitutions for the power their hearts tell them they lack. Then rules and precedents harden into a protective shell where they can take refuge from trouble. It is always easier and safer to pull in our necks than to fight things out on the field of battle.
In all our fallen life there is a strong gravitational pull toward complexity and away from things simple and real. There seems to be a kind of sad inevitability back of our morbid urge toward spiritual suicide. Only by prophetic insight, watchful prayer and hard work can we reverse the trend and recover the departed glory.”
~ A.W. Tozer
I overheard a conversation recently when a clergyman was challenged to explain a certain practice in his denomination. He said it could best be explained by giving the history. It began in Victorian times, apparently, and seemed like a good idea at the time, and even though circumstances are very different now, the practice has remained. It’s become rather endearing actually, and is now part of their “distinctives.” Then he admitted, in a softer voice, that although some contemporary pastors agree it makes no sense and quietly try to ignore it, it is still entrenched in their constitution, and change is not something they do well. It upsets people.
The church I grew up in was never intended to be a denomination. The first members of the group left the confines of the steepled building to reach out to poor people in the local streets and then in the streets around the world. They had to leave because most parishioners were comfortable in their enclaves and wanted to protect standards -and the lower classes did not meet those standards. The poor and dysfunctional who met the real Jesus in the streets found they never did fit in with the established church so they just hung out together until they realized they were also the church and they gradually formed a constitution and established methods of maintaining their own standards.
My grandmother joined in the early days, but by the time she lived in the senior’s lodge, beside the new mega church edifice, the social climate there had changed. It’s called “lift.” The problem is that the protestant work ethic works. Get a person free of alcohol and other addictions, restore their love for neighbour and family, and their kids become better educated, get good jobs and nice homes, and their grandchildren are raised in a completely different environment with different expectations (or feelings of entitlement). I remember Grandma lamenting that it was a sad day when she realized she was too poor to go to prayer meeting in that church. You see, someone (who undoubtedly did not live on a widow’s pension) thought it was a good idea to encourage people to come to prayer gatherings on certain mornings by having them catered. A woman who had fed her children lard sandwiches had trouble adjusting to the thought of paying $15 for breakfast. She did know how to feed a street full of kids on $15, but the church she was now in was just like the church the founders left, because those members had also lost understanding of the people on the outside. My grandmother’s denomination became comfortable with plush theatre seats, sound systems and coffee shop in the grand foyer. The order of service was established, and the academic qualifications (from approved seminaries) of those who are ordained to preach and preside over communion was written in stone. Policies now require a complicated procedure at the national annual general conference to change.
History shows us this pattern repeating itself.
In “The Jesus Style,” Gayle D Erwin writes about fresh movements of the Holy Spirit in different generations. He has this to say in the chapter entitled “Prisoners of History”:
“Here is a drastic proposal. Every religious organization should have in its first constitution the irrevocable provision that it be disbanded and dispersed at the end of 50 years. For some this limit should be 25 years. This would free the constituency to be more constantly in touch with God . . . Such an approach would simply be recognizing the manner in which the Holy Spirit works anyway. He keeps raising movements that are alive and in touch with him, while the older structures get huffy and kick the new movement out. . .”
Perhaps we have reached a point where we can recognize the pattern and instead of kicking new movements out of the older structures, the older structures can offer the benefits of wisdom seasoned by knowledge accumulated in good and bad years and make room for those not familiar with the culture. Or it that too optimistic? Can we repent – that is, think again, determine not to repeat the errors of the past, change our ways and join in following what Holy Spirit is doing now – or does fear of loss of control keep us clinging to old wine skins whether they be two generations or two hundred generations old? Is giving control of the church back to Holy Spirit feasible? Or is that thought too scary? Can the Church of Laodicea become hot again? Can its vision be healed? Can the Church of Ephesus return to it’s first love? Can the Church of Sardis awaken from its near-death coma?
Or is it time for another Reformation?
Tell me what you think.