Fear and Over-organization

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“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.

21 thoughts on “Fear and Over-organization

  1. Sanctified imagination. That concept will stick with me today.

    We lose something through the generations, like a self-made rich man’s wealth being squandered by his children. It doesn’t hold the same meaning or sense of responsibility if it’s inherited.

    Faith, church… Maybe it’s the same. It has to be rediscovered to be real.

    I’ve been thinking on these things, too.

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  2. “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?” Um…..yes 🙂

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      1. OK, sorry to be so brief. Let me say I think Gayle D Erwin’s proposal about the 25 or 50 years is great. But I don’t necessarily agree that new moves of the Holy Spirit get ‘kicked out’ of the old systems. I’d say rather the new finds it simply can’t fit or function in the old, or as in your grandma’s case the original carriers of the Holy Spirit seeded vision can no longer identify with the surroundings. It may sound like a trivial point, but it’s important. Most people who leave denominational institutions don’t do so because they want to, nor are they ‘kicked out’. They simply find the way they feel about God and His Kingdom just doesn’t fit and isn’t welcome, that their surroundings have become so spiritually stifled that they can’t ‘move and breathe and have their being in God’ any longer in that environment. Your grandmother is a case in point. She wasn’t actively kicked out, the environment just became such that she could no longer identify or participate.

        When Jesus talked about not putting new wine in old wine skins, He said it was because the old could not hold the new. The result of such an act would be ‘spilled wine’ and ruined wineskins. “But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Luke 5:38). So this seems to me to be a spiritual principle. It is not necessarily a disfunction that those tasting the new wine cannot remain in the old wineskins, but from this I take it that it is part of God’s ongoing plan. When doing something new with His people God always reserves a remnant from the old that He moves into the new…..again your grandmother sounds like she was part of that remnant. And even in that, we all have a choice.

        So, yes, while the idea of having the ‘wisdom and knowledge’ of the old structure sounds good, that wisdom and knowledge was not enough to keep the old from faltering, so how can it serve the new structure? The wisdom and knowledge that is needed is of those who have known the original vision and have stayed true to it and carry it within them, like your grandmother. Personally, I don’t think we should even be looking back to where we’ve been or trying to bring the old and the new together. Our eyes should be on the Cloud and the Fire leading us to where it is we’re going. It’s not optimism we need, it’s single vision.

        Just my two cents worth. Thanks for raising this discussion Charis.
        Cheryl

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      2. “They simply find the way they feel about God and His Kingdom just doesn’t fit…” I hear you.
        When I experienced my spiritual renewal a few years ago, and was awoken to pursue the knowledge of God more intentionally, my pastor at the time (whom I love and respect) expressed his concern that I would become like others he had seen who broke up church families or led splits. I assured him I had no intent of doing anything of the kind, nor do I now. But the longing for more, the awakening of the “sanctified imagination” leaves me feeling like I don’t fit within the rules and constraints that were set up a hundred years ago to protect an institution. I don’t really feel like I fit anywhere, actually. But I also long to see the big C Church united to become the spotless bride of Christ. I keep having dreams about joining streams, about the Church arising in power and authority to be what she was meant to be when we reconcile and come together. Unity is not an option; like loving the Lord and loving our neighbours, it’s a command.
        So, at the moment I am on a hiatus seeking the Lord. Is this holy discontent that urges change in my own heart, or selfish discontent that puts the responsibility on others to change so I will be more comfortable? I guess that’s one of the questions I am asking Himself.

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      3. “I don’t really feel like I fit anywhere, actually.” LOL, can’t help much with that one I’m afraid. Every second day I ask the Lord ‘but where do I fit in all this??” I don’t yet have a definitive answer, but I do know that everyone I talk to who has stepped out of their denominational comfort zone in any way is asking the same question….and yep it hurts, doesn’t it? That very question prompted me to write a blog post a couple of weeks ago about Black Sheep and Misfits. I don’t know that it’s the whole answer, but I think part of the answer is that we simply don’t fit, but like square pegs trying to find a place in round holes, some of us (yes, I’ve been there too many times to count) just keep bruising ourselves trying to “fit” somewhere, anywhere, where we can be ourselves yet contribute what we are learning and learn from others. When I think along these lines I just keep coming back to the fact that Jesus walked this path and knows the cost in terms of loneliness, isolation and at times frustration. So, all I know is I may be a misfit but I am not alone, nor am I able to look back.

        As for the ‘big C’ church becoming united? When the “big C” church does become united it will be a dangerous unity, not a unity of the Spirit of God. That unity will be organisational, external, something we can see and hear with our eyes and ears, something that can raise a common banner over itself, but that banner will not be Christ. Is that really what we want? The Body of Christ on the other hand is already united, members one of another, directed by the Head. The fact that we and others here can have this discussion, having never met or gathered in one building, testifies to that. We are edifying one another. We are united by the Spirit of God, not by external trappings, but in Spirit and truth as Jesus said true worship would be. That’s not to say believers assembling together is wrong. Coming together physically with other genuine believers is wonderful if it is available to us, but our unity must be in the Spirit above all. The Bride of Christ is already being united by the Spirit, regardless of what the big C church (and by that I take it you mean denominations?) does or doesn’t do. Yes, unity is not an option but it’s a work of the Spirit. By the way, not meaning to sound contentious here in any way, but can you point me to where unity is commanded? I’m not sure what you mean by that.
        Cheryl

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      4. I’m sorry I was not clear by what I mean by big C Church. By that I mean the church universal, the body of Christ, the ekklesia, members of the same family and adopted sons and daughters of the same Father. I definitely don’t mean denominational sects. I Cor 1:10-13 addresses that when Paul writes, I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? [Aside…Chloe had “people?” Cool.]

        As for unity not being optional there is, of course, Jesus’ prayer in John 17:11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
        Although there is some difference in the understanding of the pronouns, (whether we are one with Christ or one with each other) I believe that if, like instruments which are all tuned to the same tuning fork, we are all in “tuned” to Christ we will be in tune with each other. It was obviously a priority for Him.

        As for the instructions to live in unity there are these scriptures for starters:
        Phil 2:2 Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

        1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

        Colossians 3:14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

        2 Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

        Romans 15:6 That together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

        Ephesians 4:1-6 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

        Philippians 1:27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,

        Ephesians 4:3 Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

        Romans 12:4- For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

        Titus3:10 implies that unity is so important that Paul warns about people who continue to cause division after several warnings (factious heretical sectarians in the Amplified) and says to regard them as toxic. (Perhaps denominational defenses build divisive fences that offend after a while and we need to seriously consider that the Church/Body/Bride is already one and some man-made boundaries may be the result of toxic control. That is why I am disturbed when groups gather at the same time at different locations without any central gathering place. I don’t see where the admonition to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves together” refers to a type of loyalty that requires one to forsake all others and cleave only unto one particular group gathering in one particular building at one particular time. Worshipping with other genuine believers should not feel like cheating on one’s spouse. ok, Rant over.)

        I can understand why gatherings of churches in an area would divide up functions, like parts of the body. It’s hard to maintain close transparent relationships with a huge crowd of people. Some do specialize in caring for the poor while others might be better at teaching, for example, but they need to communicate with each other like healthy body parts do (and not build walls to preserve loyalty to a particular leader or mode of worship.)

        OK. Rant really over. I do appreciate the unity in the Spirit with the Body of Christ around the world. That fact that we can have this conversation when we are writing from opposite hemispheres is a sign and wonder in itself. I have found wonderful friends online who have taught me a lot in the past few years, but it is also nice to worship God with people who know what I look like and notice when I am need of encouragement (or a kick in the butt). That’s the hard part about being a square peg.

        Still working this through in my mind, but it’s good to know God has it worked out already.
        P.S. I don’t know how I missed your misfit blog post. Good one.

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      5. OK, gotcha about the meaning of the big C church and apologise if I misunderstood. The key in New Testament unity is still the Spirit which comes out frequently in the verses you supplied. Unity in that sense is definitely God’s perfect will and should be the preference for all of us, but I wouldn’t agree it’s a command because it’s not something that is always in our power to fulfil or obey. But that’s probably splitting hairs 🙂

        I think your statement “Perhaps denominational defenses build divisive fences that offend after a while and we need to seriously consider that the Church/Body/Bride is already one and some man-made boundaries may be the result of toxic control.” is very insightful. And while I agree “it is also nice to worship God with people who know what I look like and notice when I am need of encouragement (or a kick in the butt).” for some of us who have laid down everything to follow Christ, that is not an option. Not having that option is not our choice, but has been, and continues to be, part of the cost. People who otherwise may be good Christians are very good at locking out those who question the way things are done, even when we don’t do it with any hostility. Just to question is enough in many circles to mark you as a troublemaker or rebellious.

        If we look at Jesus words about the new wine carefully, He says new wine must go into new wineskins, not the old ones, so that ‘both are preserved’. There’s grace in that for both the old and the new. But He is very clear that they can’t be mixed, even for the appearance of unity.

        Thanks for the interesting discussion Charis. I wish you all the very best in Christ as you continue your journey through these important questions. And yes, Chloe had people, super cool!
        Cheryl

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      6. Unity in the Spirit may be a matter of “In as much as is possible, be at peace with all men.” In that sense I see it as a command. The results of that type of submission are out of my hands, so I can see why the word “command” doesn’t fit for you.

        I can see where some people may be like scouts, or like my father-in-law in WWII fly reconnaissance in advance of the troops, and it is a singular and lonely calling, but even they return to base once in a while. I can also understand that some people are called to come aside for a season to spend time at the Saviour’s feet while he teaches them. But I am also aware of the “one another” aspect of this life in the Body. We need our sandpaper grace grower people, we need others with discernment who have had their senses trained by use and are not fooled by camouflage and we need genuinely prophetic people with “sanctified imagination” who can see through the mist. Even mentors need mentees, even if they run out of mentors themselves. And we all need somebody to love. I think we can pick our friends, but God assigns our family because frankly, we would never choose them ourselves. I’m hoping this time for me is about sitting at the Saviour’s feet and learning to separate His voice from the many other voices in the background, and that the relative isolation is not permanent. But I also understand that for you following the Voice has come at a cost.

        I understand that laying down everything to follow Christ may leave us in a lonely place, but we do meet other sojourners from time to time, and we learn from them as I have learned from you. Thank you for being a friend.

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  3. You are absolutely right. Here in the USA, I live in a small rural town with many churches on the outskirts and the mega churches in the big cities. We have been to many if them,people think we are window shopping for a church but that is not it at all. It is what you describe in your post. We were Catholic all are lives until we became a follower if Jesus Christ 27 years ago and moved to this small town 16 years ago. We have raised 6 children to know the Lord and found many a times explaining to the children why we can not go back to a certain church that we were going to for a while. Now that our children are grown they understand that the church of Jesus is not a building and sometimes not even in the hearts of men and women. Thank you so much for your post today Charis. Even though you may be in another country you made me feel that we are next door neighbors in Christ.

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    1. Oh, I would love to sit on your porch with a nice cup of tea and listen to your stories, Beatrix. Do you feel like you don’t really fit anywhere too? I am running into so many sincere followers of Jesus who are at loose ends at the moment. Do you sense something changing in the atmosphere?

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      1. A few years back I read a few books written by Frank Peretti, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. Times like these in which family and friends seem to be having chaotic lives I think back on those books and can almost envision the spiritual warfare taking place over the planet earth. Life on this earth we live will always have trials and tribulation but lately it seems to be a more spiritual nature battling between good and evil. We all need to be on our knees more.

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      2. We definitely need to be on our knees more, but yesterday a Facebook poster really grabbed my attention. It said something like, “If you saw the size of the blessing coming you would understand that magnitude of the battle you are fighting.” I need to remember to keep my eyes on the joy set before us.

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  4. God and his Spirit are constantly moving. Man likes to get some revelation and then build a huge edifice in the spot. Many churches would not know that Jesus had not showed up because they are more tuned into religious traditions than what pleases God. We are on the verge of a massive end time harvest that will surpass all that we have seen in the past. Many feel a Holy Spirit unease because they realize that they cannot remain where they are, can not go back but must risk all and go forward into the unknown with God. As for me, I am tired of religious routines and want to move with what God is saying and doing. The children of Israel follwed the cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night. This caused them to move and not remain the same. I find myself in the same place. We get uncomfortable and lose the grace to remain in the same place so we can change and ask the Lord where he wants us and what will please him. The church (body of believers) of tomorrow will look much different than it does today and will be in the streets reaching the broken hearted, drug addicts, rebellious youth, parents and grandparents. Charis, thanks for an interesting discussion!

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