The Church is two things. It is at one and the same time a human institution founded by humans, run by humans and failed by humans. It is also an institution ordained by God to be His Body incarnate here on earth, His Bride in waiting, the Kingdom peeking out in the here giving us glimpses of the not yet.
A couple of weeks ago Bill Kinnon wrote an excellent post entitled PFK as the Congregation (if you havenâ€™t yet read it, go do so now. Iâ€™ll wait). At almost the same time and with much, much less thought I wrote Leaving Oz, which, we agreed, was on the same wave length. Last week Emerging Grace wrote The Underlying Issues as a follow-up to PFKC where she outlined Billâ€™s main points. She hit the ball out of the park, once again.
Grace began her post with a bit of a sally against those who seem to think that we who criticize the church are bitter and angry. Some might be. Some might be working through those issues and still retain valid criticisms of the Church.
Iâ€™m going to mix up politics and faith here for a little bit. I hope you wonâ€™t mind, but I find it necessary to make my point.
When our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and wrote the Constitution, one of the most prominent freedoms for them was freedom of thought or speech. It was very important to them that they be allowed to think and say what they wanted to. As well as being allowed to worship in the manner in which they chose. Hence we have clauses in the Declaration of Independence that read like:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, â€” That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
and the First Amendment to the Constitution which states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
But how many of us really take those to heart? Really. How often do we speak up and say whatâ€™s on our minds, or think outside the box, or differently from the rest of the crowd? Itâ€™s extremely rare. We are a culture in which it is the norm to want to do like everyone else. Those who march to their own beat are ostracized and excluded, by the whole pack. Itâ€™s not just the leaders who are responsible, but all of us.
Iâ€™ve been seeing this my whole life. LightHusband and I have a very good friend from our youth. Iâ€™ll call him BestMan (since he was our best man when we got married). When LightHusband and I were dating, we hung out with BestMan a lot and carried on conversations about life, culture and anything else that crossed our minds. Literally … anything! One of the things that used to amaze us was how like cows people are. Since we all grew up in Vermont, this analogy was apt. People get in a herd and follow along without thinking, they just do what the butt in front of them is doing. I realize that sounds awfully harsh … but remember we were youthful and harsh at the time. We are not taught or encouraged to think about what might exist outside the herd. Get in your car, sit in traffic, sit in your cubicle, get ahead, sit in your car, sit in your cube house, go to sleep … do it all again.
Now letâ€™s go back to the Church. How is the Church going to be any different in this atmosphere? I think that Bill and Grace have extremely valid criticisms and concerns about how the Church has been lead in the last several decades or so. But I donâ€™t think that all of the responsibility can be heaped on the leadership. I think that we the PFKC have to take some of the blame too. After all … for the longest time, weâ€™ve liked it this way. Weâ€™ve enjoyed our emerald spectacles, and our comfortable happy lives that our
wizards, oops, I mean pastors have given us.
Remember, when the wizard left Oz, the people didnâ€™t fling off their spectacles and cry out, â€œWe are free! We are free!â€ No, they mourned his loss and wondered how on earth they were going to get along without him.
“Good-bye!” shouted everyone, and all eyes were turned upward to where the Wizard was riding in the basket, rising every moment farther and farther into the sky.
And that was the last any of them ever saw of Oz, the Wonderful Wizard, though he may have reached Omaha safely, and be there now, for all we know. But the people remembered him lovingly, and said to one another:
“Oz was always our friend. When he was here he built for us this beautiful Emerald City, and now he is gone he has left the Wise Scarecrow to rule over us.”
Still, for many days they grieved over the loss of the Wonderful Wizard, and would not be comforted.
My theory is that the Church for many people (even in fundamental/evangelical/charismatic churches) is a social contract with social functions. By social contract, I am referring to the contract first discussed by John Locke in Two Treatises of Government. I donâ€™t mean to belittle or demean in any way the faith or relationship that most people have with God or Jesus. I have to assume that they must have a vibrant faith. Itâ€™s just different and their view of church is different than mine. They are in small churches, medium churches, and mega-churches. But regardless of size they are in a place where they like wearing colored spectacles, and being told where to go and what to do by a leader who has built a beautiful city for them to live in; a leader who sets himself apart and is above the people. A leader who was dropped in from above and will one day leave just as mysteriously, but will never quite be one of them. The people will adore him, listen to his every word, follow him … but they will never quite know him. Now hereâ€™s the thing … both the leader AND the people like it this way. Both entities are getting something out of this.
There is however, a growing group of people who are not satisfied with this status quo. Who have begun looking around and thought that there might be a third way. For lack of a better term, or maybe because I like it a lot, we can call ourselves PFKC now. Or as Jamie Arpin-Ricci is calling us, The Community Coming To Be Known As Missional, this third way, this way of being Jesus; of not just sitting in a pew on Sunday and counting it sanctified all week long. It looks like many things. Itâ€™s walking a tightrope amidst a broad road. Itâ€™s living with open hands in a tight fisted culture. Itâ€™s seeing a motherâ€™s dreams on the face of an old homeless man. Itâ€™s seeing people not clerks in the grocery store. Having authentic friendships without any ulterior motives. Itâ€™s learning how to be yourself again, the beautiful one who God created to be and love and laugh in the world; to be in relationship with Him and with others.
So how do these two sets of people get along with one another? One set is comfortable within the social contract, loving the leader, wearing the colored spectacles, following the crowd and the rules (whatever they may be). They love the beautiful walled city in which they live, apart from everyone else. The other set has grown discomfitted with the social contract, thrown down their colored spectacles, gone adventuring outside the walls of the city, decided that the rules are not necessary for their existence and that the crowd might be going in a direction they donâ€™t want to go.
One set is, by nature, conservative, holding on tightly to the things they know and love. The other set is, by nature, radical, letting go and finding new ways; new wine in old wineskins. It’s my hope and dream that the two groups can get along, can love each other as children of God, as mutual brothers and sisters in Christ. We do things differently, we see the world differently, but we share one God, one Saviour, one Holy Spirit. If we can manage to walk through this new way lovingly we will not further splinter the Church, but perhaps bring it back together again. That is my dream today.