So in the past few months, as I’ve processed my own thoughts on this journey outside of the parameters of organized church–and as I’ve read what others are going through–I see that this has become a journey shared by a lot of people who have come to this place for a variety of reasons. I tend to call this group of people the “disenfranchised”–those who no longer feel they can connect with current church systems. Some of these have left institutional Christianity (IC)completely; others still attend IC, but they are unsettled, and at best hold a loose connection to it.
Without over-generalizing (because I know it’s more complex than this)–I can basically see three approaches that disenfranchised people sort of fall into:
- There are the ones who have left because they were wounded or abused, and are currently opposed to IC because they view the system as corrupt.
- There are those who have left because they simply became disillusioned, bored, or felt out of place within the system. These tend to view IC as irrelevant and have left to find something else to fill their hunger.
- There are those who have left because they have theological issues with IC in general, viewing it as a departure from original, New Testament Christianity. They deem the current systems as un-Biblical, and are looking for something they believe is more authentic to the Scriptures.
For me–not to sound too diplomatic–I resonate with all three in some way. I have been wounded (but didn’t really leave because of those wounds); I have been increasingly out-of-place in institutional systems; and I hunger for something more authentic. But of the three, I think I lean the least to number 3, and the most toward number 2.
In my studies, writings, and ramblings, I’ve come to realize that I am a pragmatist about these things. I easily recognize how much of what we call “church” has no foundation in Scripture, but I do not oppose the institution on those grounds. There are some foundational principles in Scripture about the nature of the church, but there’s actually very little that is commanded us about what methods to use. To me, that means God has given us a lot of latitude as to what “church” can look like. So I don’t buy into forsaking institutional Christianity just because it’s “un-Biblical”. This isn’t about returning to first-century Christianity, because we’re in the twenty-first century.
No….I am basically through with IC because I don’t think it works. And I think it is an increasingly non-workable system in our changing culture.
I think the brokenness of the system has contibuted tons to the wounding of believers. I think it places undue pressure on the leadership until they almost can’t help but hurt others. But more than that–our post-modern culture places less and less value on the authority of the institutional church in general. And as a sub-culture, IC has grown more and more out of touch with the world around it, which means as a whole we are reaching fewer people.
I know there are still institutional churches that thrive and are growing, including a number of mega-churches; but I’m looking ahead 50 years or so, and I think if we don’t make some major shifts in our thinking, we’re going to find ourselves in a world of hurt. I think it’s very telling that as a general rule, the under-35 crowd is growing increasingly absent, even in the mega-churches.
If something is mandated in Scripture, it is a principle that shouldn’t be strayed from. The fact is, most of of the IC structure is based on methods, many of which seek to fulfill Biblical principles. But they are only methods. The principles don’t change; the methods can, and should change. When we exalt methods to the point that they are more like principles…that spells religion. If a something isn’t working, you don’t hold onto it just because it’s convenient or comfortable. You change it for something that works better.
In my view, IC as a method isn’t working, and beyond any hurt I’ve sustained, that’s the main reason I am no longer interested in it.
So…of the three approaches I mentioned above…where do you lean?