What is the Church?

11391119_10207019466588471_8667164426957682070_nI am ready to define “Church” as a target for reform.

I know many people believe “We are the Church” and talk about the whole Body of Believers, the Communion of Saints (that transcends time) and hear the call for each of us, individually and corporately, to become an anointing to the world around us. Those ideas warm my heart and sound very “right” to me.

For practical reasons, Reformation is directed at the Shepherds, not the Sheep. When I consider “ecclesia reformanda est” I think of, mostly, what we call clergymen (Reform might mean women are included, too.).

I am talking about the priests, pastors, preachers, the hierarchy of bishops and self-proclaimed apostles; I refer to teachers in seminaries, book authors and music composers and performers both as worship leaders and commercial musicians on commercial radio stations. I mean all the televangelists, and non-televised evangelists, the traveling speakers and faith healers and those who make movies to popularize one of the above. I mean those who write websites for preachers looking for sermon help and the senders of viral emails. All those who interpret the founding documents and proclaimers of interpretations. If we’re casting the wide net for all those who lead God’s People, then include rabbis and imams, too.

In today’s church, the sermons and talks and books and song lyrics are a giant chaotic cacophony of contradiction. We, the sheep, don’t have to wander very far to hear totally opposite ideas being proclaimed in the next pasture over. Usually what we hear is a standard template, one interpretation, supporting the worldview of the proclaimer, often skipping around in the Bible or Torah or Quran to “prove” that interpretation. Within a given small radius the hymns and sermons cancel each other out (assuming God’s ears listen). Sometimes I imagine while singing a hymn or listening to a sermon, that God’s Ears would rather hear harmony and a consistent proclamation of worshipful love. I imagine cartoon bubbles of ideas coming off every church in America and instead of squabbling disagreement over political subtleties, they all say the same thing. It’s either a vision or a fantasy.

Among common folks living day-to-day, the differences are harder to find. People with love in their hearts generally get along. Sure, there are questions here and there, but overall the unity among people who “get it” is surprising and amazing considering the incompatibility of the templates that are pressed onto them weekly. Something or someone else connects human-to-fellow-human at the heart level.

Sometimes I hear one of the sheep faithfully repeat their religion’s talking points with pride, but for all the words of all the sermons, books, and song lyrics, that’s quite rare. I find people are willing to read and think for themselves and are open to the possibility that their shepherds have an agenda that is not exactly aligned with the Divine Agenda.

My first observation is that the current cadre of clergy-folk are basically ineffective and are spending a lot of time and effort in vain. No offense intended. I think many of them know it, or are trying to hide it, and are also awaiting and looking for Reformation back to the first and the effective principles.

My second observation relates to church buildings themselves. “The Church” is building new giant (expensive) auditoriums bristling with the latest technology and designed by the latest psycho-architectural ideas to attract crowds of “millennials” with disposable incomes. Those are fine for concerts but not so fine for worship. Everyone’s in the audience. Those places are in neighborhoods with many perfectly fine buildings constructed not that long ago, carefully and traditionally designed for worship, for the unamplified voice and congregational singing. Sadly, the audience-only places are filled with sheep who used to be in the worship-places that are, as a result, empty and dying. This, to me, is another indication of being off-track and a need for Reformation.

I have other observations; ‘me’ versus ‘us’ language, the whole denomination called non-denominational, dualism versus monotheism, theodicy, economics and politics; but I’ll stop here: when I say “Church” I mean the organized religious structure of power and leadership, money, and buildings… the Shepherds and all their stuff.

7 thoughts on “What is the Church?

    1. Michael Middleton

      That was a big question since 2nd Isaiah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah postulated monotheism and a universal deity. Both Jesus and Paul were trying to answer that question. I have more to say on Theodicy, but it doesn’t belong in this blog. Maybe a future one on “what are first principles?”

  1. Vashti Winterburg

    The Church is always a target for reform. Part of that is the constant tension between the charismatic, “spiritual” (It’s all about me and God.) part of the Church and the bureaucratic part of the Church which is tasked with passing the faith from generation to generation with a modicum of authenticity or orthodoxy (“Hey, this is a community founded on the creeds.) It’s not easy trying to meld the two into something workable. This also explains why there is such a wide variety of “churches”.

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