Suggested Reading ...

As requested by a number of you, herewith a few books that I strongly recommend.

The Case for the Psalms:Why they are Essential - N.T.Wright

Journey to the Common Good - Walter Brueggemann

Gagging Jesus: Things Jesus said we wish he hadn't - Phil Moore

Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God - Bob Kauflin

The Writings of the New Testament : An Interpretation - Luke Timothy Johnson

These titles I have been able to source through happy reading!

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The Institutional Church? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Grant Nuss   
Monday, 03 November 2014 18:08

"10 Reasons Why I Left the Institutional Church & Sought the Ekklesia" – February 2014 - Written by  Frank Viola.

“It’s funny. We still live in a celebrity culture. Even Christians have chewed hard on it. Whenever a celebrity Christian author or blogger talks about “leaving church,” all of a sudden masses of Christians think a “new conversation” has suddenly began and people left and right start firing off opinions. A few words about “leaving church.” Virtually every time I catch wind of the phrase -“leaving church” -  almost always, the person using the phrase never explains what he/she means by “church.” This is how I put it in Christianity in Crisis: On the title “Forget the Church,” what “church” are we talking about? Is the author saying;  Forget the Roman Catholic Church? Forget the Anglican Church? Forget the Church of Latter Day Saints? Forget assembling with other Christians in any way, shape, or form? Forget all other Christians in the world? Forget the Evangelicals, their movement, and the churches that contain them? Forget the body of Christ? Point: If you ever write on “the church,” be sure to define what you mean first. If not, many of your readers will ascribe their own meaning to what you say. I wrote those words in April 2012, and well, some people didn’t get the memo. So the next time you see someone use the term “the church” without defining what in the cat hair they’re talking about, you have my full permission to link to this post and ask them to define the term. On that point, there are four other things that deserve attention:

1. The “local church” is NOT a synonym for the “institutional church.” So can we please stop assuming they are the same. Countless people all over North America leave the institutional church every day. (According to Gallop, over 1 million adult Christians in the USA leave it each year.) But many of those Christians are now gathering with local ekklesias that are not institutional. They are not “church-less.”

2. Most people who leave the “institutional church” are NOT “postchurch” or “anti-church” Christians. Postchurch is the belief that “church just happens” anywhere, anytime, and with anyone – even extra local people. There’s no commitment or devotion or regularity involved. I strongly critiqued the postchurch perspective here. The fact is, most people who leave the institutional church do so because they are looking for Christ-centered, face-to-face community, where every-member participates and JESUS CHRIST is being deeply known, loved, and expressed. They aren’t navel gazers who want to be isolated. They want real community. In their experience at least, the typical institutional church didn’t provide this.

3. Most Christians who leave the institutional church do so because they LOVE Jesus and they adore His beloved Bride. That is, they love the Head and the Body. And they feel that the institutional church hampers how both should be expressed. See my post Why I Love the Church: In Praise of God’s Eternal Purpose. If any of this confuses you, that post makes the point crystal clear. In this regard, Reggie McNeal famously said, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.”

4. Christians never “leave the Church.” They only leave a certain kind of church. If you are a Christian, you are part of “the Church, which is His Body” (Eph. 1:22-23). That never changes whether you join a specific local assembly or your bones end up bleaching in the wilderness.

Now what’s an institutional church? Here’s how I defined the institutional church in my book Reimagining Church, By “institutional church,” I am referring to those churches that operate primarily as institutions that exist above, beyond, and independent of the members that populate them. These churches are constructed on programs and rituals more than relationships. They are highly structured, typically building-centered organizations regulated by set-apart professionals (“ministers” and “clergy”) who are aided by volunteers (laity). They require staff, building, salaries, and administration. In the institutional church, congregants watch a religious performance once or twice a week led principally by one person (the pastor or minister), and then retreat home to live their individual Christian lives.

That said, I’m not “anti-institutional church” nor am I “anti-pastor.” Nor am I “anti-leader.” In fact, I’m a strong advocate of Christian leadership. I just happen to believe that all Christians are leaders (in their own ministries), all are priests, ministers, and functioning parts of the Body of Christ. See The Myth of Christian Leadership for details.

I’ve repeatedly said that God uses the institutional form of church. I was saved and baptized in it. To wit, God’s people are there, and God uses pastors and all kinds of clergy — even Catholic priests and Anglican bishops. But that doesn’t mean that these things . . . in their present form at least . . . are God’s full thought or ideal. What God blesses and uses doesn’t indicate His best, highest, or desired will.

Now that’s all groundwork. In this post, I’m simply sharing my journey — which is reflected by the experience of millions of Christians throughout the world. And remember: this is a blog post . . . so it’s a short summary . . . if you want detail and documentation, look here. Your mileage may vary from what I’m about to write, and that’s fine. I embrace all Christians as my kin, no matter what form of church to which they belong. So I hope you will receive me — someone who stands outside the institutional from of church like my forefathers the Anabaptists did — without casting aspersions, ascribing evil motives, or “reading into” my statements.

10 reasons why I left the institutional church.

1. I wasn’t able to share what the Lord gave me with my brothers and sisters. Even in the supplemental “home groups” attached to some institutional churches, it was still the “longer leash” with very little freedom to give Christ to others.

2. I wasn’t able to receive from the other members of the Body, hearing and receiving their portion of Christ. Only the pastor and/or staff were given the sacred right to minister to me and my sisters and brothers.

3. I discovered that the institutional form of church wasn’t biblical — meaning, it wasn’t rooted and grounded in Scripture. Rather, most of its practices were developed (or heavily influenced) by non-Christian sources after the death of the apostles. And many of them run contrary to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. (If you’re looking for a source for that statement, look here.)

4. The priesthood of all believers wasn’t being fleshed out in the institutional churches I attended. It was merely a bloodless doctrine.

5. The institutional churches I had attended weren’t caring properly for the poor. The “Benevolent Fund” of the last one I attended was run by one man and the people in the poor in the church weren’t being helped. (I have vivid memories of sitting in the dark with a family of 5 — members of this affluent church — because their electric bill had been turned off. No one in that church helped them, and many didn’t even know about their plight.)

6. The churches I attended weren’t equipped to deal a demon-possessed man I was trying to help. (My friends and I called all the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches in town and told them about our situation. They all responded the same way: “Is he a member of our church? If not, we can’t help him. Sorry.”

7. I grew tired of the spiritual shallowness I was finding in every institutional church I attended. No one was preaching the riches of Jesus Christ and God’s Eternal Purpose in Him. None of them gave practical handles on how to live by the indwelling life of Christ.

8. I was bored with the church service (which is virtually identical in every institutional church, with some minor tweaks depending on the brand). Jesus Christ isn't boring and neither is His ekklesia. She may have dry spells — which always have an end — but she finds her Lord in them. Boredom with a predictable ritual and a seasonal dry spell are two very different things.

9. It was always predictable. A mark of institutionalization and the human touch.

10. The fullness of Jesus Christ couldn't be expressed. One member of the Body — no matter how gifted — can never express His fullness. It takes a functioning Body to do that.

Now, don’t jump to conclusions here. This is my testimony, my experience, and my vantage point. And I've since discovered that I’m speaking on behalf of millions of Jesus followers who feel the same way. Again, God uses the institutional church. And I’d never try to talk someone into leaving it. In fact, I always discourage people from leaving unless they have the full agreement of their spouse and God is clearly leading them out.

My 82 year old grandmother was born a Baptist and she’ll die a Baptist. And that’s the way it should be in her case. If you try to talk her out of leaving her church, then you deserve an atomic knee drop! ;-) The fact is, leaving a church could be devastating some people. See How (Not) to Leave a Church.

10 reasons why I’ve become part of the organic expression of the church (the ekklesia) in various cities for the last 25 years.

1. My spiritual instincts were crying out for face-to-face community, mutual sharing, mutual receiving, and mutual submission.

2. I discovered that I can’t live the Christian life by myself (and neither can you). Attending an institutional church service isn't living the Christian life with others in a shared-life context.

3. I saw that God’s Eternal Purpose is bound up with a face-to-face, local, visible, visit-able corporate expression of Christ where every member functions under the Lord’s direct headship (rather than the headship of a man). So God’s ultimate intention is all about His ekklesia.

4. I saw from the New Testament that God’s heart beats for the Body of Christ in every locality to function under the Headship of His Son. And this insight/revelation/seeing brought me to tears and wrecked me for life.

5. I discovered that when every member of the Body gives Christ to one another, after being equipped on how to do this, the experience is just below the glory of heaven. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a body of believers function under Christ’s headship without any one leading, faciliating, or controlling.

6. I wanted the fullness of Christ. And that’s only found when His Body — together — functions in a given place (1 Cor. 12-14).

7. I was shooting for spiritual depth and reality.

8. I longed for an environment where I could share the riches of Christ that were given to me and receive the riches of Christ that were given to the rest of the Body. (Not just from one or two members.)

9. I was seriously interested in transformation. And I discovered that hearing sermons and singing worship songs led by a worship team doesn’t transform. Hebrews 3 and 10 make clear that the antidote for apostasy and a hardened heart is mutual edification. “Exhorting one another. . . ”

10. I wanted to know Christ deeply, and I discovered that we can only comprehend “the breadth, depth, height, and know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” when we are “together with all saints.” It’s not an individualistic pursuit, but an intensely corporate (collective) one.”

What do you think? Did Viola’s idea touch a nerve perhaps? Have you ever sat in a church-setting and thought; “Is this what Jesus envisaged when he thought of the church”? More and more people (pastor’s and leaders included) are calling for Christian’s to “Re-Church”. Let’s give it some thought here. The bride of Christ is not an institution, but is instead a spiritual entity made up of those who have, by grace through faith been brought into a close, intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Those people, no matter which building, denomination, or country they happen to be in, constitute the true church. In the Bible, we see that the local (or visible) church is nothing more than a gathering of professing believers. In Paul’s letters, the word “church” is used in two different ways. There are many examples of the word “church” being used to simply refer to a group of professing believers who meet together on a regular basis (1Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 8:1, 11:28). We see Paul’s concern, in his letters, for the individual churches in various cities along his missionary journey. But he also refers to a church that is invisible- a spiritual entity that has close fellowship with Christ, as close as a bride to her husband (Ephesians 5:25, 32), and of which he is the spiritual head (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 3:21). This church is made up of an unnamed, unspecified group of individuals (Philippians 3:6; 1Timothy 3:5) that have Christ in common.

The word “church”, comes from the Greek word ekklesia meaning "a calling out." The word describes a group of people who have been called out of the world and set apart for the Lord, and it is always used, in its singular form, to describe a universal group of people who know Christ. The word ekklesia, when pluralized, is used to describe groups of believers who meet together. Interestingly enough, the word “church” is never used in the Bible to describe a building or organization. I have, during my walk with Christ, encountered people who openly declare that certain denominations are “demonic” (now we’re not talking about the cults that call themselves Christian here), others will state that their particular denomination is the “true” church. Really? How do you know? You see, it is easy to get ensnared by the idea that a particular denomination within Christianity is “the true church,” but this view is a misunderstanding of Scripture. When choosing a church to attend, it is important to remember that a gathering of believers should be a place where those who belong to the true church (the spiritual entity) feel at home. That is to say, a good local church will uphold the Word of God, honouring it and preaching faithfully, the gospel will be proclaimed steadfastly, and the sheep will be fed and tended and cared for by godly leaders. A church that teaches heresy or engages in sin will eventually be very low on (or entirely bereft of) those people that belong to the true church - the sheep who hear the voice of the Shepherd and follow Him (John 10:27). Members of the true church always enjoy agreement in and fellowship around Jesus Christ, as he is plainly revealed in his Word. This is what is referred to as Christian unity. Another common mistake is to believe that Christian unity is just a matter of agreeing with one another. Rather than speaking the truth in love and spurring one another on to unity in Christ, this encourages believers to refrain from speaking difficult truths. It sacrifices true understanding of God in favour of a false unity based on disingenuous love that is nothing more than selfish tolerance of sin in oneself and others. The true church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2, 9, 22:17) and the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 12:27). It cannot be contained, walled in, or defined by anything other than its love for Christ and its dedication to him. The true church is, as C.S. Lewis put it, “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.”