December 5, 2002
I was raised in the so-called Institutional Church, in a rather conservative family. I know some would suggest the two cannot co-exist, but believe me they can .... and do. It was not until recent years that I seriously began to question many of my beliefs and practices. Let me hasten to say that my "questioning" was for the purpose of clarification. I was not seeking to "overthrow the church," but merely to understand WHY we preach and practice some of the things we do. I wanted my faith to truly be mine, not simply a faith handed down to me by my family in the flesh; a faith accepted blindly without thought. I had seen too many disciples utterly incapable of intelligently conveying to others WHY they believed and practiced as they did. They had no clue. It was the family faith, and therefore it must be the right faith .... end of discussion!! That's the way it has always been done, thus that is the only way it can be done! Period!
In my search to validate my own faith, I came to realize that some of what I believed and practiced was simply "historical and cultural clutter." This is not to suggest such is "sinful" necessarily .... but I came to realize we were prone to condemn others as sinful who had not inherited the same religious clutter we had. I could no longer endorse such condemnation of others. Sadly, this has prompted some in my own faith-heritage to condemn me.
I have come to appreciate that what truly matters is what Charles Swindoll characterized (in a book by the same title): Simple Faith. In the past two thousand years that "simple faith" has been buried under so much "religious clutter" that it is hardly visible to the common man searching for a relationship with his God. Frankly, I see my task, or "calling," in the remaining years of my life to be the stripping away of these religious and institutional complexities and trappings so as to make visible once again that simple faith.
Our Lord did not leave the glory of heaven and then die a cruel death on the cross to establish another religion. The Jews had pretty well perfected "religion." Mankind certainly didn't need another one! He suffered and died to establish once again, for those in bondage to sin and thus separated from their God, a lasting relationship with the Father. Thus, it was RELATIONSHIP .... not RELIGION .... that our Lord came to establish.
I believe that disciples lost sight of this fact over the years, and in so doing returned to the concept of religious institutionalism. No longer was the "church" a FAMILY ..... rather, it became increasingly an organization, an institution, a business. We became a corporation replete with by-laws and corporate officers who ran the business and taxed the stockholders.
I made a determination several years ago (I had come to a personal crossroads where I had to choose -- do I leave or do I stay and fight? ..... I chose the latter, by the way) that in every location to which the Lord led me to preach, my main focus (aside from preaching Christ, obviously) would be to try and help people refocus on that simple faith by helping them strip away the religious clutter which had buried it from their view.
One of my professors in graduate school at the university I attended used to say (and I never fully understood this until a few years ago), "The job of a preacher is to preach himself out of a job!" You might have to think about that for a while (as I did), but there is much wisdom in this statement.
Having said all of that, let me make a few comments on the debate being waged among some of my brethren on the difference between organizing and institutionalizing. My personal family is organized. We have distinct roles in this family. I am the father, the husband, the head of the household. My wife has her God-given place in this family .... and it is a vital place! My three sons (when they were living at home) also had and knew their "proper place." We had tasks, we had abilities unique to ourselves, and we had responsibilities that we each were obligated to fulfill. We worked together, in an organized fashion, to be a fully functioning family.
We were not a corporation. I was not the CEO of the Maxey Institute. A family can be organized without becoming an organization! The concept conveyed by the term "institution" is one of cold, sterile efficiency; results over relationship. The concept which is conveyed by the term "family," however, is of warm, loving, caring interdependency; the priority of people over policy. I believe this is the way it should be in the family of God, as well.
Too often, in our religious corporations, people are sacrificed to the policies of the institution. The system must be maintained at all cost. People are expendable; they can be replaced with those more willing to "get with the program." Policies and policy makers are not to be questioned .... they are to be obeyed. To question is to be marked as disloyal, and those who are disloyal to the system must be either disciplined or deleted.
With the growth and development of religious systematization also came the accouterments of the same --- costly edifices were erected, fully staffed and fully furnished with the latest and greatest technological devices. We retreated within the walls of our edifices, practicing our religion there, living and dying surrounded by those on the outside who never knew who we were spiritually, or Whose we were. We were convinced that by serving the system we were serving the Savior.
For too many, Christianity (that simple faith) had become a spectator sport! We paid our dues, we sat in comfortable stadiums, and we would alternately cheer or boo as others played the game for us. If the paid professionals put on a good show that weekend, we came back for more. If they didn't, we switched teams, switched coaches, or traded players.
Let me hasten to say that not all disciples of Christ Jesus have fallen into the trap of systematic, institutionalized religion. Many have seen it for what it is and are rejecting it in favor of simple faith, and of simply being God's FAMILY. It is relationship with God that they preach and practice, not a cold, sterile religion. Such disciples, individually and congregationally, are to be commended .... and their numbers are increasing!!
My plea is for us never to be afraid to THINK. Let us be willing to challenge any and all of our beliefs and practices .... taking them to God's inspired Word for clarification and validation. My plea to my fellow disciples of Christ is this --- labor where you are to help people refocus on that simple faith, and help those around you to strip away the many layers of religious clutter which has buried it for far too long.
A simple relationship with our Father should not have to be a complex institutional maze through which religious specialists are required to guide us. It is a simple walk with our God. May our Father help us to show others that pathway!
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