For me, this has to be one of the most frustrating things about the church as I've always known it, this dividing people up into clergy (or even professional denominational workers) and laity (or "consumers"), and then expecting each to meet different models of "behavior" instead of realizing that they're all the same.
As my pastor and I were talking the other day we both brought up the point that the church model we use today isn't based even loosely on the New Testament. It comes from Constantine. It comes not from a fellowship of like-minded believers hanging onto their faith in a time of persecution. It comes from the politically powerful, suddenly safe, no longer under siege, watchdogs of morality that became institutionalized.
That's why I think Christianity is growing so quickly in other countries and is so insanely stale here in a so-called Christian nation. (Yeah, right, and besides, such an animal wouldn't work in a democracy or any other current form of human government.) Because it hasn't been turned into an institution. It's still just people. If you want to kill the spread of Christianity, give it power and structure and the authority to enforce something (morality), not just dispense something (grace).
Okay, rant over.
Increasingly, "the church" is becoming marginalized. We're relegated to the fringes of our culture. We struggle to find a voice in the public square. We're rarely taken seriously. The vast majority of people in our society think the church is irrelevant.
As pastors and church leaders, we feel displaced, lost, frustrated. Our ministries don't match the expectations we had when we started. We seem to have lost our sense of direction. Things that used to work don't anymore. Like the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert, we find ourselves in a time of transition..."
As we grope our way into the future, we'll learn to come to grips with our marginalization. We'll embrace it and see it as an opportunity for the church to return to her ancient roots in order to reclaim God's original intent for the church...
In order to gain a new perspective, you need to travel into the history of the church to see how the way we've learned to think about church is now out of touch with the reality of our changing world. As you see how the church developed into what it is today, you'll be able to understand why things aren't working the way we expect them to and what we can do about it.
Very simply, the church began as a movement but ended up as an institution. And because the institutional church has lasted for some 1,500 years, we've grown overly familiar with this way of existing. It's ingrained in us. But this institutionalized way of church—what has been called Christendom—is deteriorating. Because of the way things are now in the context of history, the old institutional mold can't be rebuilt, and it would be unwise to attempt to rebuild it. Biblical Christianity will move on and thrive without it.
In reality, much of the resources, time, and energy now spent by the church are an attempt to rebuild the crumbling ruins of Christendom. For example, we spin our wheels trying to get prayer back in public schools, or we try to keep the Ten Commandments posted in public places. Within the church, we define success in terms of attendance, budgets, programs, and buildings. We don't know what else to do or how else to measure success because we don't know any other way to operate. Christendom is all we know.
But there is another way...
We now have the opportunity, like the early disciples of Jesus, to live in the world like the resident aliens that we are and to demonstrate God's love in tangible ways to the people in our communities. We have the privilege to suffer and sacrifice like the early disciples in order to serve each other and the world. We have the chance to demonstrate love to our enemies, to humble ourselves before others, and to live in such a way that shows we care more for our treasure in heaven than our material possessions on earth. We have the opportunity to live our faith authentically before a watching world.
However, because we're so familiar with the Christendom form of church, we sometimes don't have the capability to see ourselves as resident aliens in this world. It's questionable whether we want to adopt this mindset. We seem far more concerned about building systems of power and structures of permanence on this earth. Much of what we do seems incompatible with the way of Jesus—the way of the Incarnation, the way of weakness and humility, the way of the Cross.
We need a shift in our thinking, and we need to know that it's legitimate to make this shift. If we can recognize that the future we're headed to is similar to the early days of the church—before the church became an institution—then we can form our ministries according to those much older ways. And we don't need to feel threatened, because this much older way is our birthright—our ancient heritage.
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