This post WILL cause offense if you have personal investment in church doctrine. But hey, I’m not a pastor so I can write whatever the hell I want 🙂
This is inspired by a fascinating article @AJA_Cortes recently linked to in his newsletter: bit.ly/2nEPG3y
The article is about the mass media, but the control structure is eerily similar to the Christian church. Here’s some of my thoughts:
Christianity started with 13 men: 1 teacher and 12 followers.
But the gospel spread quickly and it became necessary for people to organize themselves. Much of Paul’s ministry was concerned with the proper organization of believers.
Here’s what most Christians DON’T know…
By the end of Paul’s life, he was not concerned about the church. In fact, he reminds Timothy that all the churches he established went apostate (2 Tim 1:15-18).
All the churches in Asia completely abandoned Paul. And when Onesiphorus searched for Paul in Rome, he had to search “diligently” for him. Nobody knew or cared where he was. Only Luke remained with him.
And yet, in spite of Paul’s “failed” ministry. He ended his life with satisfaction.
The Apostle Paul left behind a perfect MESSAGE. The INSTITUTIONS he established fell apart. But the message was preserved. And this is why he was confident of his reward.
The gospel of grace Paul passed on to Timothy is antifragile. It transcends institutions.
Though we have a perfect message contained in the Scriptures, this doesn’t mean you can simply pass out Bibles and expect a culture to be transformed (with all due respect to the Gideons.)
People require leadership & organization. And this was the original purpose of the church.
I would LOVE if everyone one would study the Bible for themselves and we could spontaneously come to unified positions.
But not everyone has the desire/gift/opportunity to thoroughly examine the Scriptures themselves. So we rely on teachers and preachers.
People often discuss the Bible in church, but we never discuss how church shapes our view of the Bible.
The medium is the message.
The pulpit is a one-way communication channel.
Catechisms are one-way questions with rote answers.
These mechanisms maintain coherence.
Only those with “credentialed authority” are permitted to teach in the one-way communication structure of the church.
The congregation is taught “good theology” from the pulpit.
This theology gives the congregation anchors & boundaries to maintain coherence within the church.
The seminary professors educate the would-be-pastors in “sound doctrine.” Once they can pass the tests, and are judged to have sincere belief in the doctrines, a new pastor is credentialed.
After becoming a pastor, the young man continues to learn the nuances and boundaries of “good opinion.” He studies the great theologians and joins the conversation. He may repackage the old ideas with his own style or digress on minor points, but he never departs from orthodoxy.
The church’s congregation has little understanding of theology. But understanding is not necessary because people are sensitive to social cues.
Christians pick up on the sound bytes. And they learn fast how to express opinions that will signal they are on the “right team.”
This “pack animal” instinct works in the church’s favor. Once the doctrines are established, there is no need for a laborious education of each individual member.
The social dynamics kick in to maintain coherence. No one questions the traditions. A “great community” is formed.
But every coherent church community has a downside. It becomes an echo chamber where any “unorthodox” opinion is removed from discussion.
This isn’t to say there is a lack of debate within the church. It’s perfectly acceptable to argue the nuances and implications of ecumenism, justification, atonement, etc.
However, you’ll quickly discover that the church has an unusual list of bywords:
From this list, you can infer the true heart of church faith:
- Eternal punishment
These topics are strictly off-limits for discussion. Why is it wrong to question these things? We accept them because of tradition and authority, not because of personal understanding and conviction.
In other words, an authority tells us it’s true and THEN we rationalize it so we can fit into the group.People are notoriously bad at assessing authority figures. We assume that if they’re in the pulpit, they must be deserving of their role.
We are far too lenient on our preachers. We never check their assertions. We never challenge them from the Scriptures.
The structure of the church is more important than even the Bible… at least in regards to influence.
What’s spoken from the pulpit has greater effect than what is written on the pages of Scripture.
And if you want to really go down the rabbit hole, think about this:
The church’s most powerful (and subtle) method of control is the ability to pathologize the nature of man.
Once man’s “sin nature” is accepted, anything man does can labeled “sin.”
The church then licences out (for a 10% income fee) acceptable outlets for his “base passions.”
But the era of the church has come to an end. People go to Google for spiritual guidance, not pastors.
The church simply cannot control the flow of information that takes place in the blogosphere and social media. Heresy reigns supreme on the curious corners of the internet.
I, for one, am a heretic. I am happy to see the church crumble. Some shaking up will do us good.
I love the Bible and I hate the lies of religious charlatans.
But I am not naive…
I know that a new structure will be needed to gather the true believers. The future of the church is non-existent. As the Apostle Paul prophesied, “they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all.” They have the “form of devoutness” but deny the power.
We coming into the era where the folly of the church is becoming evident to all. We cannot repair what was fundamentally broken. The only thing left for us to do is return to the Scriptures.
The church is only an institutional means of containing an assembly of people. New methods of gathering are emerging thanks to the internet and social media.
The walls of the church will crumble, but the assembly will re-assemble.
Currently, there is no effective alternative method of PHYSICALLY gathering the disparate believers remaining in the church.
But as we adapt to our technology and new communities emerge, I suspect a very different sort of “church” will emerge.
It’s an exciting time to be alive!