Church: Organization or Organism - Part 1

A friend emailed me this week and told me of a conversation he and his wife had with a friend of theirs who is getting married. The bride-to-be said this of her future husband: "He's not really into organized religion, but he's a Christian." It reminded me of a familiar mantra from the late sixties and early seventies: "The church is not an organization, it's an organism."

I'm observing that such thinking is not all that uncommon today. It is not so much that people are choosing to fly solo in their pursuit of Christ. What is happening is that people are jettisoning the church - for various reasons, but including the fact that that Christians don't need an institution. But is that true? And if the church is an institution or organization, is that bad?

As I was scanning some blogs the other week, I noticed that those who have misgivings about the place of the modern local church often point back to Acts 2:42-47 as a model for church life. And there is a lot to be admired in that passage. It describes a group of believers in Jesus Christ in an almost Eden-like environment. But as much as there is much to learn and emulate from that passage, two things need to be remembered. First, this is a description of the church in it's infancy, and second, this is not the "last word" on what the church does.

Last night I was watching the Detroit Tigers roar (pun intended) past my beloved Phillies. As the game got more and more out of hand, I began channel surfing and came across a documentary on the History Channel about the Hippie movement in the late sixties. At first, hippies were gathered primarily in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. They numbered a few thousand, took drugs (LSD was, for a time, legal), had free sex, and tried to enjoy what they felt was an attempt at utopia. Things turned ugly - and quite fast - when thousands more teens and young adults headed west during the Summer of Love. The Haight-Ashbury district turned into a cesspool of sickness, crime and poverty. So the True Believers began to migrate elsewhere. Some moved to other cities, but some moved into the country to continue their quest for utopia. There they lived communally, contributing their possessions, working together, etc., until the inevitable happened: they realized that they could not sustain themselves just by "existing" and enjoying each other's company. So back into society they went, took jobs, had families, and bought houses.

One of the people interviewed was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. As a participant in that culture, he stated that many of those living in the communes felt that they were living as the early Christians did (apparently following the model of Acts 2:42-47, though Vonnegut did not refer to that particular passage). That brought me back to my own experience as a young adult during that time – though I was part of the institutional church. Many young Christians – inside and outside the structured church – wanted that kind of community, that kind of authenticity, and that kind of heaven-on-earth that so many tried to accomplish (in wrong ways, of course). The church was big, our parent’s religion felt stale. There had to be a better way.

And we were right. There had to be a better way. But it wasn’t going to be by staying in Acts 2 mode.

(More to follow)

Church - Part 1

Last week I shared a concern that Christians are - for a variety of reasons - increasingly dismisssing participation in a specific local church as something that is important to their faith. This is happening for a variety of reasons. Some people have bad experiences in church. Others have expectations about church that are not met. Others have more philosophical objections to the church. Some are simply anti-institution. Others genuinely seem to feel that participation in a church has had a negative (or at least inhibiting) impact on their own spiritual life.

Over the next few weeks I'd like to share what I believe about the church. This is going to be an argument that is developed, so those of you in my decidedly un-challies-esque readership (translation - not thousands in number) need to cut me some slack. You're free to comment on what I post, but bear in mind that this isn't over until it's over, so some of your objections/points may be answered down the road a bit. For that reason, I'm going to wait to engage critics or questions until I've finished the series. Hey! It's my blog (grin).

I had hoped to begin this "series" earlier, but have not been able to. I am going to try 2-4 posts per week on the subject. I hope that those of you who stop by will check back often. I'll have the first main entry up on Wednesday, if not before. Thanks for reading!


One of the greatest burdens that a pastor has is when he sees people treat Sunday worship as incidental to their lives. I've taken the last two weeks to speak about the importance of Sunday worship. I must admit that I have a hard time conceiving that there are Christians who can dismiss this so quickly.

Having grown up in the 60's and 70's, I can remember a day when stores were closed, neighborhoods were quiet, and it was pretty easy for Christians to devote the day to corporate worship. Those days are long gone, and we find ourselves in competition with expanding work schedules, household projects, kids' sports programs, and just staying home to rest because it's been a busy week.

Part of the problem - from my point of view anyway - is that we've dumbed down the entire Christian experience. There was nothing sacred about Sunday School followed by a morning worship service followed by an evening worship service followed by Wednesday prayer meeting. That traditional schedule has gone the way of the horse-drawn carriage in our church, and instead we emphasize Sunday morning, Sunday school and small groups. I do wish I had the opportunity to reclaim Sunday nights - at least on occasion - but people have been out of the habit of Sunday night attendance for years now, so I am not optimisitic about the prospects of recovering it, but it would be nice . . .

I was reading some blog entries from people who are "disillusioned with the institutional church" and have stopped going altogether. I think they are wrong, but at least they are thinking about it. So many of our people aren't thinking.

I have blogged infrequently for the last several months, so the only person reading this may be the person who is writing it. But that's ok. I feel strongly about the need to recover this commitment, and I'm going to post some thoughts and ideas about this over the next few days and weeks. I've taken two weeks to teach our people about the importance of Sunday worship, and I have developed an even greater commitment to it than before I started. I hope you'll stop by and read why.