Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons
Now why do people go to a church like that when they can go to a church that has a nursery, is air conditioned, and all the rest? Well, because they're Lutherans. They don't mind being miserable! Norwegian Lutherans!
And this same church recently welcomed a young woman with a baby and a three-year-old boy. The children were baptized a few weeks ago. But there was no man with her. She's never married; each of the kids has a different father. She shows up at church and wants her children baptized. She's a Christian and wants to follow in the Christian way. So a couple from the church acted as godparents. Now there are three or four couples in the church who every Sunday try to get together with her.
Now, where is the "joy" in that church? These are dour Norwegians! But there's a lot of joy. There's an abundant life going, but it's not abundant in the way a non-Christian would think. I think there's a lot more going on in churches like this; they're just totally anticultural. They're full of joy and faithfulness and obedience and care. But you sure wouldn't know it by reading the literature of church growth, would you?
But many Christians would look at this church and say it's dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith.
What other church is there besides institutional? There's nobody who doesn't have problems with the church, because there's sin in the church. But there's no other place to be a Christian except the church. There's sin in the local bank. There's sin in the grocery stores. I really don't understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don't get it.
Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There's no life in the bark. It's dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it's prone to disease, dehydration, death.
So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn't last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it's prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.
In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregationwhat it is. It's a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn't idealize? There's no idealization of the church in the Biblenone. We've got two thousand years of history now. Why are we so dumb?
Since the Reformation, though, we've championed the idea that the church can be reformed.
Hasn't happened. I'm for always reforming, but to think that we can get a church that's reformed is just silliness.
I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience. We have a goal. We have a mission. We're going to save the world. We're going to evangelize everybody, and we're going to do all this good stuff and fill our churches. This is wonderful. All the goals are right. But this is slow, slow work, this soul work, this bringing people into a life of obedience and love and joy before God.
And we get impatient and start taking shortcuts and use any means available. We talk about benefits. We manipulate people. We bully them. We use language that is just incredibly impersonalbullying language, manipulative language.
One doesn't normally think of churches as bullying.
Whenever guilt is used as a tool to get people to do anythinggood, bad, indifferentit's bullying. And then there's manipulative languageto talk people into programs, to get them involved, usually by promising them something.