Systemic Problem #2. INSTITUTIONAL WORLD VIEW
One form this systemic avoidance can take is to attempt to do the Lord=s work in two steps of innovation rather than one step of direct obedience; what we often forget is that you cannot cross a chasm in two steps. Here=s a widespread example of what is commonly believed: Bishop Kenneth Carder, who leads the church’s Mississippi Area, shared with members of the Board of Discipleship the story of a once‑prominent, 100‑year‑old United Methodist Church in his state. The church had dwindled in size from 1,000 to 17 members, despite its location in a neighborhood full of people and in a town with a population of 50,000. Now it was closing. Noting that the church used official United Methodist resources, rituals and curriculum, had won an award for evangelism and was Methodist to the core, the bishop wondered why it was closing and what it had missed. The answer, he said, was that the church was in a neighborhood in transition and had not reached out to the people around it.
The commandment from the Lord Jesus
is very specific: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:30). The
systemic problem in this statement is very subtle and very common, and involves
the choice to love the neighborhood around the church building rather than the
neighbors around the Christian. This is two step obedience: we create an
institution, and delegate the task of fulfilling the commandment to it, thereby
relieving ourselves of any personal obligation of obedience. Jesus said,
rather, that each Christian is to love his or her neighbor where they live, not
the neighborhood around the church building; the response of the traditional
church system is, to paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge, AAre
there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Are the institutions I support still
at work?@ We
ignore our own neighbors that God commands us to love; instead of obeying God,
we create and support an institution, the church, and delegate to this
institution the task which God gave to us as individuals.
Institutions are not very good at loving people, particularly outsiders. Church
systems also avoid disciple making by attempting to create a disciple making
institution and delegating the fulfillment of the Great Commission to that
institution. Institutions do not make disciples; discipleship systems do.
Another common practice is
attempting to change or update the institutional church so that it becomes a
disciple making institution. Many approaches to change involve
redecorating the surface of institutions with a veneer of postmodern
innovation, similar to creating a sports car powered by a steam engine; below
the surface, nothing significant has changed. An institutional world view leads
churches today to attempt to attract a generation that rejects institutions by
creating an oxymoron, a Ahip institution.@ Whether one calls it a Amissional church@
or an Aemergent
institutional church cannot fulfill the commands of God, including the Great
Commission; these tasks are given to each Christian. Massive amounts of energy
are devoted to changing institutions so that institutions can make disciples;
only sheep make sheep.
United Methodist News Service, AMaking disciples means changing hearts, bishop says,@ http://www.wfn.org/2002/03/msg00205.html (accessed June 15, 2007). Bishop Carder=s speech is referenced in the United Methodist Newscope vol 30, no 13, March 29, 2002.
Jesus describes this problem in Mark 7:6-13 where financially supporting the Temple was believed to relieve individuals of the obligation to obey a commandment directly: And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’; but you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God) B then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do.” Many such things do we also.
This strategy is perfectly satirized as ACatholicism Wow!@ in Kevin Smith=s film, Dogma. Repent!