Monday, March 7, 2016

Dear Institutional Christianity, I Beg You To Stop Crediting Your Foolish Activities to the Holy Spirit

Institutional Christianity is an odd mix of things based in scripture and things based in man's ideas. For the most part, the aspects of the church institution that are founded in the bible are solid (this of course depends on whether or not they are New Covenant-based ideas, but that's for another post).

The massive problem embedded within institutional Christianity is all of the practices that cannot be supported by scripture. The three-headed monster of the church institution have been, are, and will continue to be worship services/religious ceremonies, salaried pastors, and massive buildings. These three prongs do not invite questioning or challenging by anyone or anything. Trust me, I've tried. It usually doesn't go over very well.

How, then, do those within the institution, especially the leadership, justify their man-made practices? Some make the sad and pathetic attempt to go back to the Old Covenant to support the things they do. This is absurd in light of the fact that Jesus came to usher in the New Covenant, and we can/should all be greatly thankful for that. To point to the Old Covenant as the "way to do church" is mind-bogglingly backward.

Another tactic used by institutionalists is to say that the Holy Spirit led them to do what they've done. I write this post today as a call for this to stop and desist immediately. Please institutional Christianity, stop crediting your foolish, unbiblical activities and practices to the Holy Spirit. You have absolutely no biblical reason for doing so. To do so is to rely on your own imaginations, desires, hopes, and dreams.

It's clear from the outside looking in that some institutionalists see crediting the Holy Spirit as a sort of trump card to silence all debate. After all, who can argue with what the Holy Spirit has led? I'll happily argue, not with the Holy Spirit, but with those who blame the Holy Spirit for their sound and light shows, their puppet ministries, their capital campaigns, their youth groups, their children's church, their massive building debt, their women pastors, their choreographed meetings, their nurseries, their altar calls, their ordinations, their seminaries, their budgets, their fund raisers, etc., etc., etc.

I realize and readily admit that many with the church institution are my brothers and sisters in Christ (however, many pew sitters have no knowledge of God). It is to my brothers and sisters that I send this call: please stop giving credit to the Holy Spirit for the things you do that have no biblical basis. Instead, simply have the chutzpah to say, "We do these things because we like them. That's our basis, that is all, and we're sticking to it."



Keith McLachlan said...

Hi Eric. I've been one of those "observing" followers of your blog for a number of years. Yourself, Frank Viola and Jeremy Myers and others have challenged my thinking over these years. I was a minister in an institutional church for 23 years and to a large extent your thoughts together with others played a significant part in my resignation in 2009. I then pastored a farming community church for 3 years where I then consequently resigned to become a manager of an electrical and refrigeration business within that farming community. I continued a ministry during this period of 2 years with a group of Christians meeting from farm to farm. I know I'm leaving a lot of detail out here, but I received a phone call to reconsider returning to the institutional church. Obviously I take these moments seriously, and with prayer and totally contrary to my original decision I've returned. I continue to value your thoughts and input, however this article has certainly provoked my thinking. I'm wrestling with your forthright statement "I write this post today as a call for this to stop and desist immediately." I kind of feel that this is holding a monopoly on the Holy Spirit, an opinion expressed by one person yet made to feel as being absolute truth. I would like your thoughts on 1 Cor.9 in regard to Paul's use of liberty, in particular verses 19-23. I am aware of taking Scripture out of context and I really don't want to justify a particular position from Scripture as in my current situation. With Paul becoming like a Jew as one under the Law, though he himself is not under the law, or to become one as though without the law, yet under the law of Christ, for the purpose that he might win some, would he not be allowing the Spirit to influence him in each particular context? Could this not be said of those of us who are in the institutional church and have a love for God and His people, be doing the same thing? I understand and appreciate your argument in regard to salaries pastors, etc. I do not have the luxury or security that many of the large church or mega churches pastors have. Yet deep in my spirit I sense the Spirit's call. And I don't to these things because I like them, I do what do because of a compelling call that I have. Brennan Manning once said, "God loves you unconditionally just as you are, and not as you should be, because no one is as they should be." Isn't this perhaps part of our issue, that others are not as we desire them to be, the reality being that not one us of are as we should be. Christians in organic church, the institutional church, the charismatic/independent church, home church, cell church, etc. none of them are as they should be,and yet evidence is there in many of them of the Lord's amazing grace and unfailing love. I would appreciate your thoughts. Blessings. Keith McLachlan

Eric said...

Hi Keith,

Thanks for commenting. The liberty issue is an interesting one as it pertains to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I believe we should always ask ourselves if the Holy Spirit would ever lead us to do things that actually violate scripture. Of course the answer is no. This is where my problems exist with the institutional model of church life. The typical institutional church has several things that I believe go against what we've been given in the bible to guide us. I'm not suggesting that those involved in these activities are sinning, but I do believe they are far off from practicing church life the way God would have it. For example, the typical church service largely stifles the body while elevating the clergy. Another example is large church buildings that act to centralize church activity in one place. This is foreign to the New Testament. These two examples fly in the face of how we see the church live in Acts and the epistles.

I do believe some good can come from institutional churches. If you believe God has called you there, then I think you should stay there. However, and I'm sure you realize this, you will be limited in what you are able to accomplish due to the shackles that the institution places upon you. I wish you well going forward.

T Aagard said...

Keith, you wrote specifically to Eric but I'm his brother and your brother so I will chime in.

I find it very interesting that you chose 1 Cor. 9:19-23 and your concern with context. This passage is in the context of a whole chapter devoted to ministry "free of charge" and arguments used in Corinth to justify professionalizing ministry Verses 1 - 15 and Paul's declaring his apostolic example rejecting "these things", or "these rights" as the translators add the word "rights" (verses 16 - end). Actually in the whole chapter every time you see the words "rights" it's actually the word exousia or positional authority. Jesus taught "exercising exousia... not so among you..." In the great commission we are taught "all exousia" is given to Jesus. Translators corrupt the text to give a softer glow so expositors today can justify the use of "authority" in men. John MacArthur never clarifies this translation error in his commentaries because he does not want anyone to connect "authority" in this text with Jesus' forbidding it's exercise. No Bible expert, no matter how much he knows about the original text will show Paul's full denouncing of professionalized ministry in this text or any of the many other texts where he passionately (I would rather die than) teaches ministry leadership combined with marketplace ministry - always. They ALL want a pay check from the gospel. I am finishing up a book on this. So the American form of professionalized ministry matches up with what the Corinth church preferred and rejects what Paul teaches. I'm not a Bible expert but I can easily see the deep corruption and the hundreds of millions of dollars every year that go to bless American believers every year in perpetual dependency "teaching". This "freedom" that you want and Paul experiences is one that flows directly from ministry "free of charge" Verse 18.

Part of the trickiness of this text is that in verses 1 - 15 Paul asks 16 questions. MacArthur says they are all "rhetorical" questions with obvious answers. None of them are rhetorical. Paul affirms his answers to these questions by what he said in 16 to the end. The whole chapter is one pointing to ministry free of charge. MacArthur justifies the last section where it is clear Paul rejects pay for ministry by saying this was Paul's personal preference and it applies to only himself. It is an "option" for leaders to be paid or not. This is such corrupt exegesis. He completely drops his exposition skills to come up with these conclusions.

Paul ends the chapter with eternal rewards that flow from his example of ministry free of charge. Do you think you can get these rewards by reversing Paul's teaching in your life?

I also, at one point in my life "felt" a very strong and emotional "call to the ministry". I after further study on what "the ministry" means in practice and what the Bible teaches are in direct contradiction. My emotional call was from men, not the Lord. Paul is delivering God's call on all men to combine spiritual leadership with marketplace support. Now ministry leadership is fully reproducible to EVERY BROTHER, not just this who can be hired.