Did the church have its chance and blow it?

"Oh Church!" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Oh Church!” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Of course, this is taken from the words of Jesus in the gospel where he looks over Jerusalem and laments:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

I know a lot of people who would have stayed in the church if the church had made room for them. If it had just accepted them as they are! But no, it demanded conformity to its rules and expectations. Less and less people are willing to do that.

The church’s greatest mission field is those it has rejected.


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26 Responses

  1. Rich Simmons says:

    Your last line is so profound, ” The church’s great mission field is those it has rejected.” I find that those who are in similar situations as myself, having left the ministry of the institutional church and entered the ministry of everyday life, do not have, nor do they want a way back. It’s the butterfly thinking about returning to being a caterpillar, it’s a form of life that just cannot be recaptured.

  2. grant says:

    Although the “institutionalized format” of church seems to have almost run its course, I don’t believe that “the church” is finished. Rather we are discovering that The Church has never been limited to this one form, but exists on many levels and many ways. (Fredrick Beuchner I think it is, writes about the visible vs. invisible church). IF we accept the premise that God is Love. And if we recognize the so-called “fruits of the holy spirit,” (love, joy, peace, paitence…etc), then I believe we are surrounded by and encountering the spirit of God in people (church) in many ways each day.

  3. Brigitte Mueller says:

    Jeremiah 23 was the reading this Sunday re prophets. Let everyone take heed.

  4. Caryn LeMur says:

    Is the institutional church centered on mercy or on judgment/exclusion?

    Can a community exist, wherein mercy is the norm? Or, must the Ordnung, the Book of Doctrine, and/or Catechism take precedence?

    David: you wrote, “[The institutional church] demanded conformity to its rules and expectations.”

    Unfortunately, you are right. “It’s Rules” and It’s expectations”.

    I consider the case of Tattoos. Everyone knows they are forbidden. Leviticus 19:28. Period. Easy.

    Except… that now, American pastors show off their tattoos and talk openly about getting one more … and we accept them as totally cool… we say ‘live and let live’… and we move on to more important topics, like how best to take food to the homeless.

    For the Book of Leviticus, we have mercy in abundance…. well, at least, for tattoos.

    Because everyone realized that mercy mattered, after all, Jesus said that Mercy was the more important aspect of the Law of Moses… and we held deep debates. Not. We simply shrugged, and moved on.

    It is this type of capricious handling of the Bible that helped me to realize that the institutional church that loves its Rules and Expectations must ‘burst apart’, in order for mercy to finally be lived.

    As Brigitte mentioned, Jeremiah 23 says, “And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord.”

    I think we are seeing the Living Church with new shepherds appearing… perhaps not even called ‘pastor’ or ‘vicar’… it is perhaps the Invisible Church…. one that actually feeds people with words based on mercy and love (not fear and bullying), based on realistic thinking (not magical thinking that leads to being dismayed), and based on a community that meets emotional and physical needs (in short, ‘they shall not be lacking’).

    If the Institutional Church could live out Jer 23, then I think it would not be dying in the USA.

    However, old wineskins normally burst when filled with new wine….. at least, someone said that long ago.

    I think, in many ways, we need to encourage people to examine the flexibility of their Institution… and walk away rather than destroy it.

    Find a new wineskin.

  5. Brigitte says:

    If I wasn’t in the institutional church that has regular lectionary reading I would not have got around to reading or conceiving Jeremiah 23. It literally took my breath away. If David did not have the Bible Book he would not have the words of Jesus to work with.

    The real church is always invisible, as we cannot judge hearts and it really is a spiritual thing to have faith. The church is always institutional because there is always more than one, I.e. At least two. Where you have two, you automatically gave some agreements. Like in a marriage. A marriage is love and a marriage is really, really hard work. These things go together like yin and yang, as I said the other day. Marriage is an institution. Marriage has expectations and boundaries while pouring out its work to the community.

    You will find nothing in my catechism about tattoos. I have no idea how tattoos get into this. It must be something about Americans.

    Leviticus in any case does not rule me or the New Testament believers. It was a law book for a certain people quite some aeons ago. Of course, that which is basic morality stays the same.

    Both the OT and the NT make provisions for forgiveness, which is indeed the mercy we are talking about.

  6. I have a problem with the institutional church and the “real” church which is invisible being separated. I think it is our attempt at keeping the gospel and its adherents pure, which is totally fictional.

  7. Brigitte says:

    I don’t understand what you are saying.

  8. Brigitte says:

    The matter seems to me the opposite. It relieves one of a certain judgementalism.

  9. Brigitte says:

    Such as traditional issues: should I receive communion from this man, who I am not sure that he is a “real” Christian, since he smokes (or whatever). It is not all my concern. It is the word of promise that goes to my heart that matters. Let the minister and his God worry about each other.–just an example.

  10. I think the visible church IS the church.

  11. Brigitte says:

    What is this visible church then? Who is in it?

  12. The institutional church and all that are a part of it. I’m not sure why this is confusing to you.

  13. Brigitte says:

    I have no idea what you are saying.

    I have sat all day. I am going to get out and grab some exercise. Check back later.

  14. Brigitte: I’ll remind you. You said “The real church is always invisible”. I disagree. The real church is real. What we see in the world. To separate what is visible… the real, solid, actual, human… from the invisible… what we think it should be or what we think God thinks it is… is a false dichotomy.

  15. Caryn LeMur says:

    David: what do you think is the correct dichotomy (or tri-chotomy, for that matter)?

    In classical Christianity, the ‘church universal’ includes all believers, even those that have died. Last I checked, they were quite invisible… well, except for the headstones. 😉

    Therefore, I would offer that separating the church into ‘visible and invisible’ is quite all right.

    I agree with your statement that, for all practical purposes, ‘what we see in the world’ is the church… but what we see are individuals and groups.

    – Individuals have a philosophy (or several, for that matter)… unspoken or spoken… An individual can be very much like Jesus.

    – Some of the groups are ‘church institutions’ (often corporations in the USA); other groups are much more self-forming, and self-performing (for a time), and then quietly disband. These tend to also develop philosophies, and to remove those that disagree. This removal can be devastating to the individual person.

    I suggest that the removal can be so devastating, that the person needs to develop what you call ‘a false dichotomy’. They need to perceive that their removal from the institution is not a removal from the ‘church’ itself.

    They need to believe that God sees the church far larger than their institution.

  16. But I no longer equate the church with the people of “God”. I no longer see “us” and “them”… those “inside” and “outside”. The notion of visible and invisible church I think was developed to sustain and support an elitist view of salvation.

  17. Brigitte says:

    We make the point that in the church are also hypocrites. For some time the wheat and weeds grow together.

    Also, those who have died and gone ahead are still in the church. We are united with them in confession and the life in Christ, as the third article declares about the church. Our sins are daily and richly forgiven in it, and also we expect the resurrection of the dead.

  18. Brigitte says:

    The church is a community and in many times and places this has also overlapped with the town or village. In that sense, they were all baptized and we’re all included. I would even say that this is the normal way. In that sense everyone together was the community of saints (saved). What is not always discernible and not always my business is whether someone “really” believes. Sometimes, I don’t know that about myself. Lord discern my hidden faults. Sometimes, I don’t even know what is going on with myself. Then we see again that salvation is outside of us.

  19. Caryn LeMur says:

    Thank you, David. I think I understand a bit of your view better.

    Brigitte: what is the “Third Article”? Is that something from your Lutheran heritage?

    Also, I agree that it is not really discernable whether someone is really a ‘believer’ or not. Such is life.

  20. Brigitte says:

    Caryn. Thanks for asking. The third article of the Apostle’s creed:

    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic and apostolic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. Amen.

    Explanation form small catechism:

    What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

  21. Brigitte says:

    He forgives the sins of ALL believers. Faith in Christ’s promises is a matter of the heart more than of the ritual. But the ritual certainly serves to deepen faith, as the bodily involvement heightens the experience.

  22. Caryn LeMur says:

    Thank you, Brigitte. I find that very interesting.

  23. Brigitte says:

    Luther so rejoiced that nothing depended on him, not even the coming to faith or the having of faith. It is the call of the gospel that does it. I understand him. It makes me glad, too. We are to fully put our confidence in this work of God.

  24. Lester says:

    I think the church may have lost it once this video was made (Pagan Atheists?)