Monday, December 18, 2006

Are We Dying on the Church Hill?

Church on a hill
Originally uploaded by mafleen.
Hey Friends from Blogland,

Since a few of us made some noise together about syncretism, and Christianity there have been follow up posts to the subject which I find interesting. I responded to those, but thought that I would put my thoughts here as well.

Shannon (who I haven't met in blogosphere yet - I don't think) vented about His feelings about church critiquing, and then John responded feeling a bit guilty for dissing church. Next Sally asked, "what is church, where is church?

I am not sure I agree with the critique of critiquing church. My reason is a preeminently a missiological reason.

I can not tell you how many people I have met, and the people in our church have met who hate "church," are uncomfortable with church, yet have in interest in spirituality. I have found that my ability to identify with them by agreeing to the obvious validity of their complaints defuses the tension, and allows me to get to the Person of Jesus, with Whom they generally have no complaints.

Knowing enough people who appear to love, or at least admire Jesus, but at the same time hate church, I wonder if I have already lost the semantic battle for the English word "church." If I have lost the battle for that word, is it worth defending it? I have to say there are times when I defend the word, but it is usually to Christians who have a twisted ecclesiology. People who are angry at the greed, and the abuse in the church both historically, and recently are correct in their complaints, and no degree of coaxing can cause them to love "that church." They are convinced, and they are correct that the church they hate is not the church Jesus would want to see with His Name on it.

The etymology of the English word "church" does not have its source in the greek word we use to define it in our typical evangelical ecclesiology. Ekklesia is not the source for our English word church. Truly there is nothing Holy about the word church. It is not the same as defending the name of Jesus which is a transliteration of His name from the Greek. In fact, many of us have given up on even that semantic battle, and refer to Jesus as Yeshua when speaking to Jewish people, because they have a terrible history of having been oppressed under the name Jesus.

We are potentially under a similar struggle, having lost the semantic battle for the word church long ago in many people's minds.

Depending upon where we live, and who we are hoping to share our lives with, we may be able to save the word church from missiological extinction, or we may need decide that this is a hill not worth dying on. I find myself making that determination from person to person, and people group to people group. If I have a choice between keeping the word church holy in my own eyes, or reaching someone's heart by identifying with them in their legitimate pain over a failed institution, I will always choose the latter. I will choose the latter not because I think that the ekklesia is a corrupt institution, because I do not think that the ekklesia is an instiitution at all, but the church as defined by my hurting friend is a corrupt institution and they are correct.

On a Christian-Pagan dialogue The Gathering sponsors (The Gathering is our "church") ;-), this topic is being discussed now as well. The fruit of this approach is evident because people are identifying with trying to find God apart from the institutional structure which is called church.

I personally don't care if I win the semantic war for this word church. It is not a hill I will die on. I will die on one Hill, and someone already beat me to it. If it comes to dying, I will die next to Him defending that hill.

That's my take - what's yours?


Steve Hayes said...

Much probably depends on what you mean by the word. It's not the word, but what it signifies that counts. Christians can't agree on what it means -- that's ecclesiology!

Pastor Phil said...

Indeed Steve, and so we find ourselves always in word wrestling, hoping to say what we mean, but never sure it passes the other person's ears with the same meaning with which it left our lips - or keyboard.

Sally said...

I actually think word wrestling is an almost fruitless endeavour and was posting more about the concept of church- i.e. a gathered people than the word itself!

Pastor Phil said...

I wasn't applying that term to anything you said in any post before. I'm simply responding to Steve about the nature of discussion on ecclesiological discussions. Sorry if you felt that this statemnent was pointed at you.

Unknown said...

Jacques Ellul in his dialectic spoke about the kingdom of God having a centre in Jesus Christ but no circumference.... that we can give assuarance to none and at the same time reject none.

Goes along with Zechariah's vision - seeing Jerusalem as a city without walls... the super-nova wall of fire around it and the glory of God within.

There are repercussions (reciprocal impact) for those who tamper with that holu fire.

The Church is in the kingdom, but the kingdom is not limited by the Church.

Unknown said...

oops... should read "holy fire"

Pastor Phil said...


Good post here. Somehow we must find ther place to be more open to those who are seeking in alternative ways. Seeing the Kingdom as having a center in Christ, but no circumference is a great starting point!


cindy said...

I loved your paragraph that started..."Depending upon where we live..."
This is how what I do as well.

And thank you for saying out loud that you weren't sure you agreed with 'the critique of critiquing church' While there's definitely too much bashing going on in the might be a better stance to dig a bit deeper into people's stories with a large dose of humility to hear where the pain comes from. The church (or whatever we call it) will never get better if we don't take seriously the criticisms leveled at it. Even from our own...most especially our own, methinks.

I like your perspective.

Pastor Phil said...

Thanks Cindy,

I think my perspective always ends up coming from a relational angle. I can't have a redemptive relationship with an institution, because the Kingdom of God is not a Kingdom as we understand Kingdoms. It is God. It is a Father. It is the Son coming for a Bride. It is intimate personal relationship.

So I can critique an institution far differently than I can an individual, because I am commanded to love people. I have no commands to love institutions. Of course, that is a highly charge statement. ;-)