The Institutionalizing Of The Church
The Church is supposed to magnify God, but it rarely
works that way. It shrinks Christ. The Church actually
and often is more an agent reducing God to the trivial
and the absurd.
To understand what I mean by this the Church starts
out with the good news of the Gospels and over time
reduces it to a page from the writings of Trollope.
The Gospels I hope you have read. To see what I mean
by Trollope, read a chapter from one of his church
oriented novels, say, “Barchester Towers.”
The shrinkage of the Church means for one turning it
into a bureaucracy of rule bound bureaucrats
concerned largely with non-spiritual trivia.
That is: build a newer building, pay for the
parking lot, attend a committee meeting for
better flowers in the foyer, pay the firm
that is fund raising.
Now do you really think these church mice games transform or
change anybody’s life for the better? Do you think if Jesus
were on earth, the size of the parking lot would be one of
His priorities? That’s not my idea of Jesus and if it is
yours, you have shrunk God into a listing of irrelevant
minor issues. You have made the Gospels into a page of
Trollope. If that is all the church is about, and such
is a primary part of our secular church today, it is
obvious the Sublime has been transformed into the
ridiculous by the churches. They use the excuse
of something important to work on as busily doing
the trivial and spiritually irrelevant.
There is a saying, “the devil is in the details.”
In the churches the devil has often set Christ aside by
detailing Him out of the picture. Constrained by Christ,
people give, but what they may give to is an emphasis on
secondary and minor details that is simply secular. In the
Gospels the story of Mary and Martha symbolize this.
What are our churches? For the most part they are
secular clubs that could go on with secular busywork
forever. The last thing church clubs need mentioned
is Christ. The country club by another name could be a
church all over America and Western civilization except
for the theological rhetoric that justifies its existence.
Imagine churches, great expensive buildings, built
to be used maybe four or five hours a week to satisfy
the desires of a few people who disagree over
minor parts of a creed that appears strange anyway.
Now if anything but Sunday School, like a spiritual day
school, were held there, it might be different.
But we have money wasted in these showy buildings
when two thirds of the world is starving or poor,
our middle class is becoming secular and pagan, the earth can
be devastated by technology while the poor in many places lack the
Gospel as well as medical care.
The correct ordering of things, “righteousness” is people first
and buildings seconds. Instead we have these
expensive vanity churches, which use does not justify that, but
represents the desires of the congregations to impress their status
on others and show off themselves. Is this spiritual?
I once told a congregation there was some extra money from a
windfall. A woman arose to say,“Let’s spend it up-scaling the
kitchen. It is ten years since an uplift.” In this case the
only time the kitchen was needed was one family night supper
a month while on those nights families brought their own
casseroles to share. This sort of thing happens all over America.
Has anyone considered the churches rededicating themselves
to the mission of Jesus Christ in whose name, if not in values,
they are affiliated? They need to think bigger than themselves.
The churches shrink Christ because the church is an
institution that may say it is run by the will of God,
but is more likely run by politics as all institutions
are. All churches are involved in politics, the art
of compromise. What is called by clergyman, “the
will of God” is often what is left over after the political
compromise. This is also how the Church diminishes the vision
of God and shrinks Christ.
I am not saying you should not take part in the
church, as you should, but I am saying clearly that
God is to be seen as bigger than the Churches.
As we support the Churches, we must realize the work of
God is not limited to the Churches. It is everywhere. It
comes up, bobs up, in strange and surprising places.
When this happens, we may laugh with delight as well
as praise the Lord.
The institutionalization of the church is one more
crucifixion of Christ. Because of Biblical referral,
the churches as institutions begin to hallucinate and may
decide they know all. The example of the church in condemning
Galileo is one such example. Then we must remember the churches
are used by the Lord, but they are not the Lord. The Churches
identify so with God, they can slip a cog easily and think they
are God. If your church says it, consider it, but let your
conscience be your guide. This is what Protestantism is about.
The church also has a handicap in the natural sinfulness
of human nature. The sun is often so intense we cannot
look directly at it without squinting. This is, as it is
with God. The church has a dual nature as it is made up
of humans who have a tendency to sin. The church is both
attracted to God who is so pure it dazzles, and the church
is also running away from God. At times the churches seek
God. At other times they run from Him. We, through our
consciences must determine what stage, seeking God or
running away, the church is going through. It swings
like a pendulum. Then encourage or discourage it.
If the church may not judge you, you may judge
the church according to your conscience as to whether
it is going to Christ (magnifying God) or running from
God (shrinking Christ). If you disagree on this with others,
do not be a weak one saying, “I must leave the church.
I must withdraw. I disagree. I may cause trouble.” So
what? Stay in the congregation and teach it toleration.
If you deny your conscience, you can die spiritually.
That would be like Job denying God in his suffering.
If you deny conscience, the voice of God inside you, then
you may atrophy spiritually. Your inner light may go out unless
you practice conscience. Be a Luther. Be a Gandhi.
Give up spiritually, and you may be left with a bad
conscience: your moral facility turned into a sleeping beauty.
No, you keep yourself spiritually alive. That is the mistake
so many in this age and time unthinkingly have made: denied
the moral spirit inside, shut down the interior life and so
died yet living. Empty and amoral, they are spiritually
extinguished, trying only to affirm their living through
sensuality, money and power. These things fail. Jesus Christ
The churches do not intend to do so but they do offer
a shrunken Christ for various reasons. The institution
falls off into a coma of selfishness. The vanity church that is
built for a few hours of worship weekly is one such thing.
The denomination needs a bureaucracy that soon takes it
over for the benefit of the employees and the ego of the
“Heads.” The churches become warped bureaucracies. The devil
who is in the details takes over and displaces the goals of
the church. The big vision is lost in church politics that,
whatever the political system of government, have the same
In education the effects of institutionalization are
soon evident. The child is sent for schooling, but
the schooling consists of boring hours in which the
best part is dreaming about the water fountain. The
highlight of the day is the much anticipated bell
to get out.
One sees this is the churches as well. The members
are there nodding through the sermons as the
women wonder if the chickens roasting in the ovens
are okay. The boys dream of lazily polishing the car in
the afternoon. The reason for which everyone came is
set aside. Will the preacher-teacher ever finish?
Finally the hour is up.
I often wonder how education has been turned into
such a boring process. But the control is largely
out of parental hands. What will be taught is
decided in Washington and the state capital by
legislatures advised by Ph.D.’s. The more’s the pity.
And in the churches the wonder to me is how Jesus
Christ can be made so boring. Of course there is a
certain amount of boredom in things that cannot
be escaped, but must things be so stale, flat and unprofitable?
This is not the fullness or the vibrancy of Christ.
Reasons do exist why the churches are not getting Christ
Jesus across. I have discussed a few. Not all may
be known or realized. But this I know: We must rethink what
and how we are doing. We may keep the most used method,
but other strategies are needed also. It is not fair to
Christ: to be presented usually and only in such a way as
we are doing.
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.