Thursday, July 03, 2008

Churches Are Tools, or Should Be

I don't know much about theology. In fact, I'm not even sure how anyone could make a study of God, what with ideas about God being pretty much subjective and irrational. My understanding of God is pretty simple. He loved the world enough to send us Jesus and the Holy Ghost, and we are enjoined to love God and to love our conspecifics. The Holy Ghost dwells within believers and guides them as members of the Body of Christ. It's hard enough for me to stay focused on love without disturbing my peace by pondering arcane theological conundra that I'm not qualified to ponder.

I suspect that a number of theological assertions to which I am sometimes exposed have more to do with the church as an institution in the world than with the Body of Christ. For example, it sometimes serves the institution to conflate membership within the association with membership in the Body. It serves institutional interests to magnify the importance of rituals over which it enjoys a monopoly and to interpret the rituals in a way that makes them difficult to perform outside the institution. The concept of "Apostolic Succession" served the Roman Catholic Church's institutional interests by interposing a priestly caste between believers and God and securing a monopoly on the benefits of Christianity. Churches benefit as institutions when they lay claim to their members entire giving portfolio.

Christianity does not need churches in order to survive and flourish. The Holy Ghost will sustain the Body whether or not members use institutional forms to advance the work of the Kingdom. The work of the Kingdom is more important than churches which are merely tools to facilitate that work.

I sometimes wonder what Christians might be able to do if the resources that they pour into the operations of their churches were available for ministry instead. So much time and money go into supporting paid clergy and staff, maintaining buildings and equipment, utilities, printing, finance, landscaping and what have you. Multiply this by the proliferation of churches of various creeds that differ in only the most minute respects, and you can see that vast resources are devoted solely to institutional requirements. Even more resources are devoted solely to orchestrated group worship activities which, to a large extent, serve to promote institutional existence and loyalty of members.

Of course, you might look at churches as being engaged in a kind of business. They exist in part to put on shows on Sunday and offer the group worship experience. This puts fannies in the pews and envelopes in the collection plate. These funds support the institution with enough left over to fund some ministry and missions by paid clergy and the more active members. The "pew potatoes", via their contributions, are paying for admission to the shows they attend and are buying "ministry offsets" that they can use to feel better about the fact that they don't do much for anyone themselves.

For my part, I give way less money than I probably should but I volunteer for the 10:30 show and specials that we put on at Christmas and Easter time by singing in the choir. This involves long hours of practice, much of which I do at home on my own time, and commitment to the performance schedule. I feel so much better knowing that my efforts in the choir are buying me offsets that allow me to take credit for some of the ministry the church does and not to worry about the fact that I'm not all that loving as a person. I feel the love; I just don't act on it very often.

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