I've had to make some adjustments to how I see ... no, ... how I look at the institutional or denominational church.
You see, I’ve made a change. For those who read this blog regularly, you may not find this surprising, but here’s my change: I’m not entirely convinced that everything about the institution of the church in
North America is completely inspired by Heaven. Shocking, I know. (What’s really scary: there are some folks who would take issue with that statement.)
I live among a people whose passion it is to pursue God. Some among us have left behind the participation in Sunday morning traditional church meetings. Many more of us have a sense in which we have transcended them: we still participate in local church meetings, but our first loyalty is to our Heavenly Father, and our second is to our relationships among the Saints; only after that comes the local church gathering. (And no, Sunday morning church is not synonymous with relationships among the saints.)
In every move of God I’ve seen (and I’ve seen several), there are two things that are pretty consistent: a) the people who are still embracing the last movement are the primary persecutors of the present move (and the new move often comments on this), and b) the people who are embracing the current move often define themselves by the last move: “We’re not like this; we’re not like that!” (We don’t notice this as often.)
Unfortunately, often “We’re not like that!” turns into permission to complain about all the things wrong with the old movement, with the previous traditions, with the way others do things. That’s not appropriate. Often enough, the complaints themselves are legitimate: they may be the very reason that there is a new movement, the reason the last one no is no longer as fresh as it once was. But permission has not been given us to publicly point out the failure of others, except in a very few circumstances. (See Matthew 18 for details.)
I have discovered that I have had to make some adjustments to how I look at the institutional or denominational church.
First, I have to not look too much. I am not a member of the institutional church. I don't aspire to be. I have no ambition to train people to be good at being obedient institutional members of an institutional church, so I don't need to look too much, and that's good, because when I look, I have more ability to criticize, and that also is not my goal.
I have a good Friend who said, "I will build my church," and I've come to understand that he's serious. Inductively, I observe that he is the only person he expects to build the church. I observe that "will" is not conditional, so the building is a certainty. And I observe that he uses a possessive pronoun: he considers the church to be his. Since I want to impress this friend, I've tentatively concluded that criticizing his "work in progress" is not conducive to favorably impressing him. Besides, I really am in favor of his church being built up. All of it!
Third, I've observed that the more I criticize when someone else does it wrong (or what I think is wrong), the more difficulty I have in doing it right. It doesn't matter what "it" is: if I focus on the errors, I don't have as much capacity to live rightly, or to help others live rightly.
Fourth, if my public message is about the failure of another group, how is that going to help that other group to grow, to improve, to overcome their challenges, whether I’ve seen them aright or not. Who among us has been encouraged to grow and change by continually being torn down? I believe that when I stand before God, I will be accountable for the effect of my words on those I lead, as well as on those I do not lead.
Oh, one more: I have become convicted that the institutional church that I see the faults of is not real: it's a caricature. I see what once was, back in the day when I lived among them, which is not who they tend to be now; and I see their worst, because that's what stands out the most. Moreover, the time between "back then" and now, coupled with my complete lack of God's anointing to remember their failings, has led to a skewed and incomplete memory.
I understand that when I look at “The Institutional Church,” or “The Last Move of God” or whatever group I am no longer part of, I am going to see things that I no longer believe in, and probably a few things that I have never believed in. That’s fine, but my job is not to point out the errors of those I am no longer among. My job is to follow God in the ways that he’s leading me and to train those around me to do the same.
And my job is especially not to complain about the Church for whom my Savior died.