33 Comments

The Institutional Church: Is it Time to Leave?


Rick Frueh’s question strikes a chord with many believers today.  

It is time to reevaluate our status with everything on the table. Perhaps God is calling those who will listen to come out from that religious system and into a spiritual gathering that is based upon the New Testament and that exalts the Lord Jesus. It is a very sad spectacle to see the millions of professing believers caught in a system that accentuates things like finances, politics, buildings, activities, and a laundry list of other things designed to keep westerners with short attention spans interested for the moment. But the spiritual practices that take time and passion and sacrifice that are designed to pursue the redoubtable knowledge of the Lord Jesus, well those have long since passed off the scene.

See, The Institutional Church: Is it Time to Leave?

33 comments on “The Institutional Church: Is it Time to Leave?

  1. Believers have been “coming out” of the “institutional church” for centuries only to become part of the same “institutional church” in no time. Liberals blame “society” for all their problems and conservatives do the same thing by blaming the church as an “institution”. The problem with the “institutional church” is that it is made of people who have a bent toward sinning and the church ditched the idea of excommunication long ago. And when people break away from the institutional church to form a new fellowship, excommunication is still abhorrent and in no time this new fellowship is displaying the same problems as the group they broke off from. The only difference is that there is one more new division and a lot of hurt feelings on both sides. And additionally, each new emerging group develops its own “distinctive” doctrines further splintering the body of Christ and further fueling the hunger for overlooking doctrinal divergence in order to achieve unity, a false unity based on convenience and not on truly seeking the purity of truth and the centrality of the Gospel of Christ. Leaving the corrupted church and starting a new one is the easy way out and has no basis in scripture. The Book of Acts records numerous disputes in the church, doctrinal and otherwise, and there was never an appeal from the apostles to “come out” and create a new church. With all the corruption in the Corinthian church, where is the appeal from Paul to leave and start a new church? This whole concept is part of a post reformational trend whereby the answer to all problems is not to fight for the gospel recognizing that we battle against principalities and powers, but rather to stomp off and attempt to start our own little group. For centuries the church was One church. It wasn’t perfect, but there was a unity to it. Now, it is splintered into a gazzilion pieces, all in search of perfection, and it is still just as far from perfect, if not more so. What have we achieved? I would say very little, and the price has been steep. Where are the modern day Paul’s who can remain in communion with a screwed up church, but not sacrifice their own integrity in the process? There is simply no way that I would participate in starting yet another church. There are too many existing congregations around that have far fewer problems than the Corinthian church had and I will seek one of them out and try to allow my very presence to make it a better place in every way possible. That is why God put us here, to be redemptive and corrective, not to be divisive and judgmental.

  2. George,

    I suppose the question is what is the Church, is it ever Institutional? Can one church cease to be Church?

    Here we see the plague of Christendom, the conquest of society and culture by taking the Gospel of Christ and turning it into a religious text like the Vedas, Koran, the laws of Numenor etc. used to build a worldly culture. When does the Church disappear in one instance?

    I’m not saying the Church can be killed, by no means! Christ has promised He will remain with us until the end, and He does not fail! Yet when the Caesars of Rome ascended the throne of Papal power, laying hold of Christ’s Kingdom, did they conquer it? Was the Roman Catholic the only manifestation of the Church? Never, many ‘heretics’ existed always throughout the world wherever the Gospel of Christ touched. It may have been winnowed out to 2-3 followers of Jesus meeting in the woods at twilight, praying and singing praise to their King.

    The institution has been a black spot of Christendom for the longest time. Even when the Church was manifested as many broke from Rome, they quickly were subdued by the same spirit of anti-christ, building state-churches, ‘worshiping’ the kings of Europe. It is the great apostasy I think that our Lord spoke of, always trying to smash the Church but never succeeding. Death tries to swallow the Ekklesia and yet it remains, the gates of death can not hold Him.

    The institution has always been stifling the Gospel by men trying to lay a-hold of Christ, trying to wraps chains around the Lion of Judah. But He is untameable, the Spirit goes where it wills.

    Some food for though perhaps,
    Cal

  3. In a book entitled “The Harlot Church System” there is a quote that I love that sums up what the thoughts are about the system so many hold so dearly.
    ……………….
    Charles Newbold writes: The Thing:
    We organize this Thing. We name it, incorporate it, elect officers to it, open bank accounts in its name, and train and hire staff to run it. We take up money for it. We devise campaigns to recruit more people to join it. We track attendance to it. We love it, get mad at it, resign from it, and leave it. If we are particularly fond of it, we make up brochures and buy ads to market it.
    We evaluate the Thing to determine its success or failure. “The praise service was good,” we might say. “The sermon was okay.” “The offering was poor.” “The attendance was down.”
    ………………
    Fellowship is with 2 or 1000 believers, take your pick but numbers have biblical problems. Scripture says in 1Cor.14:6 says “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”

    Good luck having but a few share in a Church service. It’s a shame that the Pastor and a select few are all that fulfill this scripture on any given service.

  4. I think it is important to note a couple of things regarding the institutional church.

    1) Whenever you bring up the institutional church, it brings immediate references to the corrupt Roman Church. But very little mention of the Orthodox Church comprising all the bishoprics of the original apostolic church EXCEPT that of Rome. While the Orthodox Church has much to be desired, it also holds much that is of value. I think it is very risky to assert that the Orthodox Church with all of its faults does not remain a part of Christ’s church. Since some of the bishiprics of the Orthodox Church actually predate that of Rome, it can be argued that the Orthodox Church itself predates the Roman Church.

    2) Martin Luther never even considered leaving the Roman Church. In the end, he only left because he was excommunicated for trying to reform the church from within. The fault for that split, as with the earlier schism with the Orthodox bishiprics lies squarely on Rome, NOT on Martin Luther. Thus Martin Luther held to the biblical mandate of avoiding divisiveness at all cost even though the issues at the time were extreme. EVEN Martin Luther refrained from asserting that the Roman Church, as corrupt as it was at the time, was not part of Christ’s church.

    3) Where do we draw the line in asserting that the church is not the church? We know that, as the Bible states clearly, “all Israel is not Israel”. And that applies to the church just as much as it does to the Jews. The Old Testament pattern was that ALL of the Old Testament saints affirmed ONE Israel. They were not constantly forming new groups in hopes of achieving spiritual unity. And the New Testament warns about attempting to uproot the tares before the harvest. And yet, in the wake of the reformation, people leave churches over the most minor things and declare their former parishioners hopelessly lost. Where on earth do we draw the line? Its a slippery slope. Huge numbers of people claiming to be Christians these days shun all churches as anathema declaring them to be “not the church”. That was a key tenant to the Family Radio debacle. I IN NO WAY try to defend the heresies of the institutional churches and they are many. But I really think we have erred seriously in dealing with those issues by divisive solutions AND I think we are paying the price in the ever rising level of confusion that is the inevitable result.

    Peace brethren! Personally I love Christ’s Church, ALL OF IT. All pieces of the once united fellowship display heretical tendencies to one degree or another. A few are consumed by outright apostasy and all churches have apostates in their midst to one degree or another. And of course we can have no fellowship with those wolves in sheep’s clothing. We need to mark them and warn those within and without. Apostate churches come in the form of local assemblies of institutional churches that have abandoned the faith and they come in the form of modern day cults that have abandoned the faith globally. But with the rest of the body we need to exercise courage and caution. Courage to stand firm against their heresies and caution that we not play the role of the devil in judging and condemning fellow believers over relatively minor heresies. Just as we love and accept people, but hate and reject their sin, we should love and accept churches while hating and rejecting their sins. Just as we pray for and actively seek the redemption of sinners, we should be actively praying for and seeking the spiritual cleansing and purification of churches.

    “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Jn 17.20-21

    “He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” Mt 13.28-30

    • George, down a bit in your reply to Rick, you write: “… Sadly, if I ever find a perfect church, it will all be for naught the moment after I enter the door. In almost every community there are established church institutions worthy of our support. “

      I know for certain the moment I enter the door into a “perfect” church, it now has imperfection present, albeit, “me” and my wife and sons!🙂

      Now, if that perfect Church rejects me, they now become imperfect. Now, too, if that perfect Church accepts me, they now become an imperfect Church by accepting me!

      Hence, this is where I stay my “eye” while dwelling down here:

      Psa 46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
      Psa 46:5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
      Psa 46:6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
      Psa 46:7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

      Rev 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
      Rev 22:2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

  5. I used the word “institutional” to delinate the average local assembly/organization. No one would suggest a believer stay in the Mormon Church or the Jehovah’s Witness Fellowship because of the rank, doctrinal heresy. My post suggested that the western evangelical church operates with such heresy in practice that over the decades we have been lulled into an acceptance of many things about which Christ would have overturned tables.

    I disagree with your “easy way out” assessment of leaving the institutional church. In many ways nothing could be more heart wrenching and difficult. And perhaps the greatest challenges are to remain authentically humble and also to identify your own unbiblical practices and thoughts and refuse to let those become a part of your new fellowship. Long after the excitement and novelty have worn off those that leave will still face many uncertainties, nostalgias, traitor feelings, and many other emotions. Only through a deepening of their walk with Jesus Christ will they actually survive such an exodus.

    • It IS possible to leave a particular church WITHOUT being divisive. My concern is that it all too often doesn’t happen that way. I myself have left churches on multiple occasions. But I have always tried to do it in a way that 1) would allow me to clearly explain to the church leadership WHY I was leaving, 2) would assure them that I held no animosity toward them or their church and that I would continue to pray for their ministry, 3) would allow me to leave WITHOUT taking anyone else with me aside from my immediate family, 4) would result in an immediate move to another local “institutional” church so that there was a continuity in my church life, and 5) would be a situation based on a problem in the church I was leaving that was not benefiting by my presence and my staying would have meant that I would be a thorn in their side and they in mine with no hope of progress on the issue. Thus I would agree that there IS a time to leave, but I have seen too many people leave in anger and/or distress to become part of the TV church or to form their own “house church” that becomes a center of malignant bitterness toward the leadership of the church it came out of. I, personally, never felt any significant loss from leaving a church, because I did not cut off the friendships that were formed there and left in peace AND made sure that I was moving to a place where I already had established contacts. Additionally, I always recognize that ALL churches espouse heresy in one form or another and have never bought in fully in a doctrinal sense in any church I have ever been part of, and that includes a wide range of denominational and non-denominational bodies. I never express this, because to do so would be to create division which I desire to avoid at any cost. Thus I give myself emotionally only to Christ, never to an institution. I also recognize that saved people continue to sin although they no longer PRACTICE sin, thus I have no illusions as to what is going on and do my best to try to love people anyway as Christ would have me to do and pray for them AND recognize that I am in the same condition they are in. There are times that the church is the place where we need to turn the other cheek. The church is a large and fractured organism composed of all who belong to Christ, thus leaving one local body for another one should always be a healthy transition with good memories behind and an expectation of new blessings ahead and the continual recognition that there is really only One church that manifests itself through multiple institutions. The idea that we are going to gain something by rearranging the deck chairs is futile. I have seen churches chasing one pipe dream after another as if it were a solution to all their problems and have seen individual Christians do the same. The latest Christian how to book is always there to satisfy the demand. But their is no solution other than Christ or in addition to Christ. Thus those who try to “leave” the “institutional” church either end up leaving the faith completely, or most often end up being part of a new “institutional” church even if they have to create it themselves. No matter how we try to Utopianize the church, it has always manifested itself as an institution/organization and it always will, until, of course, it is replaced by the Heavenly City. Why so many are trying to toss the church in favor of some earthly Utopian “Chirstian” community is a mystery to me. Sadly, if I ever find a perfect church, it will all be for naught the moment after I enter the door. In almost every community there are established church institutions worthy of our support. We should make every effort to seek them out ahead of time so in event a transition is indicated, we can make in a peaceful, orderly way that will bless those we are leaving AND those we are joining.

    • I always am amused when I see Jehovah’s Witnesses literature attacking the Catholic Church as being “organized religion”. I have never seen any group that reeks of “organized religion” more than the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As soon as one leaves and starts inviting fellow parishioners to their own little group, they have just established a new “organized religion” which may or may not be a bad thing.

  6. George,

    I suppose it also comes down to the attitudes effected. If we look at the Middle Ages, there were all sorts of micro groups but usually the name they possessed was informal or given to them by the authorities. Some of these groups that did fracture betrayed themselves and began to build divisions. Such as, we have lutherans, andd ‘reformed’ and anglican etc.

    As Christians we may dwell inside these institutions, or may not, but it does not define the Church. We can still speak of some of the institutions as being apart of the Church. Even if one was to have a house gathering, one person there may be a wolf in sheeps clothing. That is where we see not all Israel is Israel.

    I just think we get too caught up in thinking the presence of the Church, of Jesus Christ Himself, is where there is some edifice or denominations. One must be born again to see the Kingdom of God.

    • “I just think we get too caught up in thinking the presence of the Church, of Jesus Christ Himself, is where there is some edifice or denominations. One must be born again to see the Kingdom of God.”

      Cal, I think we fool ourselves into thinking we are ahead spiritually just because we do NOT have an “edifice” or belong to a “denomination”. The term “non-denominational” really only means the body in question is a “one-church” denomination. Over the years I have belonged to both, and at this point I fail to see any major spiritual advantage either way. Christ is where his people are, whether that be in what we refer to as a “denomination” or a Wednesday night home group meeting. And indeed one must be born again to be part of Christ’s church. But the term itself is not a magic incantation. Many have obviously been born again and never actually use the term in their everyday speech. Others make vocal claims to have been “born again” but their lives bring strong doubts. There are so many shibbóleths that supposedly authenticate one’s faith. But the salvation of God cannot be reduced to a shibbóleth.

  7. Only Jesus Christ can build His church through the workings of the Holy Spirit. Only Jesus Christ will recognize and confirm His church. How presumptuous to think otherwise. If men institutionalize without His approbation there is little I can do for He does not authorize me as such. All men and women have their choice. He does not deprive them of it.

    I cannot recognize His church through the legal entitlements men establish according to present legal endowments. I recognize His church first through the workings of the Holy Spirit within myself. Then I recognize His church accordingly through the local fellowship of His body that I associate with. If He is in me, shall I not recognize Him in others?

    When God builds a literal government or His Kingdom, then perhaps legal entitlements will accord with the Master. For now it is a horrific thought that such entitlements are consistent either with governmental recognition or how men institutionalize in a shattered sectarian society.

    He is building His church, body, ekklesia, just fine and it is on the move. His grace is not to be measured within the limited thinking of mortal men unless they are truly in accord with Him. By what means shall such things be measured but the Holy Spirit itself.

    I condemn no man but neither do I recognize Him through the present constructs and labels men presently presume. In the final analysis it will be seen that the followers of The Way will heal together in Him, or not at all.

    • “If men institutionalize without His approbation there is little I can do for He does not authorize me as such. All men and women have their choice. He does not deprive them of it.”

      Don, You and I both know that men do all sorts of things without “His approbation”, both in and out of the “institutionalized church”. The term institution itself merely implies things like structure, order, cooperation, etc. So in the end its really just a label that people apply to organizations they don’t like (or do for that matter). So I really don’t connect with that sort of terminology. Now if you want to talk about someone attempting to usurp the power that rightfully belongs only to Christ, that I understand. And it is, unfortunately, not only the Pope that commits this sin, but also arrogant “leaders” throughout the church in our world today. It is clear in the scripture that there was an appointed leadership in the church from its birth. The terms Bishop, Presbyter, Deacon, etc are biblical terms and they designate positions of authority. The problem is how that authority is exercised, which can be a problem in small churches as well as large church organizations. The idea of each believer being autonomous and responsible only to Christ is simply not supported in scripture. Christ Himself appointed servant leaders in the form of the apostles who in turn appointed/ordained successors in the form of Bishops/Presbyters/Deacons/Elders. It is also clear that these servant leaders exercised at least some degree of authority in the church. There is plenty of evidence of spiritual hierarchy in the scriptures, ie it is obvious that there were overseers (elders) that held authority over their helpers (deacons), even if this hierarchy was confined to the local church. There is also plenty of evidence that these local churches were in league with each other to at least some degree as evidenced by the meeting in Jerusalem referenced in Acts to discuss whether the gentiles should be circumcised and other issues. We can discuss what the structure of the church should look like and never reach agreement, but to say that this sort of thing somehow needs God’s “approbation” is perhaps a little much. Where in the scripture is it clearly prohibited for a group of churches to appoint a common leader? Once everything you do in church needs to be specifically referenced in scripture, things get very legalistic fast. Before we assemble the chairs or the pews, we need guidance from scripture lest we do it without God’s approbation. And since, pews at least, are not referenced in scripture, we have to throw that idea out at the onset. I see the whole church leadership argument to be no more persuasive than the idea that we should prohibit musical instruments from the worship service simply because they aren’t mentioned in scripture. Oddly enough, people who practice this legalism, themselves violate the principle in some other area of church practice. Just another example of selective morality.

    • Don,

      pardon me for bouncing over your comment as I want to underscore one of George’s, here:

      “… Before we assemble the chairs or the pews, we need guidance from scripture lest we do it without God’s approbation.”

      That is a very good point, George!

      For instance, from Acts we can drawn this conclusion about that:

      Act 16:11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis,
      Act 16:12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days.
      Act 16:13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.

      Nowhere were pews set up having Church there, then? I remember having “church services” with a number of disciples over in the Philippines on the top of a mount that was monolith at the sea shore. I stood and preached and everyone sat around on the ground on blankets and pieces of wood. That’s where this congregation had church services. You could see this mount for miles out at sea. In fact, the Japanese during the war used it as a looking post both to spy around the island and out to sea many nautical miles.

      No one ever thought for a moment that that gathering was something other than the Lord’s Church in that place when getting together to give to and receive from the Lord.

      I have had similar experiences in West African countries, too, gathering together in the open air or in someone’s house or in a large warehouse or even in a building with pews to give and to receive from the Lord.

  8. “I condemn no man but neither do I recognize Him through the present constructs and labels men presently presume. In the final analysis it will be seen that the followers of The Way will heal together in Him, or not at all.”

    Amen ansd selah.

  9. Probably off topic but the subject of Rick’s post made me think of the account written by Justin Martyr in 155 A.D.

    I recall the first time i read it. It left me with the strong impression most Christians (in the West) don’t know what “Church” was intended to be. Also, that the early Christians wouldn’t recognize what we call “Church” today.

    How the Early Christians Worshiped-First-Hand Account

    In his First Apology (155 A.D.), the second-century Christian philosopher and apologist Justin Martyr wrote a fascinating account of Christian worship and beliefs. Originally addressed to the Roman emperor in defense of Christianity, Justin’s description gives us a window into what early Christians actually did when they gathered together. Here is an excerpt from this classic book.

    “How we dedicated ourselves to God when we were made new through Christ I will explain, since it might seem to be unfair if I left this out from my exposition. Those who are persuaded and believe that the things we teach and say are true, and promise that they can live accordingly, are instructed to pray and beseech God with fasting for the remission of their past sins, while we pray and fast along with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are reborn by the same manner of rebirth by which we ourselves were reborn;for they are then washed in the water in the name of God the Father and Master of all, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. For Christ said, “Unless you are born again you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”

    Now it is clear to all that those who have once come into being cannot enter the wombs of those who bore them. But as I quoted before, it was said through the prophet Isaiah how those who have sinned and repent shall escape from their sins. He said this: “Wash yourselves, be clean, take away wickedness from your souls, learn to do good, give judgment for the orphan and defend the cause of the widow, and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them as white as wool, and though they be as crimson, I will make them as white as snow.”…

    After thus washing the one who has been convinced and signified his assent, [we] lead him to those who are called brethren, where they are assembled. They then earnestly offer common prayers for themselves and the one who has been illuminated and all others every where, that we may be made worthy, having learned the truth, to be found in deed good citizens and keepers of what is commanded, so that we may be saved with eternal salvation.

    On finishing the prayers we greet each other with a kiss.

    Then bread and a cup of water and mixed wine are brought to the president of the brethren and he, taking them, sends up praise and glory to the Father of the universe through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and offers thanksgiving at some length that we have been deemed worthy to receive these things from him. When he has finished the prayers and the thanksgiving, the whole congregation present assents, saying, “Amen.” “Amen” in the Hebrew language means, “So be it.” When the president has given thanks and the whole congregation has assented, those whom we call deacons give to each of those present a portion of the consecrated bread and wine and water, and they take it to the absent.

    This food we call Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us.

    For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Saviour being incarnate by God’s word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus. For the apostles in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, thus handed down what was commanded them: that Jesus, taking bread and having given thanks, said, “Do this for my memorial, this is my body”; and likewise taking the cup and giving thanks he said, “This is my blood”; and gave it to them alone….

    After these [services] we constantly remind each other of these things. Those who have more come to the aid of those who lack, and we are constantly together. Over all that we receive we bless the Maker of all things through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

    And on the day called Sunday there is a meeting in one place of those who live in cities or the country, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the president in a discourse urges and invites [us] to the imitation of these noble things. Then we all stand up together and offer prayers. And, as said before, when we have finished the prayer, bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president similarly sends up prayers and thanksgivings to the best of his ability, and the congregation assents, saying the Amen; the distribution, and reception of the consecrated [elements] by each one, takes place and they are sent to the absent by the deacons.

    Those who prosper, and who so wish, contribute, each one as much as he chooses to. What is collected is deposited with the president, and he takes care of orphans and widows, and those who are in want on account of sickness or any other cause, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers who are sojourners among [us], and, briefly, he is the protector of all those in need.

    We all hold this common gathering on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God transforming darkness and matter made the universe, and Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before Saturday, and on the day after Saturday, he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them these things which I have passed on to you also for your serious consideration”

    Source: CCEL

    • PJ, Thanks for the excellent excerpt with so much to teach us. Even though I have read Justin Martyr, I somehow have either forgotten that passage or missed it. What a blessing! But I am sure that some legalists would read it and all they would get out of it are things like references to a “president” instead of a “pastor” and the use of “water” in the Eucharist. Eucharist? … Yikes! These people were obviously already lost in the Catholic apostasy. Well, you get my drift. This is what I find very frustrating with so many who are so intent on splitting theological hairs, but who, in many cases, have not even gotten basic scriptural morality straight.

      “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”

  10. The orthodox church would say rightly that Christianity has its roots in the east not the west. We in the western churches believe that our way of “doing church” is the only way. I agree with George that the orthodox church holds much of value. I attended with a small group of orthodox when this liturgy was sung/spoken. It is very beautiful. How often in our western churches do we consider carefully such extraordinary words which have been preserved for many years.

    http://www.monachos.net/content/liturgics/liturgical-texts/235-akathist-to-our-sweetest-jesus-christ

    • Jan, Thanks for the link! I was unaware of that site. It has a lot of great resources on it. I too find that I very much relate to some facets of the Orthodox liturgy. It is, of course, rooted in the liturgy of the fifth century, at which point, interestingly for me, believers were chronologically equidistant to Christ as we are to Martin Luther and the reformation. It is about as far back as Christian worship can be traced, everything else is speculative other than the very rough outline given in the New Testament. But many of us are wary of these brethren due to all the conspiracy theories we perpetuate regarding the alleged rapid decent into spiritual corruption by the ancient church. We somehow feel much safer inventing our own corruptions.

  11. PJ, to build onto your words, albeit, I could build onto most if not all of the comments in here:

    ” Justin’s description gives us a window into what early Christians actually did when they gathered together. “

    I would publish some verses that give us even more clarity to see through the window seeing the early and later and now Christians, the Church Jesus builds. Take anyone of these verses or all of them together or just a few of them and ponder them under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and you will sense the “heart throb” of His Bride, the very essence and being, the Church:

    2Sa 7:10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly,

    Psa 2:6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
    Psa 2:7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
    Psa 2:8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

    Psa 9:5 You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
    Psa 9:6 The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.
    Psa 9:7 But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice,
    Psa 9:8 and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.

    Psa 46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
    Psa 46:5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
    Psa 46:6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
    Psa 46:7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

    Zec 9:8 Then I will encamp at my house as a guard, so that none shall march to and fro; no oppressor shall again march over them, for now I see with my own eyes.
    Zec 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

    Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

    Act 26:18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
    Act 26:19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,

    Eph 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
    Eph 2:20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,
    Eph 2:21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
    Eph 2:22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

    1Pe 2:4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,
    1Pe 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
    1Pe 2:6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

    Rev 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
    Rev 22:2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
    Rev 22:3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
    Rev 22:4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
    Rev 22:5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

  12. There have been times when the sweetest “church” I’ve ever been part of consisted of 2 believers, though that kind of fellowship would be 3 then really, right? You, me, and Jesus. Might be small, but then again, 30% of the group consists of God. Hard to beat that kind of ratio ;O)

    • Amen!

      I was re-reading Chip Brogden’s message (Escape from Churchianity) yesterday and he makes an excellent point,

      It is important that we make a clear distinction between the True Church (the Ecclesia) and the Institutional Church, Organized Religion, or religion in general….Contrary to popular belief, the Lord Jesus Christ does not live within the matrix of Organized Religion. The Ecclesia, like our Lord, is Wholly Other. I can prove it to you beyond the shadow of a doubt. Can you join a “church” ? Yes, if you meet their requirements for membership. Can you join the Ecclesia? No. You have to be born into it. Or, to be more correct, you have to be born-again into it. It is not a question of joining or not joining, but a question of having Life versus not having Life. “He that has the Son has Life; He that has not the Son has not Life.”

      I’m afraid here in the West many of us don’t understand that. The Church of Jesus Christ is actually where-ever you (or i) are! All those who possess Life (and the Life giver!), each individual, is The Church.

      Quoted from the same message….

      Now imagine that the Lord wakes you up one night and says, “Come up hither, and I will show you the Church.” You expect Him to carry you down the street to the Family Worship Center or across the country to where the crowds say they are experiencing revival; but instead you find yourself rising high into the air, leaving the earth behind, and in the blink of an eye you travel beyond the edges of the temporal universe and into the spirit realm, seated with Christ in heavenly places, there in the throne of God.

      Seated with the Lord and looking back down upon the world, we find from this perspective that the cathedrals, the church buildings, the worship centers, the sanctuaries, the denominational offices, the seminaries, the tithes and offerings, the membership drives, the movements, all vanish from sight. Everything melts away. He does not see the Assemblies of God, the Southern Baptists, the United Methodists, the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, or the Roman Catholics. He does not see Charismatics or Fundamentalists or Bible Belts or Christian Conservatives or Religious Rights. He does not see the building devoted to religious meetings as anything more special or significant than the grocery store or barber shop…..He is not concerned with a rise or a decline in church attendance because He does not see the Church as something which can be attended.

      Standing next to Him we see as He sees. We realize when we look upon Christendom that all God sees there is His Church, the Ecclesia. He deems those who abide in Him, those who possess the Son, as those who have Life. His Church is not declining, it is growing because His Life cannot be contained or restricted. His Ecclesia is outside the matrix. His Church is spiritual, and as such, it is eternal, transcending time and space. Just as He is, and does.

      ….you follow His gaze – and there it is, the living stones and precious gems which make up His Church. You couldn’t see them before, because you were right in the middle of it while still on earth. But now, far removed from it all and looking down upon it from the Lord’s perspective, you see that the living stones are being assembled together into a brilliant, gleaming, dazzling building which covers the entire earth! An angel stands apart from it, shouting, “100% pure: never touched by human hands!” You zoom in closer and discover that the stones and gems are not literal stones and gems, but people! Wonderful, beautiful, joy-filled people, joined together into a striking mosaic of vibrant colors, a tapestry of interwoven beauty, a medley of lives in perfect twelve-part harmony, all pulsing with His heartbeat, His Life, His Essence. You begin to weep at the unadulterated purity of it and oneness of it.

      Only God could make something this gorgeous. Only God. Only God. And there in the midst of this wonderful place, you see what makes it so splendid…

      There HE is, walking around in the midst of this Temple, adding living stone upon living stone, precious gem upon precious gem…

    • And yet the bible instructs us not to neglect assembling together and all that go with that. For that to happen requires organization, thus some sort of institution. In the same way the spirit of a man dwells in a physical body, so the church has a physical manifestation. Just because a man can be joined to a church without being joined to Christ does not invalidate the role of the institutional church in the plan of God anymore than the presence of Judas among the apostles AS AN apostle would invalidate the apostolic council chosen by Christ. You can easily differentiate between the spiritual body and the physical manifestation, but you cannot easily separate them. They are not identical, but they are concurrent and one does not exist without the other.

  13. J, I do remember that one – it is a visual that sticks, isn’t it? Also I remember reading a question once “Why did God create us?”, and the answer given “Even though He is whole and perfect, He chose to make us His home”. Like, we are the answer to the question of “What is the place of My rest?”. We’re to be His family, His children, and His home. Just like the picture Chip painted. Much better than the tabernacle in the desert, when God made a way to be right there with the people He loved, right in their midst all the time – but they couldn’t go near Him or they’d be blasted to smithereens.

    Here’s the scripture in Acts 7, btw: to the days of David; Who found favor before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built him an house. However, the most High dwells not in temples made with hands; as said the prophet, “Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will you build me? said the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Has not my hand made all these things?”

    • Yes, that visual Chip paints is something which has stuck with me too. It both encouraged and taught me something i’ve never forgotten about Jesus’ Church.

      Thank you for the words from Acts. Its a great reminder that God no longer dwells in man-made buildings, but in us!

  14. And yet the bible instructs us not to neglect assembling together and all that go with that. For that to happen requires organization, thus some sort of institution.

    It doesn’t always require an institution George. Jesus said,

    “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” matthew 18

    Assembling or coming together with other believers is necessary (whenever possible), but that could be with as few as two or three coming together anywhere to worship the Lord, study the Word, pray, exhort and encourage one another, and fellowship.

  15. pj, I don’t know how one can read the scripture and conclude that two or three can be a functioning church. The bible, as you know, illustrates the church by way of the “body” where each “member” has a unique and important function. You are not going to get all of that out of “two or three”. The bible also speaks of a multitude of gifts that are necessary for a healthy church. That is not going to happen with “two or three”. And then there are a multitude of roles ie prophet, teacher, evangelist, etc. Again, not likely to happen with “two or three”. And then there are the offices, Elders, Deacons, etc. The concept of a church of “two or three” also doesn’t fit with the historical record, including your own citation from Justin Martyr. I think it is a very dangerous trend in the modern church to gravitate toward “Since I can’t find enough people I can get along with, I’ll settle for “two or three”. Actually only one necessary (me), since with Christ in the midst, that makes two. The wicked rulers in this world would love to settle for two or three makes a church, it would justify Islamic and Communist countries shutting down all of the corrupt attempts at Christian “organized religion” and providing religious freedom for Christians as a “biblical” two or three solution. This whole argument is the epitome of the attack on the institutional church which is just another example of the lawlessness in the world today. When the scripture warns against resisting the powers (for all the powers are of God), that includes the visible church as much as it includes the visible government. The government of Jesus day (Rome) was debauched and corrupted and yet God put His stamp of approval on it and backed it with His authority. So it is today with the governments of this world AND the church powers of this world. Men, especially Christians, ought to approach these with fear, but they don’t because they themselves have a major spiritual problem that they are attempting to hide behind self righteousness.

    • George, how large a structure or group are required to be considered a church?

    • PJ, I don’t think scripture really tries to define the size of a congregation, but it does very strongly imply order, structure and unity. I don’t see how that can be accomplished with simply two or three. For sure, where ever two or three believers are, the church is there, and, as a matter of fact, where ever one believer is, the church is there, but, like the bodies we dwell in, so the church dwells in a physical body which is the institution or organization. Just as we live in bodies damaged by the fall, so the institutions in which we find the church are imperfect and marred by sin. And just as some wish to disown their flesh put on a spiritual body now, others wish to disown the structure of the church, the earthly Jerusalem, and create a Heavenly one now. But that is not going to happen until Christ returns. Thus we remain pilgrims awaiting our King’s return. In the mean time we need to put aside petty issues and try to find a place where we can grow spiritually and be a blessing. If someone feels a call from God to start a new church, I am not going to fault that. Neither am I going to fault someone who’s conscience is troubled by the sorts of evil things their church might be engaged in to the point that they leave and join another congregation. But the constant desire to escape from “organized religion” troubles me greatly because the pattern set in the New Testament itself shows order, authority, complexity, all the traits that these people are trying to avoid in the name of finding true fellowship. I think they are fooling themselves in this regard.

    • PJ, I don’t think scripture really tries to define the size of a congregation, but it does very strongly imply order, structure and unity. I don’t see how that can be accomplished with simply two or three.

      Amen George..we don’t read anywhere of a specific number needed to constitute a ‘Church’.🙂

      It might be worthwhile if we looked at the biblical definition of the word Church. Later today or this evening i’ll see about putting up a stand-alone post on this.

  16. On reading Matthew 18 verses 15 to 19 it seems that Jesus’ words about two or three being gathered was in the context of and the culmination of a teaching about order in the church including excommunication. It strikes me that the teaching is about two or three witnesses agreeing following a dispute and the matter being resolved/established by those witnesses and then a promise that if those two or three agree then it will be done and that is because Jesus is there where two or three are gathered. Perhaps those two or three are only part of the larger church, the people who are witnesses and arbiters in a dispute. My text notes say that this is only one of two passages where the “church” is spoken of in the gospels.

  17. For me the real concern would be when the institutional church in question becomes so devoid of the real church that it is simply no longer the church. That does happen and in that case I would agree with Rick’s point in his original piece to the extent that it IS time to leave that particular institutional church. But I am convinced that their are plenty of institutional churches in a multitude of flavors out there where the Gospel of Christ is alive and well. A church that is totally pure and without heresy is about as common as a believer who is totally free from sin in any form. But we should, of course, always be looking for the place where God can feed us and use us with the purpose that He should be glorified and lifted up through us and the rest of His church.

  18. I appreciate everything which you’ve said. But there’s a point which you’re neglecting. In our time, the institution had gone even farther astray in a way which God’s people hadn’t in earlier times. Today, the institution had become a closed society in that only leaders are allowed to address the assembly, or permission is needed to do so. Leaders quickly turn to corrupt methods to keep dissent in check. in essence there is no opportunity for corporate dialogue, so those who see the error are forced to go out and start new assemblies.

    • Yes its true. Those who teach error will many times leave and start their own churches. I’ve seen this happen a few times. The church my son’s attend had this occur recently. A group within the church attempted to bring in the teachings associated with the hebrew roots movement. It caused a lot of problems over a 2-3 year span. Once this group realized the church (and pastor) were not going to allow it, they left and started their own church. It was actually sad because the members of this group had been long time members. What happened was one person within this group became caught up in the hebrew roots movement during her time at the church and drug others into it. They became so convinced these teachings were biblical they wanted everyone else to “see the light” and to start following these doctrines. The struggle which went on (for power) within this church, almost destroyed it. God finally moved them out.

      Deceivers will always find a following. If they are unable to bring their doctrines within an already established assembly, they will create their own church.

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