Posted by: jadanzzy | June 2, 2009

History of Church

Frank Viola recently twittered, “there’s a huge difference between loving the church of Jesus Christ and loving a system that’s called “church.” Much confusion abounds here.”

The definition of church is something that’s confused me for much of my formative years as a Christian. From believing so strongly that the local church you’re a part of is truly biblical, to believing the local church in general is where God is, to believing that the idea of a local church is an absurdity, to believing in Loisy’s “Jesus preached the kingdom, but the church came instead,” I’ve wrestled in my heart not to make church an idol. But Christians do make idols of everything. The conservative evangelical makes an idol of her notions of God. The liberal mainliner makes an idol of the institutional church. How is it possible to not make any idols at all while living out a way set by a Palestinian Jew with a sketchy background?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the notion of Religionless Christianity and it’s been a huge thorn in my side. As the community I’m a part of deals with a potential death in terms of its “form” of a church, I’ve realized that I’m growing weary of giving myself to a “church.” How do I give myself to a community (the ekklesia) without, at all, giving myself to the church? Bonhoeffer writes:

…Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity–and even this garment has looked very different at different times–then what is a religionless Christianity?

The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God–without religion, i.e., without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even “speak” as we used to) in a “secular” way about God? In what way are we “religionless-secular” Christians, in what way are we those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation?

To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man–not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.

Today, the divide between the secular and the sacred is being challenged as we see that the sacred is in the midst of all things. But with that in tow, Bonhoeffer’s notion of the Christian faith is one deeply rooted in the world. If church symbolizes all things separate of the world, what does it look like for church to be completely immersed in the world, while shedding all the trappings of any institution?

Lately, the emergent blogosphere has been buzzing of the death of institutional church, or ordination, or even pastorship (as we know it). It seems as if people are ready to, dare I say, move on with the next chapter in this movement called Christianity. But why are people moving on? Is it because we are tired of the system? And if we move on, what form will the Christian faith take in the context of a community? Are house churches on the right track? If not, then what?

How can Christians completely embed themselves with the problems, pains, joys, and hopes of the world and serve an unseen God that pines for the world’s salvation? Does it mean, as Bonhoeffer seems to imply, just living life?



  1. I think people are frustrated with the Church because it can be a very human institution, and like all human institutions, it is quite flawed. But it seems like the more we follow Bonhoeffer’s suggestion to embed ourselves in life, the more we’ll have the same sorts of problems with flawed human institutions, so there’s really no escaping this situation. I would instead suggest reforming, or attempting to reform, ourselves and our local churches to become more Christ-like.

  2. What does becoming more Christ-like mean? For one expression of church interprets that one way, and another expression interprets it another way. Besides, haven’t churches always made it a point to be Christ-like?

    So when churches become more Christ-like, what does that look like, jc?

  3. It seems to me that Bonhoeffer was reacting to a church that was so wrapped up in itself as an institution, as a people set apart, it felt no need to address the suffering and evil surrounding it. It was so concerned with preserving it’s own power and physical property, it had convinced itself it had no business getting involved with “worldly affairs” (ie, extermination of the Jews). Bonhoeffer saw the way institutional religion afforded Christians justification for ignoring Christ’s example of sacrificial love, and rightly concluded that something was very, very, wrong.

    Today, we still see many examples of religion corrupting the body of Christ- whether it’s Catholic bishops covering up priestly abuse, Protestant pastors building cults of personality, or televangelists fleecing the flock. In addition, we see modern- day separatists who refuse to address the very real problems of the world- global warming, pollution, poverty ( other than cheap band-aid solutions), racism, because, well, it’s all gonna burn, and their time is better spent preparing for the end times.

    I too, have been disillusioned with much of the institutional church. At the same time, I think of the good that has come from it- the medieval monks who preserved learning and built hospitals, the evangelical abolitionists who fought to free slaves. I admit I love the mystery of liturgy, while being skeptical of the concept of priesthood.I do think there is a need for followers of the way to meet together to learn and pray with one another. I’m just not sure what that should look like.

  4. Don’t know if this is a product of me going through a quarterlife crisis of sorts. Perhaps it’s the general dissatisfaction one encounters when faced w/ a career they don’t find fulfilling, or relationships (w/ friends and the opposite sex) that don’t seem to be of much meaning.

    But my feeling is that the death of “church” (in whatever general definition you personally may have) happens with the birth of more congregants.

    Let me explain. In my studying/reading of the bible I think I’m slowly starting to understand why the apostle Paul holds certain views on marriage. Doesn’t condemn it, but offers a few words of wisdom regarding the set backs it may bring to ministry.

    I’ve noticed that young churches, comprised mostly of single adults are the most active in ministry the most “passionate” about being the salt and light of the earth.
    Yet as the church grows older, as marriages take place, as babies are born the focus of the church changes.

    My church for example has gone (in a span of 5 years) from
    our goal is to reach out to college students. To our goal is to be a light in our city. To our goal is to be a family church (where we are today) and subsequently to we need a new building b/c the church is growing.

    And yes we sugar coat our desire for expansion with the promises of larger things, bigger ministries we can partake in. But truth be told, it’s b/c we need space. The interest for short term missions isn’t what it used to be. As the need for more small groups increases, intimacy/accountability has dropped. It’s like we started out as a mom/pop shop and have become a corporation. And what do corporations bring? Structure up the wazoo. Our needs change. We need a room for the pending youth group and children’s ministry. We need different sanctuaries. All of it is masked under something that sounds more noble. But (I know some people hate this phrase) It is what it is.

    So I’ve been reading your thoughts about church for a while but part of me wonders if you’ll have them once you
    a) get married.
    b) start a family.

    I for one hope to get married. Hope to start a family (not any time soon though). But will I still hold the same convictions tomorrow that I do today?

  5. jadanzzy, when it comes to making churches more Christ-like, I was thinking of something along the lines of this church:

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