My Problem With Institutional Faith

It’s funny, what drove me out of the church was the institutionalization of faith (ie: rules, polices, procedures, etc). I always found it weird we develop systems to ‘get to God’ when I am not sure there is a ‘formula’ for that. There is something about making faith a process that just doesn’t work for me, seems cold and calculating for some reason or that God is like a debit machine, press the right buttons for the right responses from God.

Faith is a fluid process. It’s like water, it changes pathways to get to where it’s going and does not always flow the way it is expected. Faith embraces the unknown in the best way we know how – which seems to be through studies of the texts, history, mingled with our current experiences in the only life we have and know. So faith that does not change over time does not seem like ‘faith’ to me.

I think God is quite the enigma. I think basic relationships with one another is quite the enigma. We can know some things about God but what is it we really do know? How was it learned? How is built upon? Does it change or is it unchangeable? Is God going to answer us each time we pray? Does God become less active in someone’s life as time goes on? How much of what we know is based on feelings of certainty and not certainty? The greatness of faith is the mystery within it and how that mystery takes shape.

Truth is, my closest times to God are when I am really sincere about what it is I am invested in. For some reason when I need to reach out I am in the right place because I am totally a part of the questions I am asking of God. At those moments, there is no audible voice or anything tangible, but something happens that I cannot explain and things sort of come together. I sense I have also been heard even if no one understands what it is I am going through. That’s faith.

Where am I at with faith? I likely cannot do the church thing, and I don’t have problems with people that do, it’s just too organized for me…I see the mystery in it and this draws me in…if it’s alive and living then no organization can write a rule as to how that should function. I cannot say some hail Mary’s or read 9 chapters of the bible to arrive at something which has no qualifications pre-set.

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22 thoughts on “My Problem With Institutional Faith

  1. I love the way you think! I don’t think that any Christian has described faith the way you did: “I see the mystery in it and this draws me in…if it’s alive and living then no organization can write a rule as to how that should function. ”

    This is exactly what Christ was talking about when He came. Who was He angry with when He got angry? The Pharisees, the religious people, because they made rules and were making money off people (like many many churches today). If Jesus were to come back today, I don’t think He would be to happy with many leaders of churches.

    I believe that God is real because of exactly what you were takling about in the second to last paragraph. It seems as though you are saying that even if you were on a deserted island and hadn’t seen or heard anything about religions, that you wold just know something is there.

    Forget all the rules.

    I do think, though, that it is well advised to be in community. Community and other people help you to understand and process these thoughts. We can do this alone.

  2. Thanks MBP, just trying to articulate my faith in a very honest way, and sometimes it is hard to explain something which defies explanation.

    “If Jesus were to come back today, I don’t think He would be to happy with many leaders of churches” (MBP)

    I am in that same boat, heck I’m not happy with many of the more famous church leaders of today – who seem to use the media to make themselves ‘famous’ by being ‘controversial’…I wonder how much of their own hype they believe?

    “Forget all the rules” (MBP)

    I drop the rules when it comes to how one can contact God or have some communication. I do live by standards and ideals though, I think this is what Jesus taught and sometimes the popular ideals and standards in society need to be challenged since they are hindering or hurting people.

    “I do think, though, that it is well advised to be in community” (MBP)

    I agree, I just can’t find what I am looking for in any of these communities I am around. They live by limits and those are not the same limits I define my life by. So there will be constant conflict with concerns to ‘control’ of one’s life to fall in line with the popular idea of what being a Christian in a said community is.

    That being said, is that really community when that is happening? I like something Steve Taylor said in a song in the 80’s ‘clonliness is next to godliness’. True community is as diverse as reading Ecclesiastes and the Torah would be. We will find we all bring different things and skills to the table and we do not act and think alike…and that should be fostered, not hindered. This is another process I seen that does not sit well with me in any church I have ever attended.

  3. “They live by limits and those are not the same limits I define my life by. So there will be constant conflict with concerns to ‘control’ of one’s life to fall in line with the popular idea of what being a Christian in a said community is.” SocietyVS

    What do you mean by this? The basics of theology? Do you disagree with certain behaviors? Do you believe in the basics of Christianity? If so, do you have a problem with the way Christians act and their behavior and the way they do life?

    “We will find we all bring different things and skills to the table and we do not act and think alike…and that should be fostered, not hindered. This is another process I seen that does not sit well with me in any church I have ever attended.” SocietyVS
    Again, it depends on what you mean.

  4. “What do you mean by this? The basics of theology? Do you disagree with certain behaviors? Do you believe in the basics of Christianity? If so, do you have a problem with the way Christians act and their behavior and the way they do life?” (MBP)

    (a) I am a pretty complex dude, and at the same time, pretty simple…it’s just what I do and say do not line up with basic living theology as understood by the church – and I don’t see a problem with that

    (b) I follow the teachings of Jesus and try to build my life around those concepts and elaborate on the positions Jesus took in his teachings. So in that sense I am not different than anyone else in the church.

    It all depends on what we see Jesus as saying theologically in interpretation of the gospels.

    I see nothing about atonement in the very speech of Jesus, so I don’t stack much on the atonement – except in repentance or charity, which are acts of atonement (which Jesus clearly taught). I don’t believe in a virgin birth, no need to (it seems like an obvious error from Hebrew to Greek texts of the Tanakh). I don’t believe in a Trinity concept for explaining One God (which is clearly what was intended in the Shema – which Jesus also believed). I believe in the inspiration of scripture, not that God penned every word of the book (He obviously didn’t).

    I am a Christian realist, and this puts me at theological odds with the church because I know the whole bible does not line up and tell one little neat story. Even the 4 gospels and letters of Paul are in obvious contradiction in places.

    “Again, it depends on what you mean” (MBP)

    I mean, I don’t want to be my pastor, the song leader, the best marriage in the crowd, etc. I just want to be me…I like certain kinds of music, I like to have some drinks with friends, I am friends with a variety of faith backgrounds and see validity in them, etc.

    I also don’t want to have to ‘submit’ to a pastor with 1/2 the theologcal background I have and not be given a voice to raise questions about the direction of the church because I’m not in the ‘in crowd’. Those kinds of things that happen socially in some churches.

    I think they are all valid concerns, sure I don’t want to live my faith alone but it’s far better on as island alone then in a room where if you don’t change they decide to eat you.

  5. gotta weigh in here.. and you know my bais starting out. in fact, this is my first week in the “institution” so to speak.

    “I see the mystery in it and this draws me in…if it’s alive and living then no organization can write a rule as to how that should function. ”

    amen dawg! me too! yet there have been others who have come before us and have offered insights, have put words to what our hearts know, have developed various practices of getting in touch with the divine, so to speak. the question then becomes, how do we keep these pathways fresh and authentic?

    i was at a Taize service yesterday and it was beautiful. i felt the Spirit. i made connections in the community. Christianity is definitely a community oriented faith.. you have an online one, what about one in real time? i’m sure you have one, just curious.

    legalism is always a danger, and most institutions fall right into it. but there are many out there who know this and work to prevent it. look around your area. find a UU or church of the metaphysic or some different expression of “doing” church. this has always been my charge to you and will continue to be. i found one, and look at me now! i’m part of the “machine.” 😉

  6. “I am a Christian realist, and this puts me at theological odds with the church because I know the whole bible does not line up and tell one little neat story.”

    i call bullshit. there are many within the church, even GASP pastors!!! that preach this every sunday. your ignorance of these pastors is no excuse not to search them out and find these communities of faith.

    • “your ignorance of these pastors is no excuse not to search them out and find these communities of faith” (zero1ghost)

      Guess I am wondering why anyone need to search for a pastor, what do we need a pastor for?

      • some do, some don’t. to be a person of faith, you’d need a community. i’ve heard Jay talk about wanting one but not really for going on 4 years now. i think there are those communities and pastors out there that would surprise him and give him what he’s looking for. or at least the resources to find it.

  7. “I also don’t want to have to ‘submit’ to a pastor with 1/2 the theologcal background I have and not be given a voice to raise questions about the direction of the church because I’m not in the ‘in crowd’.”
    SocietyVS
    “… sure I don’t want to live my faith alone but it’s far better on as island alone then in a room where if you don’t change they decide to eat you.” SocietyVS

    Aren’t you being a little dramatic? “They are going to eat you?” You aren’t in the “in crowd”? Is this middle school we are talking about or church?

    I’m guessing you’ve had a bad experience at a church and I’m not going to try to convince you to go to church.

    It could be a matter of perspective. I was eating lunch with my brother about 6 months ago and asked him about his experience at the high school we went to. He is 3 years older than me. I told him that it seemed like none of the teachers really cared and everyone was stuck-up.

    He said he had a completely different experience. He was very real with me and told me that I was a punk and the teachers probably tried to help me with things in my life but I was too angry and stupid to see it.

    I was pretty mad at him but a few weeks later a light bulb went off for me. He was right. I was such a jerk to everyone at my high school cuz I thought of them a certain way but they were actually probably pretty nice people.

    I’m not saying you need to try to go to church but it may be that there are some pretty cool people out there and you might need to have an open mind.

    One more thing, I used to go to church cuz I thought it was what God wanted me to do. Now I go to church cuz I want to help others and be there for the people that are hurting. We have people coming every Sunday that need help and get connected because they feel alone. I am there for them.

    Not to mention the addiction recovery group I’m in. We get all kinds of people every week that aren’t Christians but want to stop doing certain behaviors. The church is for the sick. If you aren’t sick then you don’t need to go.

  8. “Now I go to church cuz I want to help others and be there for the people that are hurting” (MBP)

    I am with you on the whole helping thing. But, where is the opportunity to do that during a Sunday morning service? I’ve been to a few churches over the years and considering how important sunday morning service is to the church, you would think the church would make more constructive use of that time. Sadly, its just a waste of time

  9. thejust21,
    True. I think many churches have been caught up into the “show” of church.

    However, there are many things happening on Sunday mornings that some might not realize.

    The doors open very early and people get to work setting up. During this time, I believe, the real church happens. People that are hurting are the ones volunteering and they get to connect while setting up for the nursery to take care of children. Children of parents who are hurting and need comfort. They need someone to take their child for an hour and 1/2 so they can listen to someone they respect and maybe get some hope. They may have cancer, they may have just lost a child, they may have a child who is doing drugs, maybe they just lost a job. The people sitting around them at the service shake their hand and ask how they are doing. They are open to share and make a friend. They exchange email addresses and become friends. In one hour they are served by having their children taken care of and they make a friend and get plugged in.

    Or maybe there are volunteers that are setting up chairs so that a teenager, who may be contemplating suicide, is going to come to the youth program. They get to speak truth into that teens life and maybe save a life. They get accepted into a group.

    Or maybe there are volunteers that are preparing their minds to sit and wait for someone to walk into a counseling room, yes plenty of free counseling happens on Sunday mornings, and get counseling.

    But mostly the hurting people get help on other days beside Sunday. We have training at our church called Stephen’s Ministry. We teach people to go and be with those who are hurting. Anyone can call up and ask for help for whatever reason and a lay person will be sent to just be with them and listen. That’s what most people need, is someone to listen.

    Anyone who is in need, food, money, shelter can come to the church and ask and emails are sent around and people come together. You would believe the generosity of people. We had lunch with a women yesterday who’s husband has just left her and his three kids. We had a divorce care class for her and her children so they could be with others going through the same things. The kids class is led by a psychiatrist named Dr. Petronella. This guys has been in charge of phych wards at hospitals and is very good at counseling. These kids get to have access to him for 2 hours for free.

  10. “Christianity is definitely a community oriented faith.. you have an online one, what about one in real time? i’m sure you have one, just curious.” (ZG1)

    I agree, it is a community orienated faith, now to define the roles of that community is the real key thing I am aiming at.

    As for community, I don’t have a church based one. Again, as time goes by, I will be re-visiting this question over and over and relooking at my own needs in this area.

    “your ignorance of these pastors is no excuse not to search them out and find these communities of faith” (ZG1)

    These pastors do not exist and if they do, fringe is what I would consider them.

    Name on pastor you know Luke that does not believe in the Trinity? I don’t and I want the freedom to believe that within the church community. How about the atonement question…I don’t see a need for a blood atonement theory (as nice as a theology as it is) – how many pastors are willing to question that theology?

    This leads on and on to be honest concerning various theological stances that denominations have taken (ie: institutional faith). I honestly do ont ascribe to many of their tenets, and if we wanna check into this – send me a statement of faith from a denomination you think is quite open and we can do a blog on this and see how that pans out.

    I know you do not want to believe what I am saying is true, but you’ve been accredited as a pastor, you know the process and everything involved to get there – did you not have to sign off on some statement of faith?

    • “Name on pastor you know Luke that does not believe in the Trinity?”
      -Wadi and the whole bunch of Unitarians (hence the name) plus many ppl in my church (UCC).

      “How about the atonement question…I don’t see a need for a blood atonement theory (as nice as a theology as it is) – how many pastors are willing to question that theology?”
      -me.

      come on man. this isn’t even hard.

      as for “do you think there is validity in what I am saying or that I just haven’t looked hard enough?”
      -yes there is SOME validity but it’s easy, superficial stereotypes as spoken by a guy who has been to particular churches that i too came from and subsequently left. there are communities out there, the United Church of Christ, many United Church of Canada’s, as well as Unitarian Universalists are prime places to explore and see if your critique holds water. some of it does, some arguments are extreme generalizations (like the ones i’ve countered above). it’s kinda like ppl bitching about the government who don’t vote. don’t vote, i don’t care. same with church: don’t go, then it’s easy for me to discount what you say since you have no stake in the situation save for bitching about it. the time to do something has come.

  11. “Aren’t you being a little dramatic? “They are going to eat you?” You aren’t in the “in crowd”? Is this middle school we are talking about or church?” (MBP)

    Not really, just using metaphorical language – kind of like the gospels.

    However, church as a community functions like everything else you have ever been a part of concerning social situations – including high school. There are cliques as much as we would not like to think that, elitists, and people on the outside of all of that that may even be frowned upon by management (ie: pastors or board of directors).

    Ever be in that crowd within church that was ostrasized? I haven’t – but I know many that have been and it’s sad but the church functions like any other social organization – and they do in fact push some people out.

    “Not to mention the addiction recovery group I’m in. We get all kinds of people every week that aren’t Christians but want to stop doing certain behaviors. The church is for the sick. If you aren’t sick then you don’t need to go.” (MBP)

    I agree 100% with this and would love to be involved in stuff that in fact does help people – using the church and it’s ideals as the basis (that’s why I blog – to show it is possible the church can be used for so much).

    However, the stuff I have seen the church offer locally, and maybe it has changed, was hollow. I even tried to start a group that would actually help people directly and it was shot down by 3 various churches. I started to find unless the church comes up with the idea and approves of it (in regards to their rules and concerns) then it will not fly. So I gave up on trying to help inside a business that is not as open as I thought it might be. Now I just help people when they ask.

  12. “you would think the church would make more constructive use of that time. Sadly, its just a waste of time” (Just1)

    As much as I am functioning in ideals here so are the people replying to me.

    I have to admit ZK1 and MBP – you make it seem like church is so wonderful and nice and that it may not have any of the problems I have seen it portray. Even this comment about Sunday service from Just1 is a problem I know exists.

    I have to ask, do you think there is validity in what I am saying or that I just haven’t looked hard enough? If there is validity, what are you doing to make sure those same problems are addressed for the diverse crowd you have in your church?

  13. “Send me a statement of faith from a denomination you think is quite open and we can do a blog on this and see how that pans out.”

    http://www.westhill.net/who-we-are/visionworks-2009

    This is from Gretta Vosper’s community. She is a UCC minister. There is no mention of God. There is mention of Jesus once in the comments, not in the actual vision statement.

    I do think she has her own beliefs but she is doggedly determined to not dictate them upon her congregation. Instead, she feels she can only serve.

    What do you think of this statement? The entire UCC may not hold to it but she is still working within the UCC.

    • nice job Andrew! that’s the thing with the UCC, the entire UCC doesn’t hold to this because the entire UCC is based on the autonomy of the individual church. so Vosper may be the only style UCC like this and that’s her and her community of faith’s right to do so. i know for a fact that many others believe along these lines as well, but not everyone. good find.

  14. Pingback: My New Hermeneutic « Xn Realists

  15. Right on, a statement for my next blog! We will peruse that piece of theological work and examine it in some detail. Should be fun, always is.

    Valid points Luke, your still part of the marginalized viewpoint in Christianty (as a whole), but you did find some places where they will let you hold some views on God that don’t have to line up with the creeds. Touche I guess.

  16. “your still part of the marginalized viewpoint in Christianty ”

    wanna know why? cause my fellows in arms won’t get their butts into a church! 😉

    those communities are out there, please seek us out. i have a good one in NW Ohio if you ever want to visit.

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