Friends-I have a lot of conversations about the church, but last week two of those conversations stood out to me. One chat was with a group of people who are attempting to define the role of the church in the faith development of Millennials, The other discussion, just last night, touched on the role of the institutional church going forward.
First, I have to point out that for many Christians, it is very difficult to separate the church from faith. By virtue of our investment in that institution it has become nearly inseparable from faith and, as I found last night, to suggest differently borders on heresy. Even though Christians acknowledge that faith is found though God, it is hard for us to consider that the church as it is is not part of that journey in a central way.
Curiously, my conversation with people who are seeking to be faithful but are not part of a church see little use for the institution. In fact, revelations from the Roman Catholic Church and, recently, the Southern Baptist denomination, do little to engender faith in the church as an institution and seem to support those who would do away with the institutional church, as well as other cultural institutions.
With this on my mind I ran across this article by James Smith that points out the value of institutions when they function well. The adaptive functioning of the institution is what makes all the difference. When an institution isn't responsive it gets caught up in the rationale "because we've always done it that way". This is all to say that there is great value in institutions to promote the common good, but they are also capable of great harm when they hold people to ossified practices that no longer serve a purpose.
Our task, as faithful Christians, needs to be one of seeking God's will and how best to fulfill that will. This includes a willingness to look at the institution of the church, as well as other institutions in which we are involved, and consider how they might better serve God's will. I am not suggesting that we do away with institutions or the church--as Smith points out, there is great advantage to these groups when the governing principle is God's will.