The Church is a Box

by Geoff Hall on March 20, 2012 with comments

The Church is a Box, the denomination is the label. Inside the box is God, or at least the simulation of God. I say simulation not because I don’t believe God exists, but because this God inside of the box is controllable and the One I’ve read about cannot be adjusted to align with our point-of-view, or our socio-economic needs. Inside the box, spirituality is guarded by a Bureaucracy, a hierarchy of qualified practitioners and the worst of this Administration is the Censorship Department, closely followed by the Propaganda Department. Censorship is a worrying contradiction when our spirituality is defined by Paul’s thought that “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” We do so love to hedge freedom in with allowable tolerances and justifiable limits, for ‘good conscience’ sake.

I was reading Jacques Ellul’s challenging book ‘Anarchy and Christianity’ and he has this to say about God.

“God’s is a self-limited omnipotence, not through caprice or fancy, but because anything else would be in contradiction with his very being. For beyond power, the dominant and conditioning fact is that the being of God is love.” (p33 Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1991.)

Please note God is ‘self-limiting’ by his love and not limited by humanity’s design; for Designer Gods are not really Gods at all.

So in this bureaucratic regime, with this ‘God in a box’, where are the servants? I’m reminded of the little-known saying, ‘If the Church serves itself, it is no longer the Church.’

So I sat in a Church building on Sunday and heard that the latest model to carry ‘us’ into the future is one of cell groups and church planting! The oxymoron here of course is that you can’t plant churches – organisations, administrations – you can only plant and nurture community. As soon as one starts talking of ‘church planting’ all you are doing is extending the power of the bureaucrat and replacing ‘Thy Kingdom come’ with ‘Our Empire come’. 

Where have ‘we’ gained this church planting insight from? Here we go!

The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. (My emphasis – Tim Keller, ‘Why Plant Churches’. PDF available from www.redeemer2.com)

Please note the use of the word ‘congregations’. So this is not about nurturing community per se, aiding christians to mature in their faith, honouring their calling and vocation in this world. It is simply about numbers, ‘the numerical growth of the Body of Christ.’ Keller’s justification for this is based on a selective reading of the Great Commission, which in his eyes focuses not just on ‘making disciples’, but to baptise them into the new congregation (page 1), it is a ritual undertaken so that one can be a part of the Bureaucracy, the organisation.

Thus ‘church planting’ is all about power and I wouldn’t expect a churchman to offer anything other than a model for growth in the power-base. You cannot plant an Administrative Department, you can only impose it on others! Bureaucrats control, servants serve.

So when the speaker in the Box says that “Community is the Local Church” I begin to see that we need a new context for christian spirituality today, which embraces and nurtures community, common unity, not hierarchically imposed unity, wherein we are only permitted to compliment the thoughts of the Leader. God forbid there should be unity in diversity, that we should follow the little regarded Godhead model!!

Community exists outside of that Box with the neatly written label. The God in the Box is no God at all, but a manufactured replica of the real thing, a simulation. When growth is equated with numbers and not developing maturity in our calling and vocation, in our intimate life with God, one is only after power and we know the end result of power.

As Bonhoeffer noted in ‘Life Together’, the spiritual community “will remain sound and healthy only where it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis”. Under Keller’s model, discipleship is about making good conformist church members, who have performed certain ‘rites of entry’ and who use Scripture to establish not freedom, but yet another form of slavery. If it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, then why do we collaborate with Empire builders?

Keller ends with this.

New church planting is the only way that we can be sure we are going to increase the number of believers in a city and one of the best ways to renew the whole Body of Christ. The evidence for this statement is strong–Biblically, sociologically, and historically. In the end, a lack of kingdom-mindedness may simply blind us to all this evidence. We must beware of that. (p5)

Book 3 of the Series 'Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape'

We see that ‘kingdom-mindedness’ is claimed as the inspiration for this strategy. However, the ‘evidence’ (Biblical, Sociological and historical) has been tampered with to give this strategy the sanction of God for a holy convocation of sanctified, accountable members. This God is used to justify the subversion of Christianity into a form of Institutionalised Spirituality; a simulation replacing the reality of God and we should note that it’s this God which is dead to the world. The real God however, is awaiting another revealing through a new context for the spiritual community; unveiled as the Word becomes flesh again and again in our lives. It is to this context and unveiling that our series ‘Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape’ is dedicated.

Geoff Hall, Bristol. 2012

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