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The Nature of the Churches

One of the most perplexing aspects of the churches for me, is the way every church I have ever seen, tends to divide itself from others. Even the very best of churches, will have things that a clear majority of its people prefer, which neighboring churches prefer against. And even when this is at an extreme microminimum, there are always traditions within any given church which appear to have nothing to do with things that God has said, and everything to do with statements like "what we're used to", "what we will just have to hang onto", "what we want and we don't care to talk about it anymore", et cetera. Even when such traditions are not explicitly divisive, they always seem to suck down resources and the motivations, so that it is only whatever is left, which appears to be devoted to the things of God.

On the other hand, there are a great many things which happen in a church, for which we do not have the Word of God in commandment or recommendation, which serve the stated purposes of God very well indeed. For one example, churches meet under roofs, and we have no commandment of God to build roofs. But there are questions more worthwhile.

One of these, may be instrumental music. There are whole denominations in the world today, who have agreed within themselves that they shall ban all musical instruments in their churches, or in their services, or some other particular. Is there good which results of this?

And is there good which results of the vast expenditure on musical instruments?

I will suggest, that there indeed is a peculiar good, which often results from both. The good I am suggesting, in this case and an infinity of similar ones, has to do with what the churches are, in respect of the whole Church of the Lord.

Consider with me a moment, a very large company. In it we have many groups, of very different kinds of people, and they all have to be served very differently, if the whole is to produce and sell its products, if its people are to receive their incomes, if the available good is to be done. In such a company, we will have some people who are comfortable and well-suited for some tasks and some enjoyments, and others who are comfortable and well-suited for others. Some subgroups within the company will have a vast majority of people who love golf and hate bowling; and other subgroups will have exactly the opposite. If the company is well-managed, it will have the goal of encouraging as many of its people as possible to enjoy their time with their compatriots within the boundaries of good business -- and this means very different activities, very different joys which have to be neutral to the company as a whole. And if the company is large enough, and governed wisely enough, different subgroups will be encouraged to express company-essential joys, in very different ways. Extremely different forms of music, for example: forms which some of the same company might utterly fail to comprehend, or even positively deny, as being music at all.

I will suggest that this, on the largest scale, is the situation of the Church of the Lord in the world today.

Every human being on the face of the earth has at least a slightly different, and generally a very different, set of ways in which they can express themselves. This is the legacy of the act of God at Babel. And as a result of the ensuing thousands of years, the expression of the different groups of people on the face of the earth, has diverged greatly. Some perceive a great joy and love of God in a good pipe-organ sound. Others perceive exactly the same from a hundred people drumming together, or just one, or just one voice...or only voices and nothing else. And all these descriptions of people, and far more, comprise the One Church of the Lord.

There are some interesting corollaries to this.

Perhaps the most important in my own experience, is the damage which can be done to a church, when motivated people act without a knowledge of the above. If a motivated yet uninformed person looks upon a church, sees its expressions of joy, and does not understand them, there is a problem. One still-extant medium-sized denomination in the U.S.A., founded in the late 1800's, was founded in part on an insistence that women must not permit their hair to grow more than one inch, in a belief that to do anything else might steal glory from God. (The denomination's teachers today usually don't remember this, rather wisely I'll think. There are photographs!) But as long as it is not a trial and a torture for the woman (and for some it is, I am told), it can be a joy for her and her husband if he understands: a good joy can be, a joy which reminds of the greatness of God who designed it, just like He designed everything that has beauty. That denomination's founder shattered his marriage with his insistences...and founded a great people, which still exists, even though it has happily repented of a number of unusual axioms! But everything from single churches to denominations, can suffer from this general pattern, and often do.

Closely related to the above, is the structure of the government of churches. It may be interesting to point out, that all churches are structured exactly like tribes, and groups of tribes. There is always a chief; there are always underchiefs; there are always the others in leadership who go by many different names. There is also always a pattern which we might call the 'supertribe'; it is a thing for which this writer has no recollection of a common anthropological term, but it too is always present where there are tribes. The Norse Althing comes to mind as an example, but there have always been gatherings of tribal elders from multiple tribes, ranging from explicitly informal and rare, to quite formal and planned...but always there, among the human tribes of this world. And churches have these too. One of the most startling things I found in research a while ago, was a total inability to find a single nondenominational seminary, in much searching. I was able to find a very few which admitted of two or three closely related denominations; I was able to find a few which were functioning as a duality with two explicitly different denominations with separate camps of supertribe elders for each; and I was able to find some which care for Christ not at all, who rely on other sources for their authority, unity, and definition; but although there are churches which claim total nondenominationality, their clergy always came from seminaries, and I was never able to find even one seminary which relies upon Christ, which did not subscribe, and strongly adhere, to either a clear and present denominational character or a very specific list of other "approved" seminaries, which is itself a denomination in function! And so it is that we have them, our 'supertribes' of the churches. The pattern does not admit of an exit, so far as I have been able to tell, even though quite a large number of highly motivated people over the centuries have made strong attempts.

And even more spookily yet, a simple generalization can emerge. It is this: If one does not have an agreement, one does not have a church.

A church can exist, only if there is sufficient agreement within its members, to agree to exist and cooperate and worship together and pray together about the same things and for the same things. And all of the people involved, because they are us, are extremely limited in our ability to understand the expressions of joy of some other people!

The result of the above is simple. When motivated but uninformed people strike against the tribal aspects, the tribal behavior, of any church, that church will suffer, because the abilities of that church to express joy, are being disrupted. The only way we can possibly work towards the unity of the entire Church of the Lord, is to help very different people to understand each other. Not, to change to become more like each other; not, to abandon their differences; just, to understand each other's point of view towards just One: Christ the Lord. If we set ourselves the goal of diversity for its own sake, if we just push the gathering ethic as a pure thought, we will not do much good, because we will not understand each other. Some of us will have only learned to praise in hymnal-songs, and some will have only learned to praise in rap. Tolerance is not the goal; love, is the goal. Love is tougher, but it is that which is worthwhile.

Jonathan Brickman
Please do email me!
jeb@ponderworthy.com

© 2015 Jonathan E. Brickman

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