Philosophy Lite: Reclaiming the institutional church
By Raymond Smith
Of all the religious books I have ever read, one stands out among all the others: Elton Trueblood's "The Company of the Committed." Published in 1961 when church renewal was coming to the forefront, it outlined what might be expected of a modern New Testament church. Trueblood's idea of a church was that of a base of operations rather than a preaching station. His thesis was, every member a minister; citing Ephesians 4:12, "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." He adds: "The church ... is a denial of Christ unless it is affecting the world - in business and government and education and many other segments of human experience."
It is human nature, however, for people and organizations to lose their original zeal and settle into a comfortable existence. When the church settles in, it is said to become institutionalized. This means a steady routine develops that people can easily fit into and few demands are placed upon them. Someone has said that it's habit, not hatred that is the enemy of the church. Our materialist culture has influenced us more than we want to admit.
Moreover, we have not understood what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Alfred North Whitehead said of protestantism: "Its institutions no longer direct the patterns of life," and we are painfully aware of that fact today. Since organized religion in general is losing ground, we must re-evaluate our priorities and motivate people to "stand in the gap and fill the breach" It is still possible for a mighty revival to sweep the land.
Successful businesses are always looking to improve their product or find new outlets for sales. Regular evaluations are made, and ideas are encouraged from employees. Brainstorming sessions are held to find creative ways of improvement.
Church renewal idealism caught on early around the United States, such as in the Church of the Redeemer in Houston, and Laity Lodge in Leakey, but alas, over time the enthusiasm waned and some of the idealism was lost.
Here are some possibilities to revitalize the church: Utilize more of the laity in worship services. Help interested members find their calling in ministry and have leadership training for those ministries. Encourage Christian reading with occasional book reports. Some churches have a bookstore or lending library.
Appoint a local missions leader and plan local missions projects. Plan annual retreats which might include prayer, meditation, evaluation, suggestions and leadership training. While the word revival is now passe, there still is room for public evangelistic programs and symposiums on religion. There is a need for prison ministries, hospital and hospice visitation. Many average-size churches could support a primary school. Starting kids off right can make all the difference in the world. Victoria being a college town, there should be many opportunities to reach these young people.
It is pretty obvious that the church will not regain its rightful respect in the world until the laity exerts its influence.
Raymond F. Smith is president of Strong Families of Victoria.