My apologies that this is so long, but once I started I just kept going and going. It's pretty late and I am pretty tired now so hopefully by the end it all still made sense and came across in the right spirit.
“Its not the church systems fault entirely! It’s the condition of the peoples hearts! They want to follow and worship a holy and righteous God on their terms and not as stipulated in His Word / His terms!”
This was a response on facebook from a Pastor regarding some statistics on the failings of the institutional church which he had come across. And while I agree with him, that there are indeed several factors that have contributed to the sad state of the institutional church, I still find the quote to be ironic. Because church systems are based almost entirely on the terms and traditions of men standing outside of, and sometimes even contrary to scripture.
Before I get into it though I would just like to say that the guy who posted that is a wonderful, genuine guy. And the way he is living out his faith is an example to me and a testimony to anyone who knew him BC from what I have heard of his previous life.
Having said that, clergy can point their fingers elsewhere all they want, but if they want to be taken seriously, they need to lay their own agendas down and follow as well. We love to throw terms like “bible based” around. But when it comes to making personal sacrifices, few advances are ever made. Some will read this, agree with some of the content and then forget about it. Some will dismiss one or two points and then ignore the rest which they did not have answers too. Why, because facing it could cause some tough decisions to be made.
I wish I had more time to deal with the particular topic of the church and perhaps I can another time, but for now, here are a few things off the top of my head where institutional churches have strayed or simply ignored what scripture says on the topic.
It’s funny how Heb 10:25 has been used as a “you must be sitting in a pew on Sunday morning” proof text. The writer (who knew nothing of modern day church practices) was simply urging believers to practice fellowship, something that is hard to do when you are staring at the back of someones head during a sermon which you are not allowed to interrupt. The church of Christ is known for its love for one another (Joh 13:35). Our meetings are designed by activity and chair layout to prohibit this.
No one anothering
The church liturgy completely prohibits the natural flow of one anothering in church meetings as suggested by Paul in Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19. Where singing was once Spirit lead it has been reduced to the in-house bands set list. Teaching is left to one or two professionals. These people are almost definitely well intentioned, but nonetheless an obstacle to letting the body get on with ministering one to another.
Sewing up the veil
Sometimes our theory does not match our actions. While most would proclaim we have direct access to our Father through Jesus. Most Christians have gone the way of the Israelites and appointed a middle man to hear for them. Why stand on your knees in prayer when you can sit in ta pew a pay someone else to do it for you? There is certainly a place for lecture style teaching from those with the gift or a word to share in that way. But it has become the prime focus of church gatherings.
Priesthood of the clergy?
The clergy /laity split in the institutional church has done more harm than any other error I believe. It puts power in the hands of a few which is the complete opposite of how Jesus explained servant leadership. And it makes the laity lazy. The whole church is supposed to be a holy priesthood (1 Pet 2:5,9). Not just in theory.
Mathew 20:25 warns that Christs followers are not to exercise authority over one another. Rather, we are to be subject one to another (1 Pet 5:5). Unfortunately, we tend to put those with titles on a pedestal. And when one falls into sin or there is a doctrinal discussion. It’s not necessarily the one who is more mature or right that will prevail because rank will often be pulled to maintain control.
Bow to which King?
It may sound harsh, but an institutional church does not require Christ in order to function, but like a mosque, temple or other religious institution, it only requires money. And one way to have more money is to register with the government so that they do not need to pay taxes. That does come with a price though, because depending on who your government is, you will no longer be allowed to do or say certain things anymore. In China you cannot read from the book of Revelations or try and convert anyone under 18 years of age, in the West ministers may be forced to marry gay couples against their own convictions. Even if there are no restrictions in your country that bug you, you are still essentially yolked and bound to them rather than God.
The Lords house
Sometimes you could swear that there is a verse somewhere in the bible that says, "What Jesus wants us to do is to go build buildings and give sermons to people there once a week." Now church buildings can be useful for large gatherings, but they do nothing to foster the family relationships within the church. People are inclined to put on a spiritual act and even dress differently at a church buildings than they would at home. The early church met in houses (Acts 12:12, 20,20, Rom 16:3-5, 16:14-15, 1 Cor 16:19, Col 4:15, Phil 1:2) because a) that’s where families gather and b) gatherings were centered around a meal and not a person on a stage. Buildings are also a waste of money. You have to wonder how many Billions have been spent on church buildings. Whatever the figure, you can bet it is more than the combined sums collected to support missionaries, feed the poor and provide or print bibles. When a certain woman asked Jesus about the appropriate place to worship, he replied by saying that the place is not the issue, but rather how they worship (Jo 4:23). Peter said that when the people gather they themselves are a “spiritual house” (1 pet 2:5).
I just touched on this regarding church buildings, but money that could be used to store up treasures in heaven mostly gets used up on salaries, rent, flowers, giant crosses, billboards etc. Once again, this stuff may not be anti biblical, but it costs money to run the machine and we don’t even give it a second thought.
People love having titles, Pastor Bob, Reverend Joe, Evangelist Harold etc. Jesus however explicitly forbade them (Mat 23:8-10). We are all brothers but we have turned adverbs into nouns and giftings into positions. You can fire a hired Pastor but you cannot stop someone with a shepherds heart from shepherding.
Size or covering does not protect you from false doctrine
The spiritual covering of a pastor or denomination is something completely absent in scripture. Yet it is supposed to protect us from slipping into error. It does not seem to have stopped the Catholics, Eastern Orthodox or thousands of Protestant denominations from it though and clearly they cannot all be right. While it holds true that "house churches" can also fall into error. Having a flat structure where everyone is subject to one another does protect against error to some degree. It also helps that when error does creep in, it only effects maybe 10-30 people. Whereas if the Catholic church or Calvin got something wrong, millions and millions go along with it.
Church splits families
Womans meetings, Sunday school, mens breakfast and youth groups can all be useful, but the more meetings we schedule the more we split families up. The early church met as families and placed the responsibility of raising children firmly in the hands of parents. Its clear from Pauls letters that the children were with their parents when the church met (Eph 3:1, Col 3:20). Like wise Deuteronomy 6 speaks of how parents need to teach their kids "day and night" Gods ways.
Are church meetings Spirit led or do they run by program, ie - Greetings, Fast songs, slow songs and then spontaneous worship and tongues just before the last song, tithe sermon, message sermon, last song, end. This is pretty similar to my no one anothering thought and the same scriptures apply.
Christ at the head
Church members often rave about Pastor so and so rather than Christ. We need godly teaching and preaching but if the name on our lips afterwards is not "Jesus, then I don't care how good or even how sincere the messenger was, he has failed. How often are we told to visit a church because the band is amazing? Is Christ the center or is there another prominent figure always under the lights?
Somehow we have been led to believe that divisions are actually a good thing. You can now leave a church and just find another one that better suites your ears. Paul strongly rebuked this idea in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 (verse 12 nb). A modern paraphrase would read something like, "I beg that their be no divisions among you, some of you say, I am of Calvin, or I am of Luther, or I am of John Wesley. Is Christ divided?" Much good came out of the reformation, but "sola scripture" was a subtle error and it continues to tear the church apart. "Sola Christus" would have been a much more appropriate slogan and the only foundation the church can truly stand on. Scripture is super important, but without Christ, it often just becomes a weapon to throw at others.
What churches call communion and practice with a tot of juice and bread crumb, was in the bible known as a love feast (Jude 12). The church came together for this very purpose, to share a full meal together and remember their Lord. Paul speaks about it in depth when he writes to the Corinthians who were going a bit overboard. People were getting drunk and not waiting or sharing their food with the people who arrived late or were to poor to bring their own food. We don't have that problem anymore because everyone goes home hungry! This is why Paul told them to examine themselves if they are eating in an unworthy manner. The context has nothing to do with remembering something you did wrong at work the day before that you can confess, but has to do with not discerning the Lords body (showing love and consideration for the gathered Church).
Act 7:51 "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you…
Act 7:57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord;
Act 7:58b and they cast him out of the city and stoned him…
Occasionally, the truth can get very annoying. Yet what a disservice we do to ourselves, when we block our ears to the truth. Some would say, “Well, how do you know it’s the truth, when it contradicts what we already believe?” The thing is, Jesus did not call us to stone the messenger in anger, but to expose the lie if it indeed is a lie. One cannot expose a lie by closing our ears to what a person is saying. We need to be fair-minded and listen carefully, with discernment and with opened ears search the Scriptures to find out whether these things are the truth or not.