I just finished reading George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a haunting portrayal of extreme government. The description inside the front cover is as follows:
To Winston Smith, a young man who works in the Ministry of Truth, come two people who transform his life completely. One is Julia, who he meets after she hands him a slip reading, “I love you.” The other is O’Brien, who tells him, “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.” The way in which Winston is betrayed by the one and, against his own desires and instincts, ultimately betrays the other, makes a story of mounting drama and suspense. [...] IN the final section of the novel George Orwell spells out, for the first time in literature, how the spirit of every man living may be broken in Room 101, and how he can be made to avow – and believe – that black is white, two plus two equals five, and evil is good.
Some of the concepts in this book strike me as very similar to my experience with each institutional church I’ve attended. This is a quote from the book and an explanation on how it relates to the institutional church.
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
In this blog, I will address the first portion, “War is peace,” and only briefly address the word war in its most common usage, that is, military combat. If you would like to read further on the subject, I found a very balanced look at this kind of war as it relates to the institutional church by Dennis Hinks called, “The Christian Attitude Toward War.” My opinion on the matter at this time is dissonant and fluctuating somewhere between absolute pacifism and a defensive stand against immediate attack (with no pre-emptive activity). I am grateful for the attitude in which people enlist and serve in the military, the selfless concern to accomplish the goal of making this world a better place, but I don’t think that the military system in its current state is accomplishing that goal. In fact, I think it is accomplishing the opposite. Regardless of my opinion, I can tell you that spiritually-based military activity such as holy wars, Islamic Jihad, the militarization of Christians, etc. may be frowned upon by the institutional church, but every church I have attended has made a point to display the American flag and have ceremonies to honor soldiers, which I see as a way of solidifying the idea that “if you attend this church, this is how ‘we’ feel about war”. And I have never heard any serious discussion about whether believers ought to use guns and bombs in any circumstance. If someone were to openly declare a totally passive, anti-military view, he or she would likely be frowned upon and seen as “other” by the consenting majority.
The type of war that I would like to address is the war between institutional church and the institutional church. No, that’s not a typo. You did read it correctly, that is, the war between the institutional church and the institutional church. At first, I began to describe this war as the institutional church versus the non-institutional church, but then I realized that this description is not accurate. There are many so-called non-institutional home-churches, where the hierarchical system still stands; it’s just a Shrinky-Dink version of the mega-church.
Tony Morgan, Pastor of Ministries at West Ridge Church near Atlanta wrote a blog called “The Church: Our Greatest Evangelistic Enemy?” that says, “Every time Christians step inside a church, it can remove them from the place where they have the greatest impact for God’s Kingdom—the world. It’s sad, but I wonder if we’ve inadvertently designed our ministries to isolate Christians from the places where God really wants us to be.” Morgan sees the problem as geographical or social isolation. While this most certainly is a problem, it is not the problem. The problem is found in the question he asks in the title, “The Church: Our Greatest Evangelistic Enemy?”
Let’s look at the word “evangelistic.” It is composed of a few parts: evangel + ist + ic. We all have this cartoonish idea about an evangelist, based on our experiences with proselytism, in which a man in a three piece suit with big hair and a booming voice tells you and all the other who were bribed into the big tent with free barbecue that if you don’t-ah repent-ah and accept Jeeeezusss as your personal Savior-uh, you will go to Hell-ah. But, seriously, what is an evangelist? Our English word “evangelist” comes from the Greek word “euangelistes” which literally means “bringer of good news.” In this sense, every believer ought to be an evangelist, because we possess the “evangelion” or “good news.” The greatest evangelistic enemy is not that believers segregate themselves but that their screwed-up version of the evangel demands segregation.
This is where the “war” portion of this blog begins to take shape. This idea that “we’ve inadvertently designed our ministries to isolate Christians from the places where God really wants us to be” should be reworded as, “we design our ministries to isolate Christians who intend to be who God really wants us to be.” What should we be? Evangelists! How can someone be a true evangelist, if they possess the “good news” that says God intends to eternally torment you if you don’t believe that He wants to save you from the His own plan to eternally torment you? The war is the institutional church versus the institutional church. The system propagates the system. The result is spiritual impotence, or as Jesus described it, “You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”
The way that the institutional church as a body (not His body) handles this idea that Jesus is the Savior of all mankind is to label it heresy and treat it as a threat. Since threats cause commotion, they seek to reestablish “peace” by ridding the system of “heresy” in what they consider spiritual warfare. All the while they have no idea that they have declared war against their own body. The so-called heresy could be compared to the white blood cells in the human body, which eliminate infectious disease. Often, a high white blood cell count is accompanied by fever. The institutional church panics at the fever, and filled with fear, they seek to eliminate the white blood cells from the body in order to return the body to its former state, not knowing that in doing so, they are destroying the thing the body needs most. People say of a body in a casket, “He/she looks so peaceful.” In the institutional church “War is peace.”
Fortunately, in the war between the institutional church and the institutional church, the casualties are actually the survivors, the conquerers who have been called out since the foundation of the earth to inherit age-abiding life. No institution can destroy His body and His life. This life is not one which seeks to exclude those who are not included but to reconcile those who are not included. Jesus, the Great Physician, has purposed it. Operating according to His will, as Ministers of Reconciliation, we cannot fail to accomplish the purpose for which we were created. Peace is knowing that the victory over sin and death was accomplished over two-thousand years ago, and in some mysterious way that we may someday understand, it was accomplished before the foundation of the world.
I’ll address “Freedom is slavery” and “Ignorance is strength” at another time.