Freedom, Slavery, & The Institutional Church: A Short Story
“It’s not a black and white issue is all I’m saying. I don’t think you can say that the institutional model of church is completely out of God’s will.”
“But it’s so corrupt!” Jack said. “It’s completely following the Old Covenant model. Buildings to worship in, offerings to support those buildings, external sacraments, public prayers, paid professional clergy—the list goes on!”
“I know, I know,” Ted replied.
“Then why do you say it’s not a black and white issue? That’s how it looks to me. It’s Egypt! You told me yourself you think Egypt in the Bible represents religion. Should we be slaves in Egypt? Should we accept slavery when God has called us out into freedom?”
Ted just smiled at his passionate nephew. Jack had been out of the institutional church setting for about 9 months, and was zealous about his belief in its lack of relevance in God’s plan. Ted understood where his nephew was coming from, for he had also gone through these same thoughts himself. He too had at one time only seen the issue as black and white. But time has a way of showing you that the colors are actually blended, that there was no definite right or wrong, but God was at work through everything, including the institutional church; that’s what Ted realized.
“I know I said that, and I still believe Egypt represents religion, and when people make Christianity into a religion, then that too is a picture of Egypt.”
“And Egypt is slavery!” his nephew cried out once more.
“So there’s not room for grey? You’ve concluded the issue it’s black and white then, have you?” Ted asked.
“Yes, I have. I can’t see why I should think any differently.”
Ted stood up to grab a drink from the fridge. He opened it and sat back down next to his nephew, and asked, “And what about when the angel spoke to Joseph, when Jesus was just born, and told him to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt for protection? What do you make of that?”
Jack remained silent. He hadn’t ever thought of that. “Why did the angel send them into Egypt?” he asked his uncle. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well,” Ted said, “not when you think in black and white. But when you allow yourself live in the middle, to see things in shades of grey, you might just start understanding things a little easier.”
“So why do you think the angel told Joseph to go into Egypt, in relation to what we’re talking about?”
“Well, this is just my understanding of it, but perhaps there are times, especially when we are young in our faith, where God sees that is it safer for someone to spend some time in religion then remain in their worldly circumstances.” He gave his nephew another smile and continued, “Perhaps God uses the institutional church for good, at times. I know this seems like a shocking statement to you at the moment, but perhaps it is in his plan and will, at times. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with how it runs, or support it in any way. But when you allow yourself to see the issue not in all right or all wrong, all black or all white, but instead see things as grey, you’ll be able to rest more in your own faith, and love those who are not as free as you are with a more genuine heart.”
Jack thought about it for a moment. He turned to his uncle and said, “But those who are stuck in Christian religion judge me in black and white. They dismiss my thoughts, talk about me as a backslider from God, call me a heretic behind my back, distance themselves from me. They only see the issue in black and white, so why shouldn’t I?”
“Because,” Ted said, “you can, that’s why. You are free, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Then exercise your freedom, and choose a more divine way of living out your faith.”
Jack sat down next to his uncle. It was all so confusing. He wanted to scream from the rooftops that the institutional church had nothing to do with God or God’s will. He thought his uncle would welcome such a passionate idea, but instead he had challenged him to see the whole situation for a higher viewpoint.
Jack exhaled loudly. “But if it can be God’s will for people to go into the institutional church, even for a season, it just makes things harder to understand.”
“I know, believe me I know.” Ted took another sip of his drink, “But what I realized is until I allowed enough space to see things in grey, where things could be both right and wrong all at the same time, I couldn’t love. I was too occupied in putting people in either the black camp or the white camp. But once I stopped with all that, and saw everyone on an individual journey with the Lord, and didn’t try to classify them, I found I could love them a whole lot more, where ever they were. And I found that once I started living that way people were willing to listen to my thoughts about the whole situation a lot more too.”
“But it’s easier to just see things black or white,” Jack said.
“Of that you can be sure, Jack. But it’s more diving to see things in grey, because it’s there you have the possibility to judge a whole lot less and love a whole lot more.” Ted sat a few moments longer before continuing with his thoughts. “The question you need to ask yourself is this: do you want an easy faith where you point your finger, or a divine faith where you share your love?”