My friend Thomas made an interesting post on his blog about the problem with institutionalized religion. I have to admit that I often associate this term with silly arguments against the Catholic Church like, "Oh priests just want to be powerful and rich" and "The Vatican tries to control everyone and take all their money and force them to have as many children as possible so there will be more Catholics to control," etc. (Yes, these are real comments I've heard, I didn't make them up, lol!) But this is not the intent of Thomas' post at all. The following is my response to his post:
When you first talked about institutionalized religion being something to avoid, I wasn't quite sure what you meant. But now I think I understand, especially with this statement:
When an institution become primary, the people within the institution become secondary--this is the epitome of what is to be avoided at all costs.
I think what you're saying is it's not the fact that insitutions exist (religious or otherwise) that is the problem, it's when they begin to put the good of the institution itself above all else that problems arise.
I absolutely agree with that too...I can't help but think of my years working at Target that started out wonderfully, but things changed when a new VP came along and suddenly the focus was all on getting everyone to apply for the Target credit card (didn't matter if they were obviously near the poverty level and not the best candidate to have a credit card), and the employees started to be treated like slaves, when prior to that it was actually very nice and flexible and just generally respectful. It really really turned me off and I couldn't wait to leave at the end.
Your friend's blog post is interesting...and I agree about 75% with the post. The part I agree with is that to focus on the group, to only worry about how things will affect the group is not the way a church should be run! I also agree that there should be concern for people and helping people...but what I think is missing is focus on Christ. I think any focus other than Christ is going to eventually go astray somehow, even if everyone has the best of intentions. It's possible for a church to try to be a "mission congregation" so much, since they are (rightly!) trying to get away from being a maintenance congregation, that they inadvertently forget about making Christ the primary focus.
This is how I would rephrase a few of those:
When thinking of its vision for ministry, the maintenance congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our past.” The Christ-focused congregation says, “We have to be faithful to Christ.”
The pastor in the maintenance congregation says to the newcomer, “I’d like to introduce you to some of our members.” In the Christ-focused congregation the faithful say, “We’d like to introduce you to Christ, especially in the Eucharist."
You see, when all the focus is on Christ and following Him, we will inevitably treat people with love and respect. If not, we're simply not following Christ! I'm also personally turned off by any group that puts any kind of large focus on converting others. (Can you imagine why, lol?) One of the things I loved about the Catholic Church was that people simply lived their lives and focused on Christ...and that in itself attracted converts, that's all that was necessary.
As far as other churches, while I believe there are many sincere, well meaning and good natured people out there reaching out to other people and doing wonderful things to help others, I also think a lot of people are missing something, through no fault of their own! I think this is easy to see in the types of worship service a church has.
In the CoC, you have everything focused on the Bible, often to the point of bibliolatry. In other churches (and even sadly creeping into some Catholic churches), you often have (again, without people even realizing it) a lot of focus on pleasing people, changing up services simply to attract newcomers, to be entertaining, etc. But look at a mass and the focus is clearly on Christ, literally in the architecture, in the art, in the crucifix smack dab in the front and center above the altar, in the order of worship leading up to the pinnacle, which is the consecration of the Eucharist, of Christ in the flesh.
This is just a physical representation of how I believe the Catholic Church works. In all things, focus on Christ will manifest itself as love and respect of others. And so while I agree with the problem, I, personally, believe the solution is just making Christ the focus above all else, and everything else will fall into place. Just my humble opinion, of course. ;-)
I have this image in my head of driving...you know how when you drive, you look ahead and in the distance. To focus too close on the road in front of you is dangerous; to focus on trying to stay within the lane by staring at the stripes on either side of the road is also dangerous and often does exactly the opposite of what you want, you actually end up gravitating towards the stripes; to look behind you is also dangerous. The only way to achieve what you want is to focus ahead and in the distance, and all these other things fall into place. In my mind, Christ is what we should focus on, and all these other things will fall into place.