Institutional church and social justice, a series

Easter Sunday at Millwood Community Presbyterian Church
Easter Sunday at Millwood Community Presbyterian Church

Religion being thrown around in public discourse gives us a particular opportunity to challenge ourselves to realize our meanings and assumptions when we talk about ecumenicalism. To talk about the church is to include the global Christian community, not just a certain domination or authority. 

To speak about the church as an institution is to recognize the ways in which we have organized ourselves into decision making bodies as well as into worship communities. 

We devise and discern systems of behavior, prayer and paperwork!  We elect leaders, join committees, publish newsletters, host social and spiritual events, and through each of these acts we remind ourselves that we belong, that we have a place.  The danger is that we can become invested in our personal sense of identity so much that we fear changes, we become suspicious of reform or renewal and we begin to value our human traditions as much as we do Scripture and align our customs and business plans with divine providence. It can become confusing to determine in the web of prayer and organization how much is God and how much is ourselves — the acts and breath of the Holy Spirit are not always easily detected or acknowledged.

The story of Israel in Scripture is an important witness to this tension between God’s plan and our own ideas of God’s plan. Scripture lays it all out for us — the ups and downs, the wins and loses —which is why it is so important for us to keep it at the center of our relationship with God, so that we do not become products of our own spiritual goals but maintain our steadfast commitment to God’s word and deed. Scripture stories demonstrate the teeter totter effect in our relationship with God, particularly in the crucial way that our relationship with God is embodied for good and bad in our relationships with each other and creation.

This post is the beginning of a series. I’d like to start with the Exodus story and then go on to the Gospels. I will wrap up with a look at the church as an institution. In each of these three areas, we will consider how the acts and consciousness of social justice can be both exemplified and corrupted by bureaucracy and human systems.

Check back for part two, where we will examine how Israel came into being as the people of God.

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