Thursday, October 04, 2007


More from Spencer Burke's A Heretic's Guide to Eternity. I must admit that I find most of what he has to say very compelling, but then again I already agreed that the church needs to significantly change the way it goes about its business.

I'm still not ready to advocate the complete elimination of the institutional church, though there's certainly a lot to be said for placing more focus on following the example of Christ and less on rules and doctrines and making sure everyone toes the party line. My reticence may be partly due to having little personal experience with the spirituality that many today are finding outside of organized religion, but I still think there's something to be said for having some form of formal organization.

That said, Burke does aptly describe what's wrong with the church, especially its more conservative manifestations:

The business of religion is the sacred in all its forms. Christianity’s part of that business is grace. The church wants to put a copyright on grace and seeks to hold power and control over it by making itself the only mediator. “Grace is available only through us, and you must come to us to gain access to it,” declares the church. Determining who is in and who is out is the primary way that the church as institution tries to control grace.

Jesus told a story about this in the gospel of Matthew. It concerned a wheat farmer who had spent a hard day planting. While he was sleeping, his enemy crept onto his land and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the wheat began to sprout, the laborers noticed the weeds growing, so they went to the landowner and asked him if they should pull up the weeds. “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

This story reflects the tendency humans have to want to do God’s business. Institutional religion usually aspires to do the landowner’s job – God’s job. They want to determine who is wheat and who is weed.

Churches assume their role is about eternity when in fact eternity is God’s business. The landowner in Jesus’ story is very clear that his workers cannot separate the wheat from the weeds, for they might pull up perfectly good wheat in their zeal to remove the wayward weeds. When explaining this story to his followers, Jesus makes it clear that the task of determining who is in or out is not the responsibility of humans, no matter how qualified they believe they are. I would likewise argue that the church should not be so focused on eternity. The church’s task is to help people follow Jesus here on earth. [pgs. 118-119]

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