Mediums of Faith: The Institution and the Church

How does a believer come to know God? The medium in which the knowledge of God is being socialized into the believer is something worth looking into. By medium, I am not talking about prayer or the work of the Spirit. Rather, I am referring to the physical, tangible, agent of socialization that instill knowledge, form social norms, and formulate in-group cultures that differentiate itself from the rest.

“Both are equal vessels of grace that God uses to heal the world. Are we doing anything to promote unity?”

The common answer to the agent of socialization is the ‘Church’ – or rather, as I’d like to put it, the ‘institution’ that is called the ‘church’. However, in my study of the scriptures, I have found another medium of faith – something that is not the mainstream. It is a little different from institutions in which people can easily identify. It is, hidden, few in number (Romans 9:27), and weak in strength (Revelations 3:8).

For the purpose of this post, I will identify the former as “the Institution” and the latter as “the Church”. We will look at the two of them through sociological lenses and explore its function and its purpose.

The Institution

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
(Revelations 3:17, NIV)

In my earlier post, “Religion can go on without God, I discuss the concepts of institutionalization and the impacts that it brings. To sum it all up, institutionalization is the compilation of core beliefs and acceptable practices in the form of rituals so as to enforce a communal identity. The main purpose of institutionalization is to minimize disputes and to ensure the continuation of traditions. It is religion without the need for God.

“The main purpose of institutionalization is to minimize disputes and to ensure the continuation of traditions.”

Religions like these are generally huge in numbers. Their large attendance meant they are wealthy in offerings and tithes. Their prominence on the world stage also meant that they are powerful; sometimes to the extent whereby it influences politics [1].

With politics involved, the religious activities tend to revolve around the interests of the political party that it supports. Likewise, political parties may plan their policies around the interests of the organized religion. In most cases, both use each other to advance their own goals, that it may veer off their original religious intentions of spreading the love and teachings of God and into something else. The rising of the Zionist ideology from persecuted Jews may have found their key motivation from their religious texts [2]. However, whether or not is it in accordance with Jewish teachings is up for debates.

Religious institutions and the government uses each other to advance their own goals.

This brings me to the next point: power. With great support from the people and from the government, they are now invincible in terms of power. Anyone who violates their code of conduct or fundamental operating principles will be heavily persecuted. The case of Stephen Sizer brought the dark side of organized religion to light. The church enforces all kinds of ‘religious discipline’ on a clergyman [4] for what appeared to be a harmless study of Palestinian rights [3], all because the support of Palestine is against Zionism – something that the evangelical Christian supports.

As long as everyone within the institution adheres to their institutionalized teachings and stays within their interests, nothing will happen. In fact, they will be blessed with acceptance and communion from within the community. For the most part, these institutions are very much in line with the interests of the secular society. In fact, they have to be in order to remain their current standing and the functionality of the community [6] because that is their source of power that enabled their ongoing expansion. For this, they hum to the tunes of Romans 13:1-7, which isn’t wrong when it comes to the ensuring of its survival in society.

“Communities are bounded by religious rituals, principles, beliefs, and a ton of unspoken rules that upholds the interests of both the organized religions and the other key stakeholders.”

Because of their strong backing both politically and financially, they are able to build churches in rapid quantities. Massive church-building projects are ongoing all around the globe. These are huge, visible constructions, that people are able to find easily. This is also the reason why when people talk about “churches”, they possibly refer to one of these buildings that institutionalized religions built. Within them, communities are bounded by religious rituals, principles, beliefs, and a ton of unspoken rules that upholds the interests of both the organized religions and other key stakeholders that play a key part in their operation.

The Church

I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
(Revelations 3:8b, NIV).

Then there is the Church – an agent of socialization that is often invisible and always struggling. What they do contribute a great deal to society in their little arena, and they are always faithful to the Word. They are the “remnant chosen by grace” that God has “reserved for Himself” (Romans 11:4-5). They are so few, that faithful servant within them will often find themselves crying to God saying “I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me.” (Romans 11:3, 1 King 19:10, 14).

“With little or no support from the outside world, their only source of strength is God.”

With little or no support from the outside world, their only source of strength is God (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Their pressure comes, not only from the secular (2 Corinthians 11:23-27) but from within institutionalized religion (2 Corinthians 11:28). From within their own backyard, people arise to distort the gospel and discourage them in their faith (Galatians 2:12-13).

They are hard to find. Many times, they find themselves in hiding, “in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:38, NIV). Hence, communion with them is hard to come by, and they will only be found by those who are led by the Spirit (Acts 9:11-12). This community keeps “my command to endure patiently” (Revelations 3:10), and “stands firm to the end” (Matthew 24:13, NIV).

“Day and night, their faith propels them to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”

Unlike the institution, faith is not all about minimizing disputes and ensuring the continuation of the community. Rather, to them, “faith is (the) confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Romans 11:1, NIV). It is through this faith that they please God (Romans 11:6, NIV). They are not the children of Abraham by physical descent or by deeds. Rather, they are the “children of the promise” (Romans 9:8, NIV). Day and night, their faith propels them “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, NIV).

The End of the Matter

So, which of the mediums of faith do you subscribe to? There is no right or wrong here. Rather, the knowledge of each medium may stir hearts and inspire assistance among them. Both are God’s clay in which God uses to bring people into His kingdom and to make known His mystery to the unknowing world. Both are equal vessels of grace that God uses to heal the world. The question that we must ask then is this: are we apathetic to the mediums God uses to mold His kingdom? If we are, are we doing anything to promote unity among them?

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
(John 17:20-21, NIV)

References:

[1] – The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is an institutionalized religion that becomes so powerful that it influences politics. Read more about the power of the ROC here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2016/12/14/the-power-and-limits-of-the-russian-orthodox-church/#470af4104b35

[2] – Beauchamp, Z. (2018). What is Zionism? Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/cards/israel-palestine/zionism

[3] – Read about Rev Stephen Sizer’s Thesis here: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/6403/1/Sizer-promised_land.phd.pdf

[4] – View Rev Stephen Sizer’s Testimony here: https://www.facebook.com/presstvuk/videos/2172545266105518/

[5] – Further persecution brought about by religious institutions to a clergyman.
Bingham, J. (2015). Church bans 9/11 Israel conspiracy priest from using social media. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11399986/Vicar-who-blamed-Israel-for-911-attacks-is-banned-from-writing-about-the-Middle-East.html

[6] – Ong, J. (2018). Singapore churches must ‘exercise due diligence’ when inviting foreign preachers, says national council. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/national-council-churches-foreign-preachers-lou-engle-10108032

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