Institutional Skepticism (August 2010)


Currently, the amount of institutional skepticism in our country seems to be increasing. Politically, citizens are highly skeptical of government. There seems to be a major disconnect between politicians and citizens. Citizens feel as if their voices are ignored by the government. Religiously, there are almost daily news stories about the Catholic church's involvement in the cover-up of pedophile priests. The result has been an increasing skepticism of the institution of the Catholic church. Financially, Wall Street is despised. Wall Street has been largely to blame for our country's current economic conditions. People have become extremely distrustful of the financial sector.

One by-product of institutional skepticism has been its negative impact on religion. Religious institutions are viewed through the same cultural lens as governmental and financial institutions. They are big, powerful, corrupt, and mysterious. This negative view of religion has contributed to an increasing number of people claiming to be "spiritual" as opposed to "religious." Being religious carries the connotation of involvement with a religious institution. Someone who is considered to be spiritual has little or no involvement with religious institutions. Most polls have found about thirty-three percent of Americans describe themselves as spiritual. Using current statistics, some have predicted there will be a higher percentage of people classifying themselves as spiritual-Americans than those classifying themselves as Christian-Americans by 2050.

Incidentally, readers may be skeptical of this statistic; however, this attitude presents a challenge for members of the Lord’s church. God has placed the responsibility of evangelizing the lost to Christians (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4). The goal of evangelism, teaching the Gospel, is to persuade people to become members of the church. Why? Paul wrote of the church,

Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:24).

Following the end of the world and the final judgment, the church is going to be the single group saved from eternal damnation.

Certainly, there is a need for people to become spiritually minded. Paul instructed us to place our affection on spiritual matters (Colossians 3:1-3). We must be spiritually centered people for our worship to praise God (John 4:24). However, we cannot be spiritually minded as God considers this mindset without being members of the Lord's church. We need the church for our eternal salvation. Without the church, we will be lost.

As members of the Lord's church on earth, we are expected to come together to worship and work together. When this gathering occurs, a local congregation or group of the Lord’s people is formed. God has given this group structure. It is comprised of elders, deacons, preachers, and teachers (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, Ephesians 4:11). Collectively, the group worships and works together. We cannot absence ourselves from this unit and be accepted before God. We cannot defend our absence by declaring we are spiritual, not religious.

Much of the religious climate of our country deemphasizes the church. Generally, there the problem does not rest with what is taught. The problem rests with what is not taught and not said. Teaching and preaching focuses on how to solve the problems of life: how Jesus can make us happy. Our self-centered culture is highly reflected in the content of our teaching and preaching. When was the last time you spoke about the church to someone? When was the last time you listened to a sermon explaining the church and its purpose in eternal redemption? Paul described the church as being God's way of expressing His eternal wisdom and forethought to humanity:

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:9-11).

How can any honestly believe they can be saved without the church? How dare any undermine its paramount spiritual significance.

Unfortunately, in some regards, the institutional skepticism is warranted. Local churches have had problems with corruption of its members and leadership over the years. However, this corruption is not a reflection of the divinely established, God ordained institution: the church. Corruption is a reflection of sinful human beings. Christians, members of the church, are fallible. We can acknowledge our own fallibility. However, God expects us to keep ourselves pure (1 Timothy 5:22). If each member of the church does this, the church will collectively become pure.

As members of the church, we have our work cut out for us. There are a number of obstacles we must help people overcome to obey the Gospel. Institutional skepticism is just another of these obstacles. People must be made aware of what the Bible teaches about the necessity of the church. Let us all do our part to persuade others to become members of the church. God will give the increase.

David Flatt
August 2010