There is a big difference between the institution and the individual. Individuals can be part of institutions, but the belief systems of both can be quite different. Some people find support and refuge in being part of a group, while others find them restrictive and debilitating.
Established churches often act like institutions and have set standards of inclusion and criteria in life style that must be met, if the person is to be incorporated. There are social rules and a church constitution, which must be regarded and other rites of passage have to be completed. It is important for the individual that they choose carefully, which institution they join.
The doctrinal basis for churches is crucial, and must be weighed carefully against scripture. Our Christian lives are dominated by scripture and personal spiritual growth depends on Bible study and prayer. These spiritual exercises draw us nearer to Christ and deepen our relationship with Him. There are times when the status of the institution and the personal life, become alienated, and people part company with church. Perhaps the person seeks a clearer view of Christ and the Scripture, and seeks a fuller outworking of this in their lives. Others find themselves rejecting the idea of religion or church altogether.
The Apostle Paul spoke openly in the Jewish Sanhedrin and preached Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. He spoke of their Messiah and Jesus Christ, Saviour of the World. The Jewish authorities did not accept the message of Jesus, or regard Him as their Messiah. Their thinking had become warped and they saw progress was through them, as part of the institution, and not Christ as a person.
The point came when Paul completely distanced himself from the religion and the religious people and leaders. He made the break with Judaism and shook out his clothes as a protest against them. His ministry moved on. Jesus taught His disciples to preach the message faithfully, and if the message was rejected by the hearers – to move on. They showed their disassociation with unbelief by shaking the dust off their feet.
When Paul leaves the organised religion of the Jewish Sanhedrin, he goes to a Jewish family to share the gospel with them. He has rejected the religion, but not the individual people. Paul shares/preaches/teaches all who seek Christ and the forgiveness of sins. So also must we. Even if we find ourselves outside the institution, the message remains and our responsibility to share it is unchanged.
Paul does not repeal his rejection of the Jewish religion, the leaders of the Sanhedrin who rejected Christ, or the Jews who tried to force religious practices on Gentile believers. He distances himself from those who deliberately refuse the claims of Christ on their lives. He preaches, teaches and debates the truth of God, and God blesses his work. Neither Paul, nor you or I are able to save the souls of other people, but we spread the good news of repenting and forgiving and loving and resurrection of the soul. If this happens in church context, fine, though too many of these institutions have become a closed shop.
Some are still fascinated with “church practice” rather than the souls of men and women, young people and older people. In these days most evangelism and witness happens in other places. Churches have lost their credibility because they have lost the message, the Spirit and the love. If there is to be change, it must be in our hearts. We must return to the Lord, and practice honesty, both in our relationship with God (repentance) and true Christians (fellowship and service). We must seek wisdom and holiness. Without holiness we will never see the Lord.
Perhaps the old wave of “church” is past and we need to start again with fresh, consecrated hearts to the Lord.
“I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding. Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end.” Psalm 119:32+33 The way of God’s decrees are pure and demand obedience and love.
This is the calling of… “ all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” Ephesians 6:24