Lexically challenged … Institutions and Communities …

Sin"We need to hear more about sin and the cross." Interesting claims iterated during Holy Week. When a person wants to hear more about sin just what does that mean? Lexically we often race to define sin. "Missing the mark," serves us until we define "mark." Contextually in our circles we define sin as "falling short." Then again we face a contextual matter addressing, "short of what." God sets the mark and it is His glory we fall short of. How is this lexically an issue?

I suspect what is being said is something like, "We would like to hear more pronouncements and condemnations of the sins of the world." Here is where we may need a new lexicon. Since we are nearing Good Friday we will certainly here much about sin and atonement. It is in this context that the matter must find its footing. When the assertion comes from those in the Church it sounds a bit like a call for haranguing those for doing what they do. Yet, the cross is about showing the world there is no need to continue doing what you do. "There is a way that seems right to a person but the end is death." When a person does what he or she does thinking it is the right way they are in need of seeing a different way. Condemnation does not draw it tends to repel. Jesus’ own words indicate He came not to condemn the world but that the world would be saved through Him. How is it we long for rants of condemnation?

Could we uncover words that would allow us to talk about sin without and sin within? What those in the Church are not so quick to want to hear concerns sins within – that is, sin within/among the people considered "in." We prefer to hear what will happen to whoremongers and terrorists – sin without. How could this point to what is "good" about Good Friday? When we fail to live "Good Friday" kinds of lives we take the "good" out of the day. We will only live "Good Friday" lives when we more willingly tend to the sins within/among the Church. It is these matters that create the discomfort. Leave us to our racism. Leave us to our arrogance. Leave us to our creating our own "classes" among Christians. Leave us to our unfaithfulness. Leave us to our selfishness. Leave us to our lack of compassion and empathy. Leave us to the advancement of our own kingdoms.

This leads me to what originally stirred this post. Lexically we need a way forward to distinguish between Church as "Institution" rather than church as "community of Jesus followers." We would prefer there were not distinction. However, only the unwilling to be critical could possibly suggest nothing is wrong with Church as "Institution." Too often we depend on capitals to draw down distinctions. Church=Institution. church=community of Jesus followers. Were we to agree on the use of capitalization then maybe we could get there. This distinction is easily nuanced when one is pressed to be more specific about the critique. May animated conversations take place where the "Church" is dismissed. At the same time the "church" is affirmed as a place where Jesus is embodied in the shared lives of people – at least in its attempts.

When we in the "Church" cannot come to our own terms, how is it we can expect anyone to understand other terms we use like grace and mercy, repentance and forgiveness, love and care, hope and peace? Friday will be "good" for the world when the world sees how "good" Friday is in the lived lives of those claiming to follow Jesus participating in communities called "churches."

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

6 comments on “Lexically challenged … Institutions and Communities …

  1. says:

    Its always a pat on the back to think others are more sinful then ourselves even if those that are more sinful aren’t belivers. The use of the word church is no different than sin. When we can’t recognize the instituional church as the followers of Jesus, we want to find ways to critique the instituion so we (as followers of Jesus and members of the insitution) can feel better about ourselves. I think the bad things in church could help explain grace and mercy better but we choose to cover up those issues. How many times have you read through the old testiment and say boy those Isrealites missed it big time, but what a awesome picture of grace and mercy over and over and over again! thoughts?

  2. says:

    Occasionally I am charged with a lack of loyalty to the SBC. I guess sometimes what I want is the group with which I cooperate to “get it right.” That does not mean I know exactly what that means or looks like but having been “in” for a while it seems normal for us to be a bit self-critical rather than triumphal. I do think today we think we have it more down than those who went before, this could include the way we look at the OT. Pictures of grace and mercy run through the human experience. Any time we can uncover those threads it is good for everyone, even when we need to see that at work in the “Church.”

    One of my primary reasons for this post is to say we must be careful when offering our critique lest we include those very local iterations of the “Church” and discount the embodying of the life of Jesus present in their service to the world and love for one another.

    The matter of sin offered me a way to illustrate how we are challenged by the use of the same word to mean two different things. Your observation that we want to look elsewhere to feel better about ourselves is spot on. This is often why we fail to experience transformation of character.

    your turn …

  3. says:

    semantics gets us everytime. I am known as the non-baptist baptist. I guess the interpretation is that my views are not normally associated with typical baptists. We work with alot of denominations here, and sometimes it feels that we play word games. For example visions verus images depending on the denomination at hand. Somehow we have to be taught how to see the Lord at work. No easy solution on getting us all on the same page.

  4. says:

    You bring up a good point. Our location tends to inform our perspective more than we like to acknowledge. I am reading a book titled, “What Do The Hear? by Mark Allan Powell. He documents how our location impacts the way we “hear” Scripture. I often wonder if we could see ourselves on the same page but at different places in what is written there on the page. Too often, on the same page means in complete agreement. I am fairly sure that is a pipe dream.

  5. says:

    I have been perplexed over the last few months by those who want to argue that there can be a community of believers without the development of an institution. Communities maintain themselves by institutionalizing at least some facets of their life together. The New Testament writings that tell us about ecclesial structures such as deacons and elders (I Timothy, for example) show us that even the earliest churches had to institutionalize (organize) at least a part of their communal life to sustain themselves. Don’t get me wrong, institutions can go way off base and get really messed up, but there is no “community” without some level of organization.

    Regarding sin: I am certain that the Biblical concept of sin is a much bigger concept that most Christians realize. Yesterday, I spent some time unpacking some verses in Romans 8. Paul writes in Romans 8.1-2 of the law of sin and death. When Paul refers to a law of sin and death, I think he is referring to an authority at work in the world that is doing all that it can to keep us from reaching our full creative potential through Jesus Christ. I am swayed by Erwin McManus’ assesrtion that the goal of sin is to destroy the creative will that becomes operative in our lives through the power of Jesus Christ.

    Just a few thoughts. Hope they made sense 🙂

  6. says:

    Thanks for stopping by. I am considering a move to WordPress and was surprised to find a comment here.

    I do think we may camp to long on the “institutional” aspects of the church as a whipping post. However, I would push back a bit and wonder just how much of the ecclesial development was organic and became codified and so we missed the need for something dynamic about leadership that plays into your comments about creativity. That is not to say there are no boundaries but rather than there are occasions where leadership grows from the needs of a given faith community rather than prescribed and packaged. Just some thoughts.

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