Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The bigger they are....

You know the rest: "...the harder they fall."
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, 
yeah he is big

That makes for a great "chin up little trooper" phrase for kids being picked on by larger kids but it misses another truth. The bigger they are the harder it can be to make them fall. Try making that guy to the left fall. At 6'9" and able to dead-lift around half a ton, I could probably make him fall if I snuck up on him with a baseball bat. Maybe not...

A lot of where my thinking has gone over the last few years, both theologically and politically, is a reaction to the "big" syndrome. In other words I find similar aspects to be repugnant about Big Government, Big Labor, Big Business and of course Big Religion. There are lots of subset like Big Ag, Big Military, Big Education, but those are the "Big Four" that dominate American culture.

The larger an organization becomes, the more concerned it seems to be with perpetuating itself regardless of the original motivation. Nothing is more critical to self-perpetuation than money. How that money is gathered is different, whether in union dues or confiscatory taxes or offering plates, but whatever the mechanic it is critical that an organization both retain current sources of income (taxpayers, church members, union members) and gather new members (by expanding collective bargaining, by attracting new members to your church by poaching from other churches, finding new ways to re-tax the same income over and over, etc.). Thus people become resources: potential union members, potential voters to advance a political cause, potential church members. Self-preservation is the big thing. Politicians do anything they can to stay in power and increase their influence by increasing the size of government, whether by new bureaucracies or a bigger military. It is not a coincidence that the nation that spends more than the rest of the world combined on the military has also been in conflict after conflict for the last century. Conflict creates uncertainty and uncertainty is easy to exploit in the form of a bigger military for the stated purpose of "security". Union bosses have every incentive to not only try to get as many people on the union rolls as they can but to also have threats to combat. Big Business employs untold lobbyists that use the power of contributions to get politicians to do  their bidding and in turn those politicians use their clout to extort from Big Business. Clergy are increasingly vocal and strident about the need for formal and exclusive religious relationships, writing books and blog posts seemingly on a weekly basis urging and not very subtly threatening Christians into "church membership". "Give to your local church first" is a common theme in sermons on giving because money given directly to the poor or to mission work doesn't help perpetuate the institution.

Even people who despise Big Government often have no problem at all with Big Religion, in fact many of the most vocal critics of Big Government (minus Big Military of course) are at the same time the most ardent supporters of Big Religion. This makes very little sense to me and I am not in that camp.

One of my biggest beefs with Big Religion is that it has taken on more and more of the defining characteristics of Big Government and Big Business and in doing so necessarily abandoned the radical, otherworldly nature that the church should exhibit. It is hard to be a pilgrim church of sojourners when we seem mostly concerned with our bank accounts and retaining our cherished secure place in the secular culture. When you enter many larger suburban churches full of pomp and pageantry it is hard to imagine the church of the first century or the Anabaptists of the 16th century or the modern church in hostile lands recognizing what is going on because what is going on is not church, it is marketing. Religious marketing certainly but marketing for sure, designed to keep people coming back and attract new people to be handed the plate.

Bigger is rarely better unless you are talking about offensive linemen, pick-up trucks or hamburgers. When applied to an organization, increased size increases the incentive to focus on self-perpetuation. Especially in America we need to be on alert for the calls to get bigger, whether we are talking about government or religion. A bigger church is not a healthier church or a more faithful church. We don't measure faithfulness and blessings by the balance in the church checking account. We desperately need to change our understanding of how the church should live and how the way we live serves as a witness to the people we are trying to reach, people often treated as outsiders or worse as enemies. Jesus Christ will ensure the perpetuation of His church, His succession plan is flawless. We need to worry less about keeping the church doors open and the lights on and more about the field that is white and ready to harvest.


Aussie John said...


Words which need a wider audience.

The "self perpetuation syndrome" is one of the main causes of the religious club mentality, which,the bigger it gets, becomes more entrenched,more important,and harder to maintain.

Neil Braithwaite said...

You may find my post interesting - it addresses most of what you speak of in this post. "Church" Wars: The Consequence of Being Out of God's Will"