The idea of institutional purity is noble in purpose but very faulty in delivery. The idea goes something like this:
“Since we are the only ones to really understand the true nature of God we must protect our ideas from getting polluted by the rest of the world and in particular other Christians who think differently but are wrong. In other words we must fight the barbarians at the gate to insure God’s truths are kept pure. “
The main fallacy of this idea is that we, and we alone, know the true nature of God! When we are convinced of that false assumption then we end up judging ourselves as somehow superior to all others who are seeking God. Isn’t judging others something the Bible has a lot to say about?
I want to bring up the quote I have recently used by Phillip Gulley on this topic:
Indeed, when Jesus did speak of institutional religion, he was often scathing, saying at one point that those who were religiously pure on the outside were inwardly deceitful and rapacious. This serves as a caution to those of us who’ve convinced ourselves that the goal of the church is institutional purity. To be a follower of Jesus is to choose, at every ethical crossroads, to serve people above structures.
Is the goal of the church institutional purity or is it to serve others as Christ served us and to point them to Him as our Lord and Savior. During the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity the Catholic church many times enforced the concept of institutional purity by torturing “heretics”. After the Reformation the Protestant churches have continued that practice although with less physical methods. Today many churches use this concept to purge themselves of people who might be asking the “wrong” questions or having the “wrong” ideas about God and the world. In one respect Christianity is like Democracy in that diversity is a good thing; it keeps us from getting lazy with our thoughts and actions. A lazy Christian is not a good thing.
The main reason there are 39,000 different denominations of Christianity is due to this concept that “I am the only one who has it right and I must preserve my institution against all those heretic who believe differently than me”. When you espouse this belief aren’t you really putting yourself on the same level at God? You are saying “I know God because I am most like him”. Isn’t this a very pompous thought?
I am enough of a realist to know that most religious institutions today are much too entrenched in their personal forms of institutional purity to change anything now. That saddens me greatly but I know short of direct intervention by God himself that will not likely change. I just wish that somehow God would give us the knowledge to know who he truly is. I know manyof you out there are saying he already has with the Bible. But in reality almost everyone cites their favorite Bible verses as the reason for their form of institutional purity. Someday I hope we Christians will quit judging each other and realize that no one has a lock on who God really is. To believe otherwise is pompous and arrogant at best and sinful, self-centered and evil at worst. Until God tells us very directly we must assume that none of us have it all totally right. Sometimes we Christians act like little children in the world’s school yard who never learned to play with others. I just wish God would smack us across our knuckles and tell us to get along with our playmates.