I have a friend who recently said to me, “I don’t understand why it’s so hard for Christians to understand that the religious system (a la, ‘the institutional church’) is not the same thing as the church of the living God. I want to create a bumper sticker that says, “It’s the system, Stupid.”
My friend makes a fair point.
There is a huge difference between the church (ekklesia) and the institutional religious system. There’s a huge difference between the clergy system and the people who populate it. There’s a huge difference between the denominational system and God’s people who identify themselves by a denominational label.
Jesus Christ did not die for a religious system. He died for the church.
The church is God-created. The system is man-made.
The church is a living entity. The system is a mechanism.
When the Lord said, “I will build my church,” He wasn’t talking about a denominational system. Nor was He speaking of a religious service that people sit back and observe on Sunday mornings. He was speaking of His own Body, which includes you and me.
The word “church” has been so abused, misused, and distorted that countless believers can’t seem to distinguish between the Christian religion, the clergy system, the denominational system, the religious system AND the ekklesia of God.
To their minds, it’s all the same thing.
Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away I used to be a high school teacher. Interestingly, we teachers would often criticize the educational system. Granted, we were part of that system, but that system wasn’t us nor did it represent us.
The system was one thing, the teachers were another. We were all caught up in a particular system, a particular way of doing things. A form, a structure, a patterned activity. It was something larger than ourselves, and it could run independent and apart from us as individual teachers. (That’s what systems do.) It just needed a few warm bodies to keep it moving. While we were a part of the system, we were separate from it.
When Jesus Christ came on the scene, He had major issues with the religious system of Judaism. And He challenged that system. But He loved the people in the system. And He saw them, not the system, as His Bride (see John 3).
It’s the same way with the church. Challenging — and even critiquing — the religious system is a completely different thing than criticizing the church of the living God. In fact, historically, those who challenged the religious system were those who dearly loved the church, and that love was the provocation behind their critiques.
So in the words of my friend, “It’s the system, Stupid.”
If someone makes a bumper sticker with that logo, be sure to send me a copy. While I probably won’t paste it on my car, I’ll be sure to place it on the wall of my study.