Q: Many Christians look at the state of the church and say it’s dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith.
“What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naiive criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it.
Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.
So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.
In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregation–what it is. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn’t idealize? There’s no idealization of the church in the Bible–none. We’ve got two thousand years of history now. Why are we so dumb?” ((Eugene Peterson, “Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons” Christianity Today, March 2005))