Jesus stayed

I was talking with Eric the other night and he mentioned the tendency to start a new church (of your own) when differences of belief or practice cause too much tension. This seems to be a poor response. For one thing, it sets you up for division again later (when someone in your new church disagrees strongly), and leads to the endless fracturing of denominations that we see in our country today.

But, more importantly, did Jesus do this?

I think it's surprising that Jesus stayed a practicing Jew and did not break away. Though he had extreme disagreements with the religious leaders and teachers of his time, he continued to worship and teach in the temple and synagogues. Though there was increasing tension, he did not leave. And he continued to present himself as the fulfillment of the Jewish law and hopes (not something new), as one sent to call back the chosen people of God.

So it seems to me that Jesus' followers should do likewise. Don't start new churches. At least not where there are plenty already. But go to the churches like Jesus went to the synagogues, calling back the people of God. Call them back by staying but living differently. I see this in Jesus' life, and in his teaching such as at the beginning of Matthew 23:

"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice."
The only way we can follow this teaching is by staying (and living differently). Of course we may be sent away like Jesus and his disciples sometimes were. But that shouldn't cause us to give up and invent a new denomination, one more detached group of people. We should wipe the dust from our feet and move on to the next church, where we will probably find some people we can recognize as brothers and sisters in Christ, and have the opportunity to call others back to faithfulness.

In this way I also see Jesus avoiding the institutionalization of his "Way." He didn't focus on forming organizations or codifying his teaching into a "mission statement" or institutional doctrines. Jesus simply lived the kingdom of God within the existing organizations of his time. He moved and worked freely in and through the existing social structures, without being limited or controlled by them and without having to control them himself. He neither needed institutional support, nor needed to support institutional weight.

I find this wonderful and powerful and hopeful.