"none of us are the parents"

After some conversations with friends and lots of thought and prayer, I decided to write a letter to the other folks in the church here. When Heather and I became official members back in March I had hesitations, but decided I was satisfied with the membership commitments. I still am, mostly. But the one about church decision-making has caused problems for me since then, bringing back all my objections to institutional membership. Finally I've decided I have to ask to be let off that one (though I should say that I don't think decision-making is worse here than in other churches; it's probably better).

My biggest disappointment is that I may have overlooked this before because church membership seemed necessary for us to be able to do the retreat work here. I might have overlooked the problem because I didn't want to see it, or was afraid of the consequences.

Here's the letter I think I'll give to people today or tomorrow:

“Truly, I say to you,
whoever does not receive
the kingdom of God like a child
shall not enter it.” (Lk 18.17)

I want to apologize for the complete discouragement I expressed at the recent church meeting. That was not helpful to anyone. Since then I've had some time to think and pray about it, and I want to try to explain what's behind my strong feelings, and make a request.

For a number of years I've been troubled by how churches appear to operate so much like other human organizations, when the church, the body of Christ, is supposed to be so unique. Jesus seemed to offer so much to his followers when he gave the Holy Spirit. He promised we could always be connected to him like branches to the vine, and that he would unite us all as one and guide us all by the one Spirit. This seems very different from any human organization, since it offers what no amount of human effort or ingenuity could ever produce.

In my experience, churches seem most like other human organizations when they are gathered for church councils or members meetings. This is when I have seen most clearly the dependence on authority structures and the struggles to influence and make use of the power of the group. (Decision-making by vote is perhaps the clearest exercise of this power.) Fears of group power often appear then also. And these times of group decision-making seem to be when the temptation is greatest to follow and trust the will of the people, rather than the will of God.

When Jesus invited us into the kingdom of God, I believe he was offering us an experience of common life incredibly better than any human organization can accomplish. God himself would be our father and master, leading us not by any hierarchy but directly, through his Spirit within each of us, and not by group pressure but by our free acceptance of the Spirit's prompting. We could be parts of Jesus' own body, with him as head. This means we could experience a unity beyond our ability to achieve, and a power working through us much greater than “the power of the people,” the power of our organized groups. I believe this also means that we are not responsible to manage this common life that Jesus offered. We do not set the policy for this group or determine its membership or make the decisions that guide its course. We are not in charge of it. The weight of oversight and decision-making does not rest on us. In this family of God none of us are the parents, we are all the children. All that is asked of us is to obey our Father, trust in his care and oversight, and enjoy the miraculous common life that he gives us as a gift.

This is what I see in Jesus' description of the kingdom of God, and what I see him asking of us. So it seems to me that what we generally call church decision-making is not something that Jesus requires of his followers, not a necessary part of being a Christian or loving one another. I believe we can experience true unity and accomplish the work of God together without authority structures and “the power of the people,” and without all the temptations that come with that power.

I don't expect that everyone here will agree with all of this. But I do wish to change my own behavior based on these beliefs, so I am asking to be excused from the church membership commitment regarding church decision-making. I'm sorry for making that commitment without fully understanding what it entails. I think we could offer a better witness and discover a fuller experience of the kingdom of God without it.

If anyone has questions or objections, I am open to discussion. I imagine some people may think this affects my membership status in the church here. I don't think so; I still feel one with you all and plan to continue working together as the body of Christ in this place. But I understand the concerns some may have and I will accept your decision on this matter.