January 13, 2010

Organic Church = Full of Crap

The work God needs to do within a local body of believers will always be messy, but Institutional Christendom keeps peons & yokels from participating precisely because they make messes. The shift is: who says messes are bad? Antiseptic works well for hospitals and elementary schools, but not in gardens or forests. After all, crap makes good fertilizer, and God is a gardener.

This week, the so-called "organic church" movement was just called out to deal with it's own inevitable mortality. Mark Galli wants the radicals to come home and help keep the institution fertile. Neil Cole hopes that when we die out we'll leave an example for others. I say, let's do better than that. Let's embrace the importance of death, in the cycle of life. I say, let's figure out how to deliberately compost ourselves.

The challenge, you see, is sustainability. Human systems last a long time mainly by suppressing the human element that challenges established traditions, but that same human element also provides authenticity and vitality. Thus, the best way to survive for a long time is to be nearly dead. Nature, naturally, sustains itself quite differently.

Most trees in winter appear to be dead, but their vibrancy is merely dormant. Attack birds that carve holes into evergreens also protect them from damaging insects. There are caves in the amazon so deep, the primary foodsource for their subterranean organisms is guano. A more familiar example, but never less shocking, is to remember all grains of wheat must die, or else remain alone.

Dear saints, our Lord is both Life and Resurrection. At his eternal throne, there is no death. Here and now, at his footstool, we daily die. Observing that contrast, it seems that choosing institutional christendom may be a matter of confusing two realms. We are not called to make Earth more like Heaven. We are called to bear Heaven within earthen vessels. Crappy, messy, natural, organic, problematic - and yet increasingly holy - vessels.

Update: I just saw Frank Viola responded today also, to Galli & Cole. IMHO, It's some of Frank's best writing. All three posts are at Christianity Today.


Adam Moore said...

I posted this elsewhere but will add it here as well. I wish we could be in the same room to talk about all of this together (You, Neil, Mike, etc).

Peace to you Bill.

Bill Heroman said...

That sounds great to me, Adam.

Time & space can be such a drag.

Chris Jefferies said...

Hi Bill, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts here, thanks for expressing them. See also my post on the same topic. The original article by Mark Galli seems to have stirred up a good discussion.

Bill Heroman said...

You're welcome, Chris, and thanks for the link. I had seen your post and enjoyed it earlier today.

Definitely stirring up some worthwhile discussion.

Anonymous said...

Too much crap can kill a garden. Perhaps there is a difference between the crap that God provides and the crap we bring upon ourselves.

That would be like 'fleshly' man trying to be like God (i.e; dumping more crap according to our own will...).

Wow. I've never used the word "crap" so much in such a short period of time.

Considering the context, I suppose that it's "holy crap", and therefore "o.k.".

Bill Heroman said...

too much crap might also kill this poor metaphor, Johnny


Anonymous said...

Good point. Sorry.

All better!


Brian said...

Hi Bill,

While I can understand and appreciate The Organic Church phenomenon (to follow Viola), if I was paying attention when reading Howard Snyder's Community of the King, I learned everything gets institutionalized at some point, it is somewhat an inevitability. Soon as you start a certain way of doing things, soon as you organize something, institutionalization begins to take shape. Oops, now what will we do?

So my guess is there will be folks leaving even organic churches because they will feel even that is too institutionalized. But here is the thing, institutionalization doesn't have to be all bad - its main strength is that it can provide structure and support to more organic forms of organization.

We Pentecostals have the same issues, it is often felt that the institution quelches the prophetic voice of the church - yet we have to recognize that without some organization, some degree of institutionalization we wouldn't be as effective in seeing God move.

My suggestion to those advocates of organic church would be with Galli - go back to church. When you get there, begin live in a way that will help promote more organic expressions of Christian community and allow institution to help give shape to and support that.

Bill Heroman said...

I really wanted to interact with your post on Snyder recently, Brian, but I didn't have it in me that week. Check my search box for Howard Snyder if you want to see my opinion on his opinion of Viola's Pagan Christianity.

To your points: I'll eschew the "I" word for a moment and suggest there does need to be balance between organization and spontaneity. We can't plan to do nothing, or avoid all habit & strucutre; but we also need to give God all the elbow room He might require.

My thought keeps developing on the "I" word, and I think arguments like Howard's are generalizations. For one thing, there's a big difference between instituting a program for six weeks and establishing one liturgy for life.

If there are degrees of "I", then Howard's argument isn't nuanced enough. Unsurprisingly, the nuance I'm aiming at is time-related. I suspect the expected duration with which each generation saddles their own newly formed institutions is a key part of the problem.

We're all trying to build the Taj Majal. I think we ought to build sand castles.

We're all in awe of Solomon's Temple. I have reason to think God prefers living in Tents.

A. Amos Love said...


Think i'll borrow this one.

"We're all trying to build the Taj Majal.
I think we ought to build sand castles."


And when the wind blows where it wills,
the sand dries out and goes some where else.

Just like all those, "Born of the Spirit."

John 3:8.

Church planting? Hmmm?

Don't believe we are to be "Planted"
But "Mobile." Led by the Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog site!
I think you might like mine too.
Been relational housechurching and planting for 30 years now.
My blog is about Jesus, church and life in general.

Christopher "Captain" Kirk

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