Only hope for institutional Christianity lies in truth


Jesus once said: “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble… it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

To be a representative of institutional Christianity after last week is to feel the weight of that millstone.

Nothing has brought the pain of the victims of child abuse, the distress of church members, and the anger of the community into focus quite as much as the conviction of Cardinal Pell on child abuse charges.

With so much hurt and loss of trust, I’ve been asking myself: does institutional Christianity have future?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Christianity itself has a future, because true Christianity is not its institutions. The true church is not composed of bishops and hierarchies and committees. Jesus Christ did not set up a church in that sense.

In fact, Jesus saved his strongest words for those who were obsessed with the trappings of religious power and who exploited the vulnerable in them.

Religious hypocrites will find no solace in the pages of the Bible. Hell is made for such.

But the true church is the organic, local community gathered around Jesus and trying to live out of his mercy. It’s composed of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. It might meet in a cathedral and belong to a denomination. It also might meet in a living room and belong to no denomination at all.

Institutional Christianity – the “organised” part of “organised religion” – will only survive if it realises that it isn’t in itself the true church but the servant of the true church. It doesn’t exist for its own sake but for the sake of the local community of faith, and through that, for the nation.

In our history it has done much good, but it needs to rediscover its call to service.

Ironically, the way for institutionalised Christianity to find again its mission to serve is for it to become in some ways more institutional, and not less. Continue reading

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