One thing I noticed about a few of my Churches was that their bulletins were virtually identical – same items, same order. Sure, names, faces, hymn numbers, and sermon topic were different – but they always did things in the same order. I never understood why the sermon always came after the music – I would have thought that lots of music would have been a good way to end a service and a sermon would have been easier first thing when people were still mostly awake.
Eventually, I learned that even though these churches were in entirely different states, they belonged to the same denomination and in that denominations, things are just done a certain way. Every year, representatives of the various churches all meet together, talk about various issues, make decisions, and when the return home they carry them out. Everybody is on the same page.
In speaking of pages, you can always look-up their particular beliefs from their statement – the Baptist Faith and Message. It will tell you what they (and you) believe and why they (and you) believe it to be true. They oftentimes get together to discuss what’s in it, what language is used, how to interpret it, and how to apply it in the government of church affairs.
This is an institutional – or organized church. They have it all figured out as to how we worship, why we worship, and who we worship. What ways we worship are appropriate and what interpretations and teachings are contrary to already established ideas and beliefs. Institutional churches can boast of almost universal agreement – and where there is disagreement, there is likely a prodcedure to either reducate a mistaken believer or to formally send them packing. (In fact, this might be more common than you think, given our tendency to sue people, places, and organizations – even churches are hiring legal aid in crafting agreements ahead of time to protect themselves. It would be wise if church members had considered taking the same precautions.)
Perhaps that’s why the institutional church is losing people. They feel less like the sort of church that Acts describes and more like a person who has no choice but to exist in the system. They’re less like the church they’re supposed to be and more like something else – something else where the form of worship is more important than the function of praising God, where the outward appearance is everything and the inward nature doesn’t matter, where the letter of the law is carried out and the spirit is ignored, where law andregulations are highlighted and grace is denied, where human concepts are given priority over Biblical teachings – all according to what the leaders pick and choose. They do all of this for Jesus – but they forget to follow Him. They have a form of Christianity and deny it’s very substance – the essence of Jesus’ teachings. The ones about following Him – not following the church as it follows him. The ones about laying down power – not servant leadership that is anything but. The ones about not neglecting the spirit of the law – which they do when they deny justice and cover-up abuse. That kind of church isn’t the kind of church that acts as if Jesus is in charge.