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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Institutionality and Convergence

“Convergence” is a term originally coined by John Stuart Mill to describe the process by which a public policy consensus is reached. The term has been reinvigorated by former World Net Daily columnist Vox Day, who uses it to describe what happens when institutions are infiltrated and coopted by people pursuing agendas foreign to their original purposes.

Of course, an institution may survive and even prosper for a period of time while pursuing multiple goals. But no man can serve two masters, and no institution can simultaneously make two non-complementary goals its holy grail. Thus an institution can be described as fully “converged” the moment its pursuit of its new mandate begins to make it ineffective at doing what it was originally created to do.

Prime modern examples of the downside of convergence are tech giant Mozilla, Marvel Comics, the NFL and ESPN. All have prioritized social justice virtue signaling over catering to their core demographics, and each has seen its market share shrivel because of it.

Losing My Religion

You will see my application immediately: religions can be converged as effectively as businesses.

In the time of Christ, Judaism ceased to be an unobstructed stream of truth the moment it became a commercial venture, and when Truth himself appeared on the scene, the religious authorities not only didn’t recognize him, they put him to death. Converged.

From 380 AD through the Middle Ages and on, the institutional church has effectively demonstrated that pursuing political power and disseminating truth are utterly incompatible. Converged.

Depending on where you live, pursuing a social justice mandate in your church may temporarily fill a few more seats. In more cases it drives people away. Either way, the measure of a local church is not numbers or community impact, but doing “the works you did at first”, faithfulness, holding fast to what we have, conquering, and having fellowship with the risen Christ. Any church that abandons these goals in a mistaken attempt to appease the world is converged.

The Best Defense

Jesus Christ built a wonderful safety measure against convergence into his Church. It’s called local autonomy.

From Satan’s perspective, huge numbers of autonomous local gatherings must be immensely frustrating to deal with. After all, you can’t converge what you can’t easily infiltrate. You can’t overwhelm your enemy when you must fight simultaneously on tens of thousands of fronts against a host of small groups, each of which is resisting you at a singular point of attack. You’ll break some, sure, maybe even spectacularly. But you’ll never get them all.

The first church council in Acts was also the last time ANY central earthly authority was legitimately consulted about what God’s churches should be doing. And notwithstanding the religious noises made in Rome down through the centuries, from God’s perspective there has been no institutional (human) leadership of his people since the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the death of the apostles. Instead, he does his work through his word and Spirit in individual hearts, and through the leadership of local congregations.

There are no human high priests, no bishops, no Sanhedrin, no popes, no synods, no councils and no denominational head offices in God’s plan for the church. It may be true in a spiritual sense that “like a mighty army moves the church of God”, but the Church’s real-world experience is much more like 4G warfare than battalions of soldiers marching in lockstep. Most of the time we move like a bunch of ragtag insurgents in the dark, not like a “mighty army”. We’re all over the planet, here, there and everywhere. Stomp out one little congregation and five more might well grow up in the same neighbourhood. That’s one reason the church has lasted two thousand years already and that’s one reason the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

To benefit from God’s design, any local church only has to appreciate that it owes its loyalty always and only to the Head of the Church rather than to any intermediate individual or body on earth.

Then the trick is to live that out.

Defiantly Decentralized

But God’s work has always been most effective when it was defiantly decentralized. When God wanted to announce his Messiah, he didn’t call up the Jewish religious authorities to get the job done. He sent his people generations of religious outsiders, prophet after prophet, culminating in a firebrand of a man preaching repentance out in the wilderness in a garment of camel’s hair. When Jesus wanted to take the gospel of the kingdom to Israel, he sent out a bunch of fishermen in pairs. The church in Jerusalem was the first church, and the biggest one we read about in the Bible. But the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the razing of the temple didn’t slow down the spread of the gospel one bit. If anything, it spread God’s word more effectively.

Contrast the wonderful resiliency of God’s plan with the vulnerabilities of the institutional model, in which putting pressure on the captain changes the whole course of the ship. If you want to converge Mozilla, just push out Brendan Eich. Bingo! Want to converge Fox News? The whispers of the Murdoch daughters-in-law seem to be doing the job nicely. Want to converge the U.S. government? Try asking Ivanka Trump to pitch another hissy fit. That might be enough to derail the “America First” philosophy her father campaigned on, and put the neocons back in the foreign policy driver’s seat once and for all.

Spiritual Empire-Building

Governments, businesses, Bible schools, seminaries, charitable organizations, clubs, denominations and parachurch ministries are a piece of cake to converge because the enemy always knows who to target. When we set up spiritual empires on earth, we are pinning a target on ourselves and asking Satan to take his best shot, whether through persecution or infiltration.

Imagine an organism in which every single cell had independent, perpetual, intelligent, renewable life. Not invincible, perhaps, but if you want to attack it, you could only do so at the cellular level. The God-designed vehicle for protecting and proclaiming eternal truth in the age of grace is not mammoth institutions, but individual local churches.

That’s a pretty great defensive strategy God has come up with. Too bad we’re so resistant to just going with it.

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