The Inevitable End of Religious Systems

It's an amazing statement, and all the more when it was written by one of Christianity Today's own writers. "So we have a system in which pride and hypocrisy are inevitable," writes Mark Galli in an article titled, "The Most Risky Profession." And there's more all the way from ambitious churches lusting for size and that we have shaped the American pastorate so that the sin of arrogance is "impossible to escape". While Wayne and Brad are in sync with his observations, they can't help but wonder why his advice falls so far short of actually resolving the problem. It's a "red pill" moment as this article offers us the choice to see things as they really are or to drift back into the illusion that we can just make the best of a bad system. The early moments of this podcast also contain a brief discussion about God's sovereignty in answer to an email they received.

Podcast Links:
Mark Galli's The Most Risky Profession
The Ongoing Challenges in Kenya


  1. Regarding the bloggers comments, I hear an honest concern beneath the assertions about God’s sovereignty. Something along the lines of “I know the bible says God loves me but if it’s true I really don’t know what to do with the pain”

    My contribution for what it’s worth regarding God’s sovereignty is that it is like an author of a fiction book. He generally knows the plot ahead of time, he knows the general outcome and the overall theme and message of the book. The character development however is something that the author works out as he writes the pages. One character is designed for one purpose, one for another. The author “gets into the head” of each character as he writes their words and decisions and to a degree, to the limits of the purpose of his character, allows the character to write much of his own part. The author does limit the character’s expressions to the limits of the character’s purpose as well as the overall outcome of the story. God may be doing just that with us. We get to write some of our own choices.

  2. The Christianity Today article is just so stunning in how it exposes how deep the hole is that people find themselves in and how it keeps them from ever coming near the freedom that is ours to live in and enjoy on an individual level and together with others. It might just expose one of the deepest traps humans can ever find themselves caught in.

  3. I don’t think it’s the inevitable conclusion because of a “system” or organization, per se. It may appear more pervasive in churchianity, but it thrives just as well outside of it. It’s not so much the system, but people. One can be outside of the system and still say, “I follow Paul, I follow Apollos.” “I follow the God Journey. I follow Free Believers.” Oh, it may not be stated so clearly, but people put other people in place of Jesus and the Holy Spirit all the time.

    In my opinion, it’s not much different for “professional clergy” of churches than it is for Wayne and Brad, or anyone else who pastors.

    Are we going to walk alongside someone with Jesus or are we going to fill the role that only he was meant to have. People will try and place us in that role. Are we going to take it and put the crown on our head or are we going to lay it down at Jesus feet.

    It may be a little easier to “lay it down” when we’re not in the system and we’re not paid to do it. But I think the draw of wearing the crown is more subtle outside of the system. The red pill / blue pill isn’t solely about the system. Am I drawing “life” from who I am and what I do? Or am I drawing life from the one who IS life indeed?

  4. Kevin, people always get the short end of the stick when up against systems. Humans always take the blame because they are the ones operating them. Humans have placed themselves in a paradigm they were never created for. Thinking the systems would serve them in living humans began building the machine, but in actuality, humans are the ones stuck laboring in the service of systems not able to imagine life without them.

    It seems to me, when it comes to systems and people, it is systems that are pre rigged with an unchangeable survival mechanism and need to be served. For the survival of the system humans must always remain expendable. And if you no longer serve the system or are too much of a drag on it…you must go. Systems are what they are.

    But when it comes to humans, we are very different creatures simply because we have a heart, a soul, a spirit, and a mind which gives us a unique capacity. The ability to change. But people often don’t ever even get around to the changes they are in need of. They instead spend their lives so distracted trying to improve the systems or at least survive their brutal beast like nature and all along strangely praise them as if they they have some sacred status.

  5. I did find some statements in the second to last paragraph of Mark Galli article that I felt are pointing in a healthy direction:

    “perhaps the church should not be about growth and efficiency, but care and concern, not so much an organization but a community, not something that mimics our high-tech culture but something that incarnates a high-touch fellowship. By God’s grace, there is a remnant of such churches alive and well today, with leaders who really are pastors.”

    This is very different from the mega church model – and a very real critique of it.
    It is healthier than just “Pray for [your pastor]” that he ends on – but needs to go much further!

  6. Read the article…why do they always say that the church ‘demands’ that leaders be this way! I remember sitting in a meeting for the reformation of a denomination sixteen years ago. The top guy was talking about changing the name and some of the articles that were included in the tennents of the international organisation in order to incorporate the life giving elements that had got the movement out of hole. Those who carried credentials immediately went into spasm, writhing and hissing about the ‘dilution’ of their credentials and the foolishness of compromise. Natually the leader ran for cover, reinstated all the articles. The old offering was launched as the ‘new’ thing and Ireland got itself another brand X denomination.

  7. You want to hope that such thinking/perspective would become the reality. But when systems are of things of this earth, they at their core are all about efficiency and respectability and comparison. And those things seem to always distort the things Mark is hoping for. The actions of self giving, of love, of sacrifice, of dying are actually ‘violations’ of this world’s system. They just don’t mix and system can’t survive such actions.

  8. Kent, do you see systems as entities in their own right, i.e. they would exist without people and coax people to be part of them?

    I suppose that is true when we look at it from a spiritual warfare perspective and think about the powers and principalities in the spiritual realm.

    “The actions of self giving, of love, of sacrifice, of dying are actually ‘violations’ of this world’s system.”

    They are violations of our old manner of living also. “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” So if the systems exist and are generally filled with people, what does that broadly say about the general condition of people who make up the systems? That’s a scary thought. When the blind lead the blind…

    Obviously I used a very broad brush there and it doesn’t apply everywhere, nevertheless I cry for mercy when I think it’s that bad. It reminds me of what we spoke about one time when you were lamenting the dangers of fundamentalism. It’s worse than being a complete Pagan, if my recollection of our conversation is correct.

  9. You remember that observation I made correctly.

    Kevin, what it seems is that systems are of human creation and are a substitute for relationship and loving collaboration (loving neighbor as self) …whether that be belief systems (fundamentalism etc etc etc) or the power structure/organizational systems (religious, economic, governmental etc etc etc). They are products formed out of an attempt to control life under the guise of “to improve life”. Sometimes it’s with good intentions and sometimes it’s with sinister intentions.

    And I think your observation about the general condition of people is a pretty accurate one also. But for me anymore, that’s not scary, it’s just sad when observed in the light of the bountiful feast that is laid out before each and every one of us. And to borrow a line from The Matrix….we all live blinded to that reality until we awaken to the world that has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from that truth. Systems…or correcting the systems…or building better systems is not what we need. What is needed for each individual is to awaken.

  10. Kevin, I think this is a pretty sound honest observation full of rich imagery that paints the sad reality of it all.

    Speaking of the hierarchies of modern times

    “We refuse to notice the paw marks of its ravages and the unglamorous remains of its prey. All these factors contribute to the dissolution of real presence.”

  11. If you notice, Jesus did not let the systems of this world affect him….he lived beyond them, outside the box…on his Father’s terms…and with the exception of the Jewish hierachy, he didn’t expend much time or energy on them. Once a person does awaken to this, your perspective on everything changes and so does the criteria for the choices you make, plus you realize you don’t have much company. I think that as children born wanting relationship we have a very strong experience of the Spirit from which the ways of the world wean us away. We are taught to behave, conform and perform rather than how to love and relate. We are taught to function and succeed within the systems, and those who cannot, become the poor who are always with us…and we apply systems to them as well. So when the Spirit within us can pull us back out of the pattern of this world (ioften thru heartbreak, tragedy, failure, etc.) and renew us into relationship, then we come full circle and experience that re-awakening….to me, the real meaning of being born again.

  12. If you notice, Jesus did not let the systems of this world affect him….he lived beyond them, outside the box…on his Father’s terms…and with the exception of the Jewish hierachy, he didn’t expend much time or energy on them. Once a person does awaken to this, your perspective on everything changes and so does the criteria for the choices you make, plus you realize you don’t have much company. I think that as children born wanting relationship we have a very strong experience of the Spirit from which the ways of the world wean us away. We are taught to behave, conform and perform rather than how to love and relate. We are taught to function and succeed within the systems, and those who cannot, become the poor who are always with us…and we apply systems to them as well. So when the Spirit within us can pull us back out of the pattern of this world (ioften thru heartbreak, tragedy, failure, etc.) and renew us into relationship, then we come full circle and experience that re-awakening….to me, the real meaning of being born again.

  13. The article has the same old solutions:

    (1) There’s no such thing a perfect church, so
    (2) Sit quietly in your pew, and
    (3) Do nothing, except
    (4) Pray for your pastor as you send him crashing over Niagara falls in a barrel…

  14. Hi guys I am glad u guys took the time to read my mail, however i am quite disappointed that you guys misconstrued the purpose of my mail. I am not insinuating that humans don’t have responsibilities regarding the choices they make, I am saying that in the light of God’s sovereignty he works it out to fit into his ultimate purpose. we could go on and on to try and explain the fore knowledge of God viz a viz human choices, but it would be futile because we are limited with all our understanding and knowledge the apostle Paul says “we know in part”.
    It is true that the church system of our day is dogged by many problems hinged on the frailty of the human will, however, I am confident that nothing takes God by surprise and that he is able to work this out for the good pleasure of His will. Just like pontius pilate and the people that called for Jesus’ execution and the roman soldiers made choices to crucify the Lord of glory God worked it out for the salvation of the human race, and Jesus actually said that no one takes his life away from him but that he laid it down. God does work all things according to the counsel of his will and by the way guys try and correct in love and not ridicule people. Peace!

  15. The Henri Nouwen Society sends out a daily post with a small segment from Henri’s writings. This post was for Sunday August 14, and relates to the issue being discussed by Brad and Wayne:

    Hiddenness, a Place of Purification

    One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness we do not receive human acclamation, admiration, support, or encouragement. In hiddenness we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that God will give us what we most need.

    In our society we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be seen and acknowledged. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we quickly grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being. Hiddenness is the place of purification. In hiddenness we find our true selves.

    I think this speaks to the issue of leaders becoming dependent upon people!

  16. Systems exist because people want to pass the buck. Let someone else cover the bases, tell what those bases are, then I can live my life as I please. Systems are not the problem, for God has given us the freedom to organize, or not organize, as we choose. As Brad pointed out, when he left the pastoral office, someone else stepped in to take his place. No one would step in if there were none to follow. But followers of men want to be followers of men because it is easier for them.

    I personally believe that there will be no government system of any kind in the everlasting kingdom. Instead everyone who is there will follow King Jesus individually. If King Jesus organizes and groups people together (parables indicate faithful given cities, for example), all will know for themselves what Jesus wants and will follow those “leaders” freely since their first point of instruction comes from Jesus Himself.

    This kingdom already exists for those who want to follow King Jesus now. That doesn’t mean they are separate, it means they are where Jesus wants them, whether that be in friendship circles, house fellowships or church business groups.

    The point of the broadcast and CT article is that the tendency for pride is increased in the mega-church format, but I see that tendency to in man first which is just as easily enhanced in a small group setting as well.

  17. Perhaps part of the problem is that we demand leaders and shepherds, rather than looking to the Good Shepherd; so we have instituted the role of the spiritual/church leader, drawing almost totally on our inferences from Heb 13:7,17.

    Yet, does what we have really sound like what the author of Hebrews had in mind, let alone look like what Jesus lived out?

    In my experience, “spiritual leaders” believe that their spiritual journey is superior (or even the only “true” way), and try to get (or even coerce) others to join them on the same path.

    Jesus’ way was that of a spiritual servant. Spiritual servants recognize that God leads each person along a unique path (albeit with a common beginning and destination), and seek to encourage and equip all persons for their God-led journey. Theirs is a coming alongside as a fellow-traveler, not a standing out front, leading the charge.

  18. In response to the first part of this podcast. I don’t thing we can say that God does not allow horrible things, because they happen. But the difference is he did not author the tragic event as it happened. He allowed hitler, but I can not believe in any way that was his desire or plan. If it were, then he might be difficult to trust or be get anywhere close too. If anyone is interested, Greg boyd gives a detailed discussion on “the problem with evil” , just google the video for it.

  19. Really valued your first post, Kevin. Reminded me of the saying “we build our buildings, then our buildings build us… for good or bad.” I recognised how easy it could be for me to become judgmental of those caught up in the “system” and set about to “change” their way of thinking. Thanks for the question “Am I drawing “life” from who I am and what I do? Or am I drawing life from the one who IS life indeed?” Truth be told we all are guilty of drawing “life” from others, its part of our sinful brokenness, however like Alex wrote above, “this kingdom already exists for those who want to follow King Jesus now” – the beauty of the cross and each moment to start afresh.
    Regardless of system, whether its organised or un-organised, I like how God still meets us where we are at. In “Jesus Lens 18” Wayne chats about the Israelites wanting a king and God gave them one. It kind of seemed like a similar conversation – many Christians today want a “leader” and God gives them one. His way is love and his truth brings life. He’s not limited to our wisdom. He just loves… simply.
    Guess the other scary thought is… aren’t we all called to priesthood? Are we all destined to wallow in pride or arrogance or anything else. Eeek! Glad its not me saving myself! God is good, hey!

  20. I know you seem to be fed up of the subject Wayne, but … regarding the question about God being in control or not, I really think it’s one worth discussing. Not to try and convince people they have to join the sovereignty or free will camp, but it does seem to be a stumbling block for many and a common reason for people falling out with God. If we really believe that God is in control of everything it paints a cruel and heartless picture of God when we see or even experience the injustices of life that we just can’t comprehend or explain away. Rape, murder, cancer, starving kids, human trafficking, genocide … the list is endless.
    I know I already posted some words from Tony Campolo’s book ‘Speking my mind’ on the subject which I found very helpful and may help prevent someone else from being offended by God so I will repost them here:

    ‘I find it a welcome relief to believe in an Almighty God who is doing all He can to recover the lost creation and make it into a realm in which His loving kindness will be evident everywhere and in everything. God says, “I assure you that one day, My love and justice will triumph, and I will reign throughout the universe. Until then, I invite you to join Me in the struggle against the powers of evil and darkness. Go and tell people about my son and His salvation. Join with those who fight in My cause against the injustices that harm the poor and the oppressed. Participate with Me in My struggle to change the world that is, into the world that ought to be.”
    Such a God is the God that I find in the Bible, and who has been revealed in Jesus Christ. Such a God is a loving God, and we cannot blame Him for evil. I found it easy to fall in love with this God – and I did. His name is Jesus.’

  21. Great point you raise Patrick. This subject is very complex because God’s thoughts are so different than ours. For example, in human terms if you saw something evil happening (i.e. murder, rape etc.) and did nothing about it – wouldn’t you be almost as guilty as the person committing the crime? How the blend of free will and sovereignty works in this life, God only knows.

    Probably a true Trinitarian-type relationship with God only works if there is free will in the mix, which for a created being also means the availability of options like evil. God is sovereign in that He can stop it anytime He wants, and one day will. The only option is the rescue mission accomplished by Jesus and the subsequent work of the Holy Spirit in leading us out of the “pile of our human sh!t” that choosing evil has caused. But how this all works together – how the gehenna do I know? Yet as you mention, it is a stumbling block for many and a common reason for people falling out with God (i.e. new atheists etc).

  22. I love the discussion about the issue of pride among leaders. I always go back to when God warned the Israelites about desiring a King. Really good truth there that I feel applys now to us. I’ve been a women’s leader and lay leader in our church for a number of years. I can honestly tell you I’ve felt the temptation to give in to pride and to think I’m something I’m not. So I wonder how these “celeberty” preachers do it?
    In a way, people place them on pedistals and worship them. They rely on them to spoon feed them when they should be seeking God on their own, feeding themselves of the Word. It goes both ways doesn’t it? I don’t know what the answer is, but people do need to wake up. It can lead to disillusionment and pride on both sides.

  23. While with a client yesterday whose husband is presently in seminary and occasionally conducting services she told me of the internal conflict she is having and how it is now creating external conflict between her and her husband. She says she is so troubled by the way he changes when he puts the rob on and sits in that big chair on stage…arrogance and hypocrisy. She also said that he is now beginning to struggle with what it is doing to him. I told her she might want to go to CT website and read the article.

  24. Typo*****Puts the ROBE on*****

    Which I guess you could make the argument that (puts the rob on) applies also

  25. Wow, I found this podcast very difficult to listen to. While I typically enjoy others having a good laugh and laughing with them, I couldn’t help but struggle over the ongoing almost mockery of pastors in the “system” – I hear the article you reference as a confession of pastors as in “here is what we struggle with please pray for us”, and you respond by “get out of the system.” It feels in some ways like a parent who confesses their struggle of parenting and you say well you shouldn’t have been a parent in the first place, just get rid of your kids. Just because there is struggle in a system doesn’t not explicitly mean the system is damned, nor because it pushes out ugly stuff within us is it damned, it may simply mean there is tremendous struggle and temptations that come with it (and also opportunity to learn to walk more humbly and honestly in the world). Or we can just avoid the struggle and burry our junk deeper masked in another “system” of sorts. Another image that comes to mind is like a farmer working hard in fields; there will be beautiful harvests that mysteriously come forth. Sure one could say to the farmer “that work is just too difficult, get out of the system,” but sometimes a farmer has a bigger view of things. To hear you laugh and carry on against pastors slamming them for struggling with pride and lack of humility felt terribly disingenuous. I believe you have many good challenges for the “system” of church as we’ve known it, for which I’ve been thankful. And while I love the words of Jesus being the shepherd, I also hear the words of us being called to be shepherds over God’s flock – its not our flock, but there is still a call that is real for many.

    To struggle in a system again doesn’t mean “bad & stay out of it” it may simply be living an authentic life of integrity in it. I believe there are many pastors that dream, hope, and pour themselves out… but in the end its God’s flock, and they are there just doing their part.

    It seems just a little to easy to be like astronomers sitting at an observatory on the top of a mountain talking about the clean air they breathe and laughing at the stupid farmers working down in the in the dirty fields breathing the dusty air. Then they pull out their lunch boxes of fresh produce and continue talking about how awesome astronomers are… never humble enough to see how silly they are themselves.

    Perhaps both locations are entirely laughable at how seriously we take ourselves at times, and amazingly profound at how important both are for revealing God’s Love and abundance.

  26. First time I’ve listened to one of the The God Journey podcasts. I have to admit to being completely taken aback, if not outright shocked, at the degree to which Wayne and Brad mock and ridicule the unfortunate multitudes for their mistaken beliefs. In my book, such conduct belies what the principals claim to stand for. How Christ like is that?

    The more substantive, logical content is a lot more beneficial, but taken altogether, is all that really intended to encourage repentance and getting aligned with God in His creation? Comes across to me a lot more like patting ourselves on the back for ‘figuring it out’ and ‘making it’ and shouting ‘LOOSERS!’ to the rest of the poor ignorant misguided slobs who are still wandering helplessly and blindly around in the desert. Give it a listen and ask yourself if that’s really how we want to come across to the people we supposedly want to be helping.

    I wish I hadn’t heard it.

  27. I guess it’s all in one’s perspective. At your suggestion, I went back and listened to it again. I hear a care and concern for those who find themselves in such positions who face the realities of what Mark’s article is getting at and yet a bit let down in light of the conclusion Mark and many others come to and their suggestions as to what should be done about it.

    Maybe it’s that we all see and hear what we want to see and hear?

  28. I’ve listened to the podcast a little late (maybe a week or so late) and have also enjoyed reading the feedback and “conversation” going back and forth in response. It seems to me that people who are struggling with some of these issues and are finding it “new” would be taken aback at Wayne’s and Brad’s lightheartedness at some of the content of the article. My perspective in my listening is that without being able to talk face to face there’s more risk of misunderstanding. I heard (like Kent) the care and concern mingled with the laughter for people who are working through these stresses. I also heard it stated (maybe two times) how they applauded the author for being open enough to come forward with these thoughts. To me it was less mockery and more “these are our thoughts”. I also wonder if b/c Wayne and Brad have processed this over a period of time..they’re in a different location on their journey…not necessarily a better location…just different. Therefore the response to the article is different than what others might respond with.

  29. A wonderful podcast!!! I know that Piper was famous for making the “Farewell Rob Bell” Tweet before he ever even read the book that Bell wrote… (which btw, in my opinion was a VERY similar message to He Loves Me)…but it seems like he did that AFTER his little “pride sabbatical” So, maybe they don’t work too well???

  30. Yes, Galli’s article is quite telling. Odd that Galli doesn’t make a more strident case against the root problem–structural and organizational based on faulty understanding of “ministry”.


  31. It’s funny that you mentioned The Matrix. I’ve been going through “transition” for a few months now and I recently watched The Matrix series for the first time. The Holy Spirit was so faithful in showing me institutional church as a system of smoke of mirrors. I shared that with a friend, she agreed. My favorite line in The Matrix Reloaded is Morpheus saying”… many minds have been set free.” That’s what I want for myself and my friends. Thanks for sharing. YOU ROCK!

  32. Wow, what a phenomenal podcast and ensuing discussion. As a former pro-churchman I can affirm that the majority of what is going on is smoke-and-mirrors and VERY similar to “The Matrix”. It should cause us concern when the people who defend an institution are the ones who gain something from it- be it money or validation. No one has to defend the Red Cross or The Wounded Warrior Project because the value they bring is intrinsic and everyone- even those who have not experienced it- can see it and affirm it. Why, if the church is called to love, does it need defenders? Shouldn’t their “value” be loving one another and those who are unlovable and hurt? Why does the system get defended and its victims marginalized as “bitter”? But I could be way off too….

  33. Wow Devin,
    I don’t think you’re off! So many things that do not line up with scripture are justified by the so called church. Certain scripture only apply to the “underlings” but the “hierarchy” are above scriptural the correction. Matthew 25 31-46 talks about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned. James 1:27 says the true religion is looking after orphans, and widows, and keeping yourself from being polluted by the world. I want that! It’s practical, everyday, relational, attainable, and REAL! I will no longer jump through hoops to prove my worthiness of membership in the body Christ. It was never based on my efforts anyways, just my faith in Christ.

    The problem is that I heard about church before I knew Christ personally and I thought that the way I saw church being done was right. I’m still healing from years of abuse but thank God I know that it wasn’t HIS abusive parenting that was causing the problem.

  34. My comment is about the very beginning of your discussion, having to do with the sovereignty of God. I don’t understand how anyone can say, “God is sovereign” and at the same time say that he isn’t allowing bad things to happen. That’s an oxymoron to me! Does God have the power to intervene? Of course he does—he’s sovereign! So if he does not intervene, it can ONLY be because he chooses not to.—which means that he is choosing to allow things to happen that he could change if he chose to do so. Now, having said that, I want to say that I have wrestled with WHY he allows bad things to happen, and the answer is that it is NECESSARY in order to achieve the perfect outcome he has planned. If there was a better way, he would do it a better way. And it will be infinitely worth every pang—if not actually because of them. Hope this helps someone!

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