How It All Went Wrong

How did the vibrant life of Jesus among the early church get replaced by a legal and administrative institution fragmented by a distinction between clergy and laity and separated from the real presence of Jesus even as it claimed to celebrate him? I've not read a description of that process any better than the one Emil Brunner, a well-known Swiss theologian and author from the mid-20th century, put into his book, The Misunderstanding of the Church. And it was first published in 1952! He concludes that the living church can only be a communion of persons and nothing else, and our attempts to put it in institutional frameworks has not only robbed Jesus of his essential place in the hearts of people, but also destroyed the kind of relationships that Jesus wanted us to experience together. Wayne reads excerpts from his book that not only explores the causes of institutional spiritual impotence, but also points out how our contemporary attempts to copy the illusion of a New Testament model sucks us into the same trap.

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  1. There’s lots for me to process after listening to this…and that rightly takes time. Just a quick note to express how I am grateful to Father for His emphasis on “rest” rather than more work. I think that I had naive or false expectations of how quickly this learning would happen and how quickly Jesus would heal and build all that needed to be done in my life. As I learn to “exhale” and to focus on Him it’s exciting to see a building of peace rather than “frantic exhaustion” through this process.

  2. Just because people meet in a building called a “church” does not mean they can’t have true communion with the Lord and others. And just because you meet in a house doesn’t mean you have captured the essence of the NT Church.

  3. I have been listening to The God Journey for awhile. It has been an encouragement in many ways. I thank you for this! One thing that I have not been able thus far to do in this journey is to actually find the kind of fellowship you repeatedly talk about. While I am certain I’m not the only one, it has remained illusive to me as to how I, and my husband, might actually have contact with other believers, when, due to chronic illness, and thus being mostly homebound with severe chemical sensitivities, making it all but impossible to be around people wearing all manner of fragrances, how do we connect with others who have no such limitations? While I agree with most of what I’ve heard here, and have been through most of what has been shared, it remains a source of frustration that we have not been able to find true fellowship with other believers. Any thoughts?

  4. Great podcast. I loved what you said about The book of Acts! It is a dynamic book about the growth of the ekklesia of the first century. I think of that book being the ‘the Acts of the Holy Spirit’ rather than a prescription for the organization of the church. This is 2013 and we live in an entirely different culture. We have access to Romans through Revelations which wasn’t available to everyone in that time. Every human being ought to know the reality of the spirit of God working in their own hearts and not be limited by a passive position in a hierarchy. We are never alone and God does provide what we need. When I finally saw that (My husband had seen it earlier than I did but he was patient) it took a while because I had a lot of things to let go of. God DOES want the ‘eyes of our understanding to be enlightened’ exceedingly more than we could ever ask or think! It’s time for Acts 29!

  5. Donna,

    I know your frustration. I have health issues too and my husband and I have found that we can pray together, talk about the Holy Spirit, share and confess our sins, which is all there in the Bible. And, ” where two or three are gathered in my name” is all that is required to be with Jesus and experience His blessings. May God give you peace about your situation.

  6. Great podcast again Wayne!

    What I gleaned from the passage read from Emil Brunner’s book is, in the institutional church we are given the body of Christ, when it is the Spirit of Christ God wishes to impart to us. In fact, in the Catholic tradition, which I am most familiar, the communion host is to represent the actual body of Christ!

    Wayne, I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.

  7. I am new to the podcast and am in the middle of rethinking the whole “church thing”. It’s not easy leaving a “legal administrative institution” when that’s all you have known your entire life. I was told that missing church service Sunday mornings was rebellion, and not tithing to our church would incur a curse on me and my family. To visit another “church” was down right illegal. But, thank God, I’m on a different journey today. I am now experiencing freedom in light of what I’m learning from podcasts such as this one. I am learning to live in the Father’s love and my life has changed dramatically. Thank you Mr. Jacobsen

  8. Thanks, Wayne, for bringing that book to our attention. I was not familiar with it. I wanted to share two thoughts related to the podcast.

    1. It is certainly true that the things that are intended to bring believers together around Christ often end up taking the place of Christ Himself. I think this is often reflected in our conversations. Long ago I noticed how infrequently most believers (including myself too often) talked about Jesus. Outside of the formal meetings, we could talk about our Sunday meeting place, our favorite teacher or seminar or author or doctrine or Scripture. It was awkward, though, to talk about Jesus. Many years ago when I was in the role of a full time “pastor”, it struck me that Jesus was almost never mentioned even in regular conversations among “pastors”. How refreshing it is in this journey to have friends where talking about Jesus is natural and not forced.

    2. I appreciate your comments about separating the religious institutions from the people in them. I liked your caution regarding “non-groups”. It has always fascinated me that the passage in I Cor. 1 included the “I follow Christ” group along with the other divisive groups. How easy it is to take pride in the fact that we are not a part of a group.

    Thanks for the reminder of the simple reality of sharing the life of Jesus Christ with one another day to day. May we love one another as we have been loved.

  9. I just now had opportunity to listen to this podcast. And I am so excited. I have one request, I would love those two emails you read, like just cut and paste the best parts and put them here or on the blog would be fabulous. If you can that would be nice.
    But Wayne, seriously this podcast and Emil’s book can be summed up in a statement from one of the saints you hang out with somewhere over seas I think, haha, who said “Are you going to be a part of building the church that Jesus is building or the one man is building”.
    And though I struggle to pronounce ecclesia (seems a little insider language) the contrast to religion=fig leaf is quite astonishing. And validates the statements that there IS NO SUBSTITUTE. All counterfeits fail. We fall for them because our fear of being vulnerable and authentic is overwhelming. But intimacy had a price and counterfeits never come through. This truth is not new but historical.
    Love loved this. I am so excited living in Father’s affection is just so vibrant and alive in comparison to living inside institutions, even if your living them in your head and heart.
    Thank you older brother, Mr Jacobsen.
    Happy Thanksgiving to Lifestreams and God Journey community. Give thanks with our whole hearts.

  10. Ecclesia IS insider language and too greedy for me. But he used it to make a point. Love what you said about counterfeits. They do always fail and always do when you need them most. Sorry about posting the emails. I have no idea what are the “best parts” of the emails I read. I’m sure it’s different for everyone. Besides, I’ve already tossed them…

  11. Thanks Jeff. I have noticed many (including me on many occasions) would talk about good works, books, head stuff but not Jesus. He is much more natural to me now. I have also decided that the goal of my life is not to become like Him. My goal is to share Him. He said that I would know the truth and the truth would set me free. When I was trying to be like Him, which is a measurable, ever increasing, impossible task for I always fell short and guilt, shame, not enoughs dominated my thoughts. When I just share Him, what He has done, the fact that He is alive, much more natural. Plus as a -no longer a pastor- I can share without thoughts of recruiting. I seem to encounter interesting conversations along the way.

    But shame, guilt, fear are still a part of me as I suppose they always will. But they longer dominate. For He has, is and ever will be setting me free. Ah, and there is coming an even grander day. Some of my friends are already there. And I am not so concerned about what it will be like. I do hope they have Corvettes and motorcycles with no speed limits….And you can crash all you want….I’ll be taking Jesus for the ride of His life…… (Not that He hasn’t been on a few with me already…..It’s okay honey you can go back to sleep I’m back on the road now……Woke that woman right up…..After a ride with me you’ll be closer to Jesus than you’ve been in years…..)


  12. Listened to the podcast today while driving in the mountains with the family to find a Christmas tree.

    I am going to have to read that book…

    I have long thought that what is written in Acts is not so much prescriptive as it is descriptive. It tells us what was done, not necessarily what we also must do.

    The podcast did raise a question for me, though. What is everyone’s thoughts on elders? Who are they today in our life of following Jesus? When we move outside the religious institution, what place do elders have, if any?

  13. Hi Jeremy,

    I interpret elders to mean people who are spiritually trustworthy because they are further along/more experienced in some areas of the spiritual walk than others. When I need help/advice/prayer about something that is important to me, I don’t want to share the issue with just anyone, I seek elders, i.e: safe people. I don’t think of the term ‘elder’ as an office or title. I associate it more these days with people who are trustworthy. I don’t know if they are entirely necessary but sometimes other people (who are wise) help me to see what God is saying more clearly.

    In some ways I think of an elder as being similar to a mentor. When I was in the institution, I just thought an elder was someone who was literally old and got to have a more prominent say at church meetings. Not sure if that helps, just my interpretation. 🙂

  14. Christie, I think you said it well.

    Mark, I like what you said about the goal of your life. It has been my experience that when I focus on trying to be like Jesus, it leads to the shame and guilt, as you pointed out, that comes with looking at myself too much. On the other hand, as we look to Him and rest in His love, He transforms us from the inside out. One does not get tanned by continuing looking at a mirror to check the progress, but by looking away from ourselves and at the sun. OK, I realize this is not the perfect analogy since a tan is only on the surface, but I think it still has some usefulness.

    “…They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him” (II Cor. 3:16-18 MSG).

  15. Emil Brunner’s book is amazing considering it was written in 1952. Sometimes I think it is like Israel demanding a king. Maybe the Christians wanted a structure because of the desire to organise, take control instead of trusting Jesus.
    I really don’t know, Donna. I don’t have any face to face fellowship. My fellowship is with Jesus. Maybe we have put too much emphasis on fellowship with others. I know it is a distraction for me. If there is human fellowship I used to prefer it to Jesus. ( Horrors! ) For a long while I craved it. Now I enjoy fellowship here and occasionally on Skype but mostly with Jesus. I would be delighted to have fellowship with my husband but he is antagonistic to such things. I wonder if we have over emphasised fellowship or maybe we misunderstand what it is. Fellowship for me is not something I get but something I give to others by listening to their comments and acknowledging them. When I fall into sadness and anxiety, Jesus says, “Look at me and take your eyes off yourself.”
    I agree with Christie about elders, someone who has walked further with Jesus. Not necessarily for a longer time but in a deeper way. In the days when we led people to Jesus we set them up to go to a person rather than straight to Jesus. I am not sure how it would be for brand new believers. I trust that Jesus would lead me in those circumstances. I like Ginny’s comment, “I think of that book being the ‘Acts of the Holy Spirit’ rather than a prescription for the organization of the church.” When I left the Sunday Meetings Jesus told me not to go looking for a wise leader. I had so many questions relating to the religious rules we had. He didn’t provide an elder for me but direct access to Him. I think that sometimes He provides elders as confirmation of what He has shown us.

    • Eve-Lorraine, I was so pleased to read your post. I feel like your post lifted a heavy burden from my heart. Many years ago, when I read what John said in the scriptures that the Holy Spirit will teach us I realized then that we must focus on Him! and not people….it’s been a long, hard journey, and your post is so refreshing. I still think I should be with other people even though I fellowship with my husband. But you made me realize that I really need to focus on my fellowship with Jesus! The Holy Spirit often reminds me of scripture and has spoken to me to guide me when I’m lost! And He used you this time.

      “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost,
      whom the Father will send in my name,
      he shall teach you all things,
      and bring all things to your remembrance,
      whatsoever I have said unto you.”
      John 14:26

  16. I wish there was an edit button for my post. I mistakenly said “John said in the scriptures….” what I meant to say is Jesus said. tks.

  17. Mary, I have set up a comments page in word. I write my replies there, check them, think about them for a while, and talk to Father about them. When I feel right about them I copy and paste. However sometimes I look at them when they are posted and think I could have said that better.

  18. Hello and so good to be able to enjoy the e-conversation. Eve-Loraine thanks for your post re-fellowship. Hearing your response and seeing how others responded to you…was a blessing. I’m facing increasing pressure in my job search/Dad’s diagnosis situation and had the privilege to spend some time with Father. Your words were like a breath of fresh air which allowed me to face my distress honestly…perhaps with a little less of the “frantic” quality about it. There’s more depth in your post which will require time for me to process. Just wanted to express gratitude for your words.

  19. Hi Eve-Lorraine,

    Thanks for the connection to the “School of Christ” website. I’m enjoying reading and listening to some of the material.

    Whether it is the organized institution that has adopted the use of the word “church”, or any other form of socializing where we try to find the needs of our soul met, all will fall short because God alone can fill our needs. Not that any organized activity (big box church, home church, bible studies, meeting for coffee etc.) is necessarily bad in and of itself, the question is whether the Holy Spirit is free to minister Jesus to us in that activity or whether the activity itself becomes the focus.

    It is my view that relational difficulties are always tied to control issues. Human control is always debilitating, but God’s control always results in freedom to become who he created us to be (it will bear the image of Jesus but we don’t become more like another Jesus, there was/is only one).

    God can develop relationship with him in the environment of community, but community is not the source of life giving relational deepening, in and of itself. Rather as we abide in the vine, deepening in relationship with him, he will fill us, flow through us and overflow to those we interact with. As varying components of his body interact, the dynamic of his body becomes an active dynamic as it “breaths the very life of God” bringing “spiritual oxygen and blood” to all members of his body/church.

    I am convinced the reason I have been led outside the institution for this season is because I need to weaned off trusting it to deliver God to me (or a place where I will necessarily meet God). And that is to say nothing of the temptation to make service, ministry, programs, structured activity, etc. the focus for receiving from God and bringing Jesus to others. An example can be found in what usually takes the form of “doing great things for Jesus” and other promised benefits that will result from belonging to that institutionalized activity.

    Abiding, relating and growing inside of God is my focus. I look out for ways he presents to give to me and ways to give himself to others through me. What freedom…..whether through relational blessing or fulfillment in the context of times of aloneness.

  20. Mary and Sue, I am so pleased Jesus touched you through my post. I spent so long complaining about my lack of fellowship. People who still attended meetings would make me feel guilty by asking me where I was fellowshipping. Sayings like, “He sets the lonely in families” made me feel worse. What was I doing wrong? Wayne’s travels were such an inspiration but just made me jealous so I would fall down in the pit of ‘poor me!’
    Loneliness is actually a blessing. I have learned to go to Jesus with my questions and He answers them so amazingly. He provides for me with such love that I cry sometimes. I was asking Him about fellowship and Chip’s article was in my mailbox the next day. Sometimes I need to remember that I am not in solitary confinement and not being thrown to the lions.
    God seems to be much more interested in forming Jesus in me. To do that He needs to get us alone. When there are lots of people around, He can’t get my attention. When I stopped complaining and started trusting Him He was able to start changing me. I still fall down. When I am focussed on me, I despair but when I am focussed on Jesus I am seated with Him in heavenly places.

  21. Wayne,
    I found myself nodding, cheering, and near tears as I listened to the truths that you shared in this podcast. I cannot explain how refreshing it is to know that I am not insane, evil, or “in rebellion” concerning my views of what many of us call ‘church’. Now that I am learning to walk solely in the love and trust of Jesus, I see SO many things in a new light as the Holy Spirit continually speaks to my heart. I find it incredible how God will speak specific phrases to me in my quiet times with Him, only to have you say the exact same words as you speak from your own experience.

    Thank you for sharing your life and faith with us all. Continue to cry out in the wilderness of religious thinking!

  22. Love the idea…the church is not a building but a group of people in relationship moving towards love, kindness, goodness… Not a direct quote from Wayne but close to the idea I think How does this change the landscape of our culture and economics? Example: would we need seminaries to train pastors, would we even need the vocations of pastors, worship leaders, youth pastors…perhaps even the chaplain corp would have to change for the military? Mission agencies have a tendency to require membership and involvement in a local church in order to minister through short/long-term mission trips with them. Would that need to change? So many areas would seem to need an over-haul…a good over-haul nevertheless. Just wondering.

  23. Great conversations all! Eve-Loraine thanks for walking alone and allowing Him to transform you. That brought back many memories of times and how those times were used to changed me. Even now I am experiencing changes with much uncertainty. But I can trust Him. I remember Wayne talked about changing faith to trust. That was helpful to me.

    And here is something I hope is helpful to all. It is not fit for publication secularly or religiously as you will see so I am posting it here.

    At a place far away
    and a time long ago.
    The world was created
    elegantly just so.

    First there was light
    then land and the sea.
    Then plants and the animals
    made just for me.

    A man did appear
    and a woman as well.
    They were made like as one
    it was easy to sell.

    Then bad things happened
    that were not so hot.
    And life on this planet
    was totally shot.

    People got greedy,
    the planet got warm.
    We covered the earth
    just like a swarm.

    “I’m in charge now!
    My enemies? Off with their heads!”
    and some folks did not even
    have their own beds.

    Stained glass cathedrals
    and political clout.
    Money and power
    that’s what it’s about!

    “I’ll make myself happy.
    I’ll create my own space.
    And to hell with the
    rest of the whole human race!”

    And God looked down
    and said with a grin
    “I’ve got to do something
    ’bout all of this sin.”

    He loved us so much
    didn’t send a committee.
    (For which I am grateful
    would not have been pretty.)

    No……He knocked up a virgin
    a very strange choice.
    Who gave birth to a baby.

    He was born in a barn
    filled with cows and some horses.
    Instead of a mansion
    a garage filled with Porsches.

    He worked with His hands
    and walked here among us.
    His words grew inside us
    like some sort of fungus.

    He ticked off the leaders
    those that thought they had power.
    They said he must die now
    at this very hour.

    So they killed Him they did
    and it looked like a win.
    He just smiled as He said
    “My life……for your sin”

    Merry Christmas from me and Jesus! Who loves you more than you’ll ever know, and there’s nothing you can do about that!



  24. Hi Tom, Jesus often speaks to me through Chip’s words. It’s true that “God alone can fill our needs. We do need to abide in the vine. I had a book called, “Not good if detached” by Corrie Ten Boon.
    Hi Marcellus, It’s encouraging to hear others say that, ” I find it incredible how God will speak specific phrases to me in my quiet times with Him, only to have you say the exact same words as you speak from your own experience.” Often what I read or hear in podcasts just confirms what Jesus has already spoken to me.
    Hi Nancy, I’ve been thinking about your question. I spent two years at Bible college when I was about 23. I graduated full of knowledge but lost my relationship with Jesus. I think we will always have the worldly way of doing church and outside of that, Jesus is capable of organising His body.
    31. Thanks Mark for your amazing poetry. I am so pleased that you can publish it here. I enjoy fellowshipping here so much. This spoke to me, ”
    “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me.” -JOHN 17:24
    You are called to be with Jesus. That is your calling. That is the primary thing, the highest ministry. Going forth to preach or do anything else is of secondary importance. We should be with Jesus; after that, He might send us forth to preach. But before Jesus said, “Go into all the world” He said, “Be with Me.”

  25. Thank you Mark!
    Eve-Loraine- John 17 is so amazing. So many great gems in that section! I love the part where he prays for us – John 17:20:20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,

  26. Hi Wayne, trust all is well with you and yours. Haven’t been here in a while, just stopped by to share in what Father has been doing in your life. I’m glad to announce that after many months of confusion i finally got it, Father in His grace has opened my eyes to see the reality of his love for the body of Christ which is an ever expanding body of believers, whose hearts are knit together by the love that the spirit supplies.
    I walked out on the institution December last year, got tired of the hypocrisy and regimented “relationships”, all the things you pointed out about the institution in this podcast i experienced first hand. I don’t want to bore you with the details, suffice to say my family and i were given a dose of cold, stoic christian hospitality LOL.
    Anyway, that is all in the past now, I am living each day in father’s love, learning to trust him in all things, it’s amazing how he has been connecting me with people who have a heart for him in the most unusual way, at airports, at parents/teachers meetings, it’s just remarkable.
    Thank you Wayne for all the encouragement over the years, i finally got it! I’m finally walking in the reality of Father’s love, in a robust organic way free from the box of organized religion. The Lord is good and his mercy endures forever. My encouragement to all in this journey is to keep trusting God no matter what the clergy say.

  27. Just got a chance to listen to this again, carefully this time, and I appreciate what you are saying. It IS about the connection that does not happen by our action but by that of the Spirit. There are those in my area with whom I am not connected and will at some point be able to connect. That is the Spirit’s doing. There is a group with whom I do meet somewhat regularly, as you know, who do not have it all right, and that is OK. Our “tie that binds” is the work of the Spirit and it is about sharing what He has given us at that moment, be it 3 minutes or 3 hours long, and with whomever that Lord has given me to connect that is most important

    There was much in what Emil Brunner wrote, and what you said, that helps me to realize that how, when, or how often we meet or don’t meet is irrelevant. That when and how we meet is connected to putting Christ first in that meeting, that he is the central reason we are meeting, is what is important and not “because this is what we do.” Even in that little group of people, who genuinely love each other deeply, exists a sense of obligation to meet weekly, one which I, myself, am only now starting to lose. That sense of obligation changes the reason we gather.

    Thankfully Papa is ever patient having completed everything necessary for our salvation and growth in Jesus Christ. He is not concerned by our formats, meetings, or rituals however good, bad, genuine, or otherwise they are. He alone is accomplishing this great work which will have its fulfillment in our lives only at our deaths. Until then, what we do is “seeing through a glass darkly” and only a fraction of what awaits. Thanks Wayne.

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