“I couldn’t imagine why he would have turned on me, but you never have the full picture on things like that. Circumstances change. People develop reasons where they had none before.” – John Rain
(from Rain Storm by Barry Eisler)
So many of us have the soul of a true believer. We want, we need, the organizations we join to live up to the ideals that motivated us to partner with them. But our hopes in organizations are invariably misplaced. The Republican Party is not conservatism or small government; the Democratic Party is not progress or equality; a particular church is not holiness or compassion; a particular nonprofit is not concern for the poor; a particular school is not education.
The ideals are ideals; the organizations are organizations. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy triumphs at last: the people who come to dominate the organization are the ones for whom the organization is an end in itself. When the organization’s interests and its stated ideals align, well and good; when they don’t, the ideals get sacrificed (always “temporarily”) for the perceived good of the organization.
The ensuing cover-up generally destroys a number of people devoted to the ideals, while those devoted to the organization write the rules and control promotions, and invariably come out on top. The net effect of this is simple: that organization you love because you love what it stands for? It doesn’t love you back. Many of the people in that organization—people who would be horrified at the thought of betraying a friend for their own personal benefit—will stab you in the back in a heartbeat for the good of the organization. Some of them will feel bad about it, but that won’t stop them from doing it anyway.
Some of you are thinking some variation of “Surely not me!” Yes, you. I promise. Look at it this way: if you died in a car accident tonight, they might grieve your loss deeply, but they would find a way to replace you. The show must go on. Well, if for some other reason, they found it necessary to cut you loose for the good of the organization, same thing. They might grieve the loss, but they would find a way to replace you.
This belief that your place in the organization is secure amounts to a form of idolatry, and this idolatry, like all idolatries, must come to ruin. Like all idols, first it will make you give up everything in order to keep it, and then it will destroy the very thing for the sweet sake of which you gave up everything else, and at the last, it will kill you—that’s how all idolatries work. The only way out of that progression is repentance: give up the idol. So let us not worship organizations or our places in them. At best, the organization aspires to live up to the ideals we project upon it; at worst it accepts the projection as a means of acquiring our service for its own ends. In either case, in the end, only God is Good, as Jesus once said to a young man badly in need of disillusionment.
The Church is unique in that unlike other organizations, God has committed Himself to purifying and perfecting her over time. Nonprofits come and go; governments come and go; whole civilizations come and go, but God matures His Church. But then the Church, crab-like, has shed many organizational shells along the way; history is littered with them. The particular local assembly that I lead—much as I love it—is fungible. It is unlikely to survive for even 50 years, and yet the Church marches on, as it has for centuries.
And on the last day, when we come to the New Jerusalem, the Church purified and perfected at last, the Church as she was always supposed to be—even then, when she is as worthy as she will ever be—we will dwell in her, we will bring our glory and honor into her, but we will not worship her.
So why would we do it now?