Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Birdcage

“It is a known fact that birds confined in cages have a hard time reproducing.”

Brother Yun (The Heavenly Man) said that in response to the new state-sanctioned “Three-Self Church” structure of China in the early 1980’s.

The Three-Self church was the ultra-liberal creation of the Chinese government, which they brought about in response to the growing underground church, and was their way of attempting to control Christians and promoting their own political agenda within the churches.

The “caged birds” image resonated with me as I thought about our western institutional church. Certainly they’re not like the Three-Self institutional churches of China, though there are some similarities (such as seeking control and power through man-made agendas). Having said that, there are obviously many true Christians within the institutional birdcages, who love the Lord dearly and who genuinely are seeking to follow Him. I do not doubt that for a second. Even in China Brother Yun recognized the same thing when he said,
“We know there are many true followers of Jesus attending the government-sanctioned church in China today. I personally know many of them and have grown to appreciate them. It’s not with the caged birds in the Three-Self churches that we have a problem, but with the corrupt leadership and the political power used to control people.”
But that’s not what I want to meditate on. What I’m thinking about is the “reproducing” part. If “birds confined in cages have a hard time reproducing,” could the same thing be said about Christians confined to institutional birdcages? I wonder.

Though I am uncomfortable with the term, consider what has often been called “church growth.” How do most institutional churches reproduce and grow? It seems to me that “church growth” in these settings is primarily by way of “sheep shuffling,” and as such, isn’t really reproducing new Christians at all. Of course, there is some conversion within the birdcage, but I would guess it is relatively minor in comparison to the reproducing of the free birds outside of the birdcage.

When I think long and hard of all the new converts to Christianity that I have ever met, and when I think of all the testimonies that I have ever heard, it seems that most met the Lord while in the presence of free birds as opposed to caged birds.

People generally do not go to the institutional birdcage for the purpose of “getting saved,” as the christianese term often calls it. Most converts are hatched when life is shared with free birds out in the real world. It’s only after the new hatchlings to the faith come forth that religion, ironically, seems bent on caging them up with the rest of the caged birds, and essentially, clipping their wings.

To borrow an image from my duck hunting days of yesteryear, though life began as free birds, the birdcall in the hunters blind of the birdcage has entrapped and seduced many to the point that Jesus’ Great Commission of “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19) has been reinterpreted into “come and be discipled.” While a few do venture outside to stretch their wings in the fresh air as free birds, many seem content to remain forever perched upon the artificially air-conditioned pew of the birdcage.

That’s the way I see it anyway. It would be interesting to see if there was some sort of scientific study to bear this out.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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