Often, when I talk to people about how my understanding of church has changed from institutionally-focused to people-focused, I get one of several responses: 1) “Everybody knows the church is about people” – although their actions and priorities demonstrate otherwise, 2) “I don’t understand the difference” – which is a huge problem, 3) “If God did not want the church to become an institution, then he would not have allowed it to exist as an institution for so long” – ummmm… well, okay, I guess I need to deal with this answer.
If God did not intend for the church to be institutionally- and organizationally-focused, is it valid to claim that God would not allow it to exist in that state for as long as it has?
In Exodus 12, God commands the children of Israel to celebrate the Passover every year at a specific time, in a specific way. In Leviticus 23:5, the command to keep the Passover is repeated. In Number 9, the command to keep the Passover is repeated again. In Deuteronomy 16, Moses repeats the command to keep the Passover for the fourth time – this must be very important.
In Joshua 5, after crossing the Jordan River, the children of Israel celebrate the Passover for the first time in the Promised Land. But, the Passover is not mentioned again until 2 Chronicles (also 2 Kings).
In 2 Chronicles 34:8-15, we learn that in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign over Judah (around 620 BC), workers discovered the Book of the Law while restoring the temple. After reading the Law, Josiah decided to observe Passover. Specifically, Scripture tells us:
Josiah kept a Passover to the LORD in Jerusalem. And they slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the first month… No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet. None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah, and the priests and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 35:1, 18)
(Note: In 2 Chronicles 30:1-3, we read that Hezekiah attempted to keep the Passover as God prescribed, but he kept in on the wrong date.)
Saul began reigning over the combined kingdom of Israel sometime around 1047 BC. According to 2 Chronicles 35:18, there had not been a Passover since before the kings – before King Saul. Thus, the children of Israel had not obeyed God in keeping the Passover for over 400 years. (By the way, some scholars suggest that judges ruled Israel for up to 400 years. Thus, Israel did not keep the Passover as God prescribed for 400 – 800 years.)
Saul did not keep the Passover as prescribed. David did not keep the Passover as prescribed – even though David was a man after God’s own heart. Solomon – the wisest of all of the kings – did not keep the Passover as God prescribed. The prophets – Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, most of the “minor prophets” who lived before Josiah – did not warn the kings or the people about failing to keep the Passover.
Would God allow his children to go so long without obeying him in a manner which he specifically prescribed?