Most of the criticism of Rice has been overblown in that they equate the church of Jesus Christ to current manifestations of institutional church.
All current forms of organized church as we know it today is a reflection and a representation (albeit imperfect) of the true church. No single manifestation can rightly declare that they are the true manifestation of the church.
However, Anne Rice's assertion of clinging to Jesus while rejecting the institutional church brings to the forefront some interesting questions:
- Is the current manifestations of the institutional church the only way a church can be a church? In other words, can one be a part of a group of believers without the trappings that come with current versions of organized religion?
- Can a person be a Christ-follower and not have an affiliation with a church?
I don't blame Anne Rice for her frustration with the institutional church as we know it. One of the main cries of the reformation was "Once reformed and always reforming."
That's who we are. And yet, when you look at the current version of institutional/denominational churches, we have been frozen in time both theologically and institutionally. It is time for a thorough and ongoing reformation of the church.
There has to be better ways of being church.
For instance, right now my church is a part of a denomination called the Presbyterian Church (USA). And because we have been a part of this historical denomination, we are somehow more "connected" with other churches in this same denomination. But if you were to ask people what this connectionalism means, nobody knows.
- How are we at the Little Church who are evangelical more connected to churches who are already ordaining homosexual leaders just because we both belong to the same denomination?
- What does connectionalism and denominations mean when the Little Church has more in common theologically (bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, authority of scripture, etc.) and in understanding of the interpretation of Scripture with non-denominational/Baptist/Lutheran/etc. than we do with progressive PC(USA) churches?
Year after year, and General Assembly after General Assembly, the Little Church and other evangelical congregations find themselves at odds with some of the decisions made by the national church. The GA and other entities in the denomination seem to make decisions and declarations with seemingly no accountability and representation to the congregations they represent.
How are we more connected to this denomination than the Christian brothers and sisters around the world?
There is no doubt that a person cannot be a follower of Jesus Christ and not belong to the body of Christ which is the church. However, we ought not equate today's versions and manifestations of the institutional church as "the church".
The church of Jesus Christ is much broader, bigger than our current manifestations of institutional church. It is time for the institutional churches to catch up with what the Spirit of Christ is already doing to shape and reform his body - the church.