Yes, I believe the church is an "institution," insofar as it fits the dictionary definition of the word. Also, I do see a problem with groups that rebel against the idea of institution so much that they make having church in a house a requirement, or similar things. Sure, there are home churches that stray to extremes, but there are also many of them that are solid and effective. Many people equate meeting in a building with institution. I don't believe this is necessarily true. There are some problems with huge buildings and the gigantic mortgages that go with them, but what if your church building was paid off as it was built 200 years ago? Not a problem, if you ask me.
Some people equate liturgy with institutionalization. I don't, necessarily. Or some type of church government structure. Okay, there are huge problems here with the American church, but government isn't necessarily the issue, either. The bible leave many things un-specified. (I would recommend reading Alan Knox's series on church polity, including all the links he gives here.)
But the best question from the comments, and the one I want to focus on here in this post, is the comment from solarblogger:
So is there a level of institutionalization where the lampstand is automatically removed?
I would answer the question this way. If the structure - or level of institutionalization - of a church prohibits, prevents, hinders or otherwise diminishes the ability to minister, the ability to be ministered to, the ability to obey God for each and every member, then there are problems. Everybody must be able to love God and love their neighbor when the church meets in all the ways the bible sets up for us. If the inability of the body to function the way it should is extreme because of institutionalization, then the problems are severe.
It's interesting that the first church that receives input from Christ in Revelation is the church at Ephesus. Christ threatens them with lampstand removal because they lost their first love. What was their first love? Many people I've heard over the years answer that by saying that, of course, Christ was their first love. But was he? Verse 3 says they endured and persevered for His name's sake. They also couldn't stand evil men, false apostles, and the Nicolaitans. Could it be that the love they lacked, the love that diminished, was a love for one another? If it is, I can only speculate that it is so.
Let me say that lampstand removal is Christ's to do. But if a church has institutionalized itself out of the ability to function like Christ desires, how is it that Christ is still there? In my next post on institutionalization, I'll bring up some examples where God's commands are hindered by the church structure itself.