Thursday, October 21, 2010

Which Church Institution?

Over the years I have often run into arguments over the "institutionalized church," or the "institutional church."  There are those who argue that the church shouldn't be institutionalized at all, and should follow a pattern shown in the New Testament - a more simple approach without all the buildings and programs and hierarchical authority and what have you of contemporary church.  Then there are those within the "institutional" church who like to point out that the people who argue against it don't have an argument, because, after all, the church itself is an institution, established by Christ.

Well, of course the church is an institution, and it is established by Christ.  But from what I read (from the most articulate of the anti-institutionalists), they aren't actually arguing against the idea that the church is an institution.  They are arguing that there are churches (even the majority) that have been institutionalized by man to such a degree that they don't resemble the simple institution established by Christ.


  1. Hi Steve,

    Do you really think then that Christ came to establish an institution? See I think that He came to establish His body, His bride which every elect believer is already a member of. He did that by the shedding of His blood for that very body or 'Church' if you will and He calls them to Himself. That body can come together to worship in Spirit and in Truth, to pray, to remain in the Apostle's doctrine and to break bread together, without an institution because where two or more are gathered in His name there He is in the midst.

    I think that is the simplicity of the NT 'assembly' pattern that many want to return to and to which many have returned.

  2. The only option outside of the institutional church is home church,is it not? The ones I've heard of either deny the trinity or are so entrenched in patriarchy, they seem scary to me (more Old Testament than New Testament). At least with a mainstream church, you can see a doctrinal statement, the board of elders is usually elected and you can find a small group to fellowship with, if need be.

  3. So is there a level of institutionalization where the lampstand is automatically removed?

    It is worth discussing in what ways the church ought to be institutionalized or not. I also get itchy if all the conversations end up too pragmatic. But it seems that when deacons were instituted, there was a recognition that there were legitimate roles for the church to fulfill that might, if allowed, take pastors away from what they ought to be doing.

    Often, the tail wags the dog. That isn't a good reason to forbid tails.

  4. It’s difficult to address an issue like this on blog comments for sure. I used to always wonder why there was so much talk about the institution, the meetings, the denominations, the 501 c corp, the one man show, etc, etc, etc! So maybe that is what Steve is talking about, how it has drifted to one side. At the same time I believe that Christ gave gifts to HIS body, not an institution and those gifts are for the edification and growth of the saints, which is difficult to do with an institutional mindset. That is probably also what Steve is talking about!

    I don’t run around telling people to give up the institutional church if they are fed and satisfied in that activity. But I’ve come to a place in my own convictions where the mindset of the institution was detrimental to any spiritual growth. Growing usually takes asking questions and searching the Scriptures to be led of God, not the institution. Most institutions don’t allow you to step outside THEIR boundaries. That can have its up side and its down side.

    I hope that your time there is on the up side!