The Fallacy of the Institutional Church

Hide and seek is a great game. It is an easy game. You just need a bunch of kids to play it...or not. Because I notice a lot of hide and seek going on out there and it is more adults playing the game.

Look, I'm in the processes of starting a new church, Crossroads United Methodist Church, and it is unapologetically a United Methodist Church. It is the UMC which has ordained me and sent me. It was the UMC that has been most formational in helping me grow in my faith and come to an encounter with Jesus Christ, God's Son, an encounter that radically altered my life.

Go figure that I encountered Jesus in an institutional church.

I know that conventional wisdom says the institutional church turns people off and labels drive people away. John makes a great point on this at Come to the Waters. However, when the connection to a denomination is hidden away or pastors don't acknowledge their connections, those who supported them, it just seems so inauthentic. Most of us like to know when we're playing a game.

But then to say you can have a church and not have some form of institution, well it seems this is a bit disingenuous too. It is kind of hard to miss the institutional structure recorded in the book of Acts, or Paul's pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, or any of Paul's letters for that matter.

I think it is a fallacy to act like or talk about throwing out the institutional nature of the church. Every church which casts off its connection to an institution is merely trading one hat for another. It is just more moving of chairs on the Titanic. There has to be structure.

I think it is kind of like looking for a doctor. I wanted to know what hospital they were connected to and that they had the credentials and certification that was appropriate. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I got a second opinion. When I look at the service industries I use, I look into reputation - their connection to an institution.

It isn't that people don't really like institutional church, I don't know any church that isn't, after all, an institution. The real fallacy is when we begin to come to pay homage to the church rather than to Christ Jesus.

May I Ask: How have you benefited from the institution of a church? What could be done better to help with the institutional nature?

May I Suggest: Look into the structures of other churches, what are some of the similarities and differences? What good comes from these? Bad?


Dr. Tony said...

This follows what you are saying here and your comment on John Meunier's site.

The problem isn't that the church is an institution; by definition, I think that the moment you create something and put an organizational structure in place, it becomes an institution.

But when that structure becomes more important than the reason for its being there, then problems arise. The problem with the "church" in Jesus' time (before the resurrection) was that it had become encased in observance of the law and was forgetting people.

Jesus' presence and the Resurrection was to bring hope to those whom the organized church of their day had forgotten.

The same is true today. Some churches are unwilling to use new methods of presentation because the congregations do not know how to use them. Other congregations, in order to present themselves as "modern" quickly adapt new technology without thinking about what it is they are using or doing. In both cases, they are looking at the institution and not the meaning.

Jesus preached in the synagogue but He was also out in the countryside. John Wesley favored formal, prepared sermons presented during a "formal" church service but he quickly adapted to informal, in-the-fields services.

When you put the building or the method before the message, you are in effect creating an institution that is resistant to change.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, Ken.

It is worth noting in all this that the Bible itself is a product of the church. There were people running around as an organized church before they had a Bible to share and read together.

No church = no Bible.

The Bible then became the book that helped the church stay true to itself. After a certain point, if there had been no Bible the church would have surely lost clear hold of its witness to Jesus Christ.

No Bible = no church.

Ken L. Hagler said...

Dr. Tony, thanks for posting and continuing the thought. Both the old and the new seem to struggle, one too dependent on the method, the other too passionate about new methods. Both seem to fall into the same trap.

John, I like your equation, it is a simple way to demonstrate a profound point.

The other piece I haven't explored more fully yet is the idea that people "like Jesus and not the Church." Do people really like Jesus - the real Jesus that radically changes lives and asks us to sacrifice our will and trust in him - if they don't like the Church? Is it really Jesus they like or some peaceful, comforting sunset that gives warm fuzzies? I suppose we can ask the Church the same question too.

Susan Preece said...

I think there is the general feeling that the institutional church has lost the compassion of Christ to "love one another" and instead often presents judgement and law. It's a careful balance of acceptance along with accountability.

I listened to two great podcasts today: Napkin Scribbles with Leonard Sweet about his visit in Georgia and Wired Jesus Podcast about Men's Ministry. Both are less than 15 minutes.

The best thing is to be who we are (without apoplogy) and to focus on loving our neighbor as ourselves and that creates accountability on all of us.

Thanks for sharing.

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