Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Is the Institutional Church Evil?

There are many, including many who regard themselves as Christians, who denounce the institutional church as an evil thing. Is this true? Now "institutional" is a slippery term. But we need to go back to the beginning. The church is the assembly of all those saved by putting their faith in Christ (Acts 2:38-47; 20:28; Ephesians 3:10-12). It is His body, through which He accomplishes His purposes in the world (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Colossians 2:19). Therefore, we are a people who belong to Christ (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:4-12; Ephesians 5:25-30).

Now as members of this we are required to be organized. We are expected to have leaders, though they are servant-leaders (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Hebrews 13:17). We are to meet together in an orderly fashion, though it may be in an informal context (1 Corinthians 14:26-33; 11:17-22; Hebrews 10:24,25). And it is hard to have any impact on the world without being organized. But the danger in any organization is that it can end up serving the needs of the organization or its leadership rather than accomplishing the purpose for which it was created. Now the organizational church should, as far as it can, reflect the universal church. This will always be imperfect in an imperfect world. There will be surprises. There will be people in leadership roles who do not belong there. There will be obscure people who have an important part to play. But we need to make the effort to see that the organizational church reflects Christ's purposes and does not just promote the organization or its leaders.

Now is there a difference between an organization and an institution, and what is it? From what I can see, an institution is a permanent, fundamental part of a society. Now it is possible to be an organization without being an institution. The government is an institution, but the bird-watchers' club is not. It is possible to be institution without being an organization. Marriage is an institution, but we would normally not regard it as an organization. But is the church an institution? The church should be an established, foundational part of the life of the believer. But it is dubious to make it an established part of society as a whole. This tends to result in conformity to the world (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:1,2; James 4:4). But marginalizing our church involvement is not the answer. We are required to strike a careful balance. The institutional church is a good thing as far as it reflects the organizational church which reflects the universal church. But when it becomes a means to its own ends, it can become destructive. So we need to carefully weigh how we, as Christ's church,  can have an impact on each other and those around us without being forced into society's mold.

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