The “Institutional” Church?

Posted: May 27, 2011 in Christian Living
Tags: , , , , , ,

There is a lot of discussion about the legitimacy of the institutional church lately. There are intense debates occurring in print and online. I have read books and blogs written by people who suggest that we get rid of all remnants of the institutional church. I have also had discussions with some people who believe the church as we know it is fundamentally, biblically flawed. I follow blogs and twitter feeds that share ideas by people who feel strongly about their beliefs regardless of which side of the issue they fall upon. I believe that those who want to get rid of worship services are trying to do what they think is right, but I have to disagree with them on this issue.

Reading sections of the New Testament, those who want to dismantle the church find verses that (when cropped to cut out the parts that they don’t want to talk about) support their notions that the church (usually identified as the “institutional church” to make it sound like it’s a literal prison) is anti-biblical. This is the panacea for all those who find fault with a pastor or a congregation, or a worship team’s decibel level. No more scrambling to find the perfect church (which doesn’t exist). Hey, I don’t have to go to church at all because Paul wrote a letter telling the church of Corinth that all people should be able to use their gifts in their meetings. If you find that passage, please stop reading as soon as you get to the part where it says that everyone should use their gifts, because after that verse, Paul says that women should be quiet and not interrupt the men. Paul says women should not speak in church because they are distracting. When you ask those who want to destroy the institutional church about that section, immediately following the one about everyone getting a chance to speak, they say that the women thing is only written to that specific church at that specific time. The other stuff is timeless though. Interesting. I guess we can all just take what we want to take out of Scripture and make it say what we want it to say.

I do not have all of the answers. What I am saying is just because something is not brought up in the New Testament, that does not believe it is ant-biblical. In his book, “Pagan Christianity”, Frank Viola derides the institutional church because there is nothing in the New Testament about believers meeting in buildings, and that a pastor leading a congregation did not exist for the first Christians. These may be accurate facts, but if there were no Sunday schools, or youth groups, or worship teams in the Bible, does that mean that they are inherently wrong? Do those things, or can those things, bring value to God’s people? Can they bring hope, or love, encouragement or challenge, knowledge or wisdom? Just because they are not part of Christianity two thousand years ago does not mean that they are worthless, or worse yet, heresy.

I believe that there is value in the church system. If you are only getting your faith from a sermon on Sunday morning, I think you are missing a big part of your faith. I believe that personal quiet times with God grows a person’s faith deeply. But for those who do read the Bible and pray throughout the week, Sunday morning church services are amazing boosts. Pastors are paid to devote their time to study and pray so they can help teach, encourage and challenge a congregation.

I went to college and paid professors to teach me things that I could not have learned from books directly. I paid them to spend their time to plan lessons and to challenge me to grow. That did not take the place of personal study and homework, though. I could not have passed without studying on my own or doing work outside of the classroom, but I could not have learned as much as I did without going to class either. I feel church is very similar. I think that we should look at church the same way. Our faith cannot come from a pastor, alone. But we should not discount the gathering of saints on a Sunday morning, or a Sunday night, or a Saturday night, or whenever that congregation meets. To do that is to cut off the body from a vital part of faith. Belonging to a congregation can be a great experience. In a congregation, people can learn how to live with other people with other personalities. People can learn how to faithfully and biblically handle conflict, how to serve and to follow others. In a congregation, we learn how to put others first, how to listen.

I know that this is a touchy subject for a lot of people. I believe that God is working in the hearts of those on both sides of the issue, and I know that His glory will still shine in the world regardless of where we meet. I’m sure some of you reading this will have strong opinions about what I have said. Feel free to comment, but please try to keep from tearing people down.

  1. Carl says:

    Chris, I beleive that the institution of the church was established to carry out the mission set forth by Jesus in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. I also believe that too many churches have forgotten that mission and are too busy trying to preserve themselves. When church becomes about maintaining the church more than about following Jesus, we have serious problems. My 2 cents! Important stuff to talk about- thanks for taking this issue on.

    • Chris Snyder says:

      I totally agree with that. I do see some churches focusing on their own growth for growth’s sake. That isn’t right, but I do believe that there is a place in God’s kingdom for a neighborhood or city church building that can be a place for believers to gather for corporate fellowship, worship and to gain deeper knowledge. Thanks for the reply, Carl

  2. Sarah says:

    I think what Carl is saying makes sense. I started in a main-stream denominational church, spent most of my teen years in a non-denominational church, then was a few years home churching, then have bounced back and forth between a traditional Northern Baptist and a crazy small independent church in Columbus… all that to say that I’ve seen a bit of everything (haha including a Pentecostal revival in West Virginia when I was about 12… THAT was exciting) and I think that the problem isn’t really with the “type” of church; it’s with people who defend tradition (or lack thereof) more passionately than they pursue Christ.

    In my mind, the inherent problem with the so-called institutional church is that, by default, it is run like a business, which means that it will be concerned about running in the black instead of in the red. The way that you get that money is from the offerings of your congregation. So, if people don’t like what you’re teaching or whatever, they leave, which means you lose the money you would be getting from them. SO (conclusion) I think that institutional churches are under a lot of pressure to teach what people want to hear, to keep people coming (and giving).

    Obviously, this isn’t true of every church or every church or every minister, but I think that it is the foundation of objections for the institutionalized church. Our home fellowship was not in any way perfect, but we had absolutely no overhead. We just got together and were unafraid to speak what God was teaching us (in love) because we had nothing to lose and nothing to gain.

    Also, as a side note, I don’t think that the Corinthians passage is the only one where the people of the Church are told that all should use their gifts for the benefit of those in the Church. Actually, it’s also not the only place where woman are told to not speak in church…

    Anyway, point being (sorry, this is almost a blog entry in and of itself!), I think that in order for the institutional church to remain healthy, she must live within her means. I have seen churches fall apart, and the root of the problem is so often money.

    So yeah. There’s my two cents. 😀

    • Chris Snyder says:

      Thanks for joining the discussion, Sarah 🙂

      I don’t like that money can become the focus of a church, and I know that it does happen. I totally agree with you that there is a problem with people defending their thoughts about tradition more than people are pursuing and proclaiming Christ.

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