November 19, 2018

Monday with Michael Spencer: Some thoughts about the institution

Old Stone Church. Photo by Allison Richards

If you look at the church throughout time, cultures and history, I believe you will conclude there are three aspects to the church. (Consider this semi-original with me.)

The church is a movement started by Jesus; a culture crossing, church planting movement that proclaims the Gospel in the power of the Spirit.

This movement takes on institutional forms at particular times and places. These institutions are basically conservers of the Jesus movement in particular places and circumstances. For example, denominations conserve the Gospel, the mission, the compassion of Jesus and channel the movement in particular ways.

Finally, the Jesus movement, both institutionally and not, is a community of persons in particular relationships. We see this in the New Testament itself as Jesus makes the development of leadership for his movement a priority, and Paul’s letters show how the movement, once it has taken particular form, presents challenges to the life of the community.

Now these three aspects of the church are not identical, in my opinion and experience, in their responsiveness to the Holy Spirit or imitation of Jesus. Clearly, institutional values are often at war with the values of a movement and the experience of a community.

But this doesn’t have to be the case, Institutional responsiveness to the Spirit and institutional renewal and reformation have all been a historical reality.

But I say all of this to point out that critics of the institutional church may go too far, but they also are usually telling us a good bit of the truth. If we defend institutionalism without a healthy self-critical attitude, we’re likely to be too loyal to what doesn’t deserve all of our loyalty.

Institutions come and go, and we need to be more loyal to the movement and the reality of community than we are to institutional concerns.

Where I work, there are the empty campuses of many schools just like ours all throughout Appalachia. Most are empty and not being used for ministry. Our school changed its way of doing ministry to stay with the Jesus movement and the Jesus shaped community, so we have survived.

A recent President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Frank Page, said that half the denomination’s churches would be dead by the middle of the century. I don’t consider him a carping critic. He is setting the table for new churches and new life in the denomination, because he is refusing to tell the institutional lie that institutional churches always deserve to survive and will survive. That’s not true, and God bless him for saying so.

• • •

Photo by Allison Richards at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. senecagriggs says:

    It does seem to be in the DNA of humanity to build edifices that can easily become more important than the ministry itself.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Belief shifts. People start out believing in the god and end up believing in the structure.
      – Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “A recent President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Frank Page”…. wow, 2008 feels like so l-o-n-g ago; and 2030 a mere 12 years away, I remember when that felt like forever-from-now.
    Looking forward from 2008 who would have imagined 2018? Certainly not me.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Especially with the SBC stealth takeovers going down from bottom to top until there will be No Salvation Outside of CALVIN. And if a church has a PoMo Trendy Name, no mention it’s a church, and imitation wanna-be Trendy Mega, odds are its a Calvinized SBC.

  3. John barry says:

    Adam I just got over worrying about Y2K

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Ha! :). Fortunately I work in IT and always knew that one was a whole-cloth fabrication.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I just got over worrying about Y2K

      You can always segue right into North Korea Nuclear War Jitters.

      • Robert F says:

        We’ve been assured that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea” by the most authoritative voice in the land. Nothing to worry about here, folks, move along….

        • Christiane says:

          Can’t wait for the announcement that Trump will now be forming an alliance with Russia!

          no, nothing to worry about, because Putin says he didn’t cyber-war against us, and Trump believes him.

          Just go back to stuffing our faces and watching entertainment , , , , ,
          Trump/Putin will take care of the rest so we don’t need to be concerned

          • Stbndct says:

            Don’t worry Christine I hear Hillbilly wants to run again.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              Which guarantees a Trump win in 2020.

              Hillary in 2020,
              Hillary in 2024,
              Hillary in 2028,
              Hillary in 2032…

              Because nothing and nobody can be allowed to get between Cersei Lannister and the Iron Throne.

              • Rick Ro. says:

                LOL. Yep, the Dems better come up with someone better than Hillary.

                Of course, I thought the Reps needed to come up with someone better than Trump, so what do I know?

          • Robert F says:

            Mission accomplished!

        • Rick Ro. says:

          There’s something really narcissistic about claiming, “I believe it and declare it so, thus it is TRUTH.”

          Reminds me of this…

          AKUTA: Vaal has spoken to me. His words are true. Hear them. We are to kill the strangers.
          MAKORA: Kill, Akuta? We do not understand.
          AKUTA: It is a thing to do, like, like feeding Vaal. Vaal explained it to me. I will show you. This (the melon) is the head of one of the strangers. Find a heavy stick. Come up from behind the stranger and do this.
          (He swings his stick and smashes the melon to pieces.)
          AKUTA: It is a simple thing. It is the word of Vaal. It will be done to all of them when the sun returns in the morning.

          • john barry says:

            “Damn it Rick Ro {or Jim or Kirk} , I cannot understand this , I am just a Barry” I have never been here before.

  4. T.S.Gay says:

    The important part of this is that institutional values are often at war with the values of a movement and the experiences of a community’ That is very strong. It deserves more attention. Is there a denomination( in the sense of Roger Olson who has a book on them all) that does not denigrate Christian values and community? Because that is what war does.

  5. Scot McKnight has some observations of what it takes for congregations to thrive. He calls it “goodness”.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/07/09/willow-why-the-women-went-public/

  6. When persons join together to do or accomplish some thing they “institutionalize”; it’s sociologically inevitable. The question becomes one of whether or not the structure is good or bad for supporting the life of the group.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Yes, this.

      > question becomes one of whether or not the structure is good or bad

      +1,000