“What other church is there besides institutional?” – Eugene Peterson
Entire books have been written on the subject of “the institutional church,” both pro and con, so I don’t propose to offer anything new or comprehensive with a blog post. But the urging to ditch the “institution” of the church just seems so plainly misguided I thought I’d offer some reasons for the good of the institution.
None of this is to say that institutionalization is good, of course, or bureaucracy or professionalization; the church is not essentially an organization but a people called out by God, saved by Christ into his kingdom and image, and powered by the Spirit. The institutionalization of the church is what happens when the Spiritual reality of what the church is disappears and all that’s left is the “local” expression/form. But local expressions/forms are important. Here’s, I think, why:
1. The New Testament presumes church governance
2. The New Testament commands church discipline
3. The New Testament designates insiders and outsiders in relation to the church
4. The image of “the body” presumes unified order
5. The New Testament churches had recognizable structures. The apostles sent their letters to somebody
6. “Spirit-filled community or institutional organization” is a false dichotomy that presumes the Spirit is powerless against institution
7. Logically speaking, there is no such thing as “no institution” except chaos or anarchy. Every community made up of people is institutional to some degree
8. That institution is not eternal is not grounds for jettisoning it. Marriage isn’t eternal either.
9. The subjection of kings and nations presumes institutional subjection to Christ and therefore that God works in, with, and through institutions
10. No one in 2,000 years has successfully cultivated an enduring institution-less expression of the local church