Albert Mohler delivered a message in a breakout session at TGC’s 2019 National Conference titled “Why Younger Generations Should Invest in Institutions.” Culture in general, he argued, is moving toward an anti-institutional future as generations who do not value institutions grow older. They prefer movements to shape their identity rather than institutions. But institutions are the control centers of societies, culture is produced by institutions, and there is no civilization without institutions. Movements that do not eventually institutionalize fade away, as they lack the lasting stewardship necessary to survive. Christianity is no different. A walk through the Scriptures reveals that Israel and the church are defined in institutional terms—and we must embrace those institutional realities in order to preserve and build our great faith.
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Al Mohler: Why younger Christians should invest in institutions, care about institutions, participate with institutions and find some identity in those institutions. So welcome, I’m glad you’re here. I had a bit of question in my mind about how many people would come to hear why younger generations should invest in institutions. The common wisdom is that the younger generations especially the millennials and generation Z are particularly anti-institutional. And so it’s something of a test case to hold a session and to find out how many people show up from those generations. But it is a huge question and one that evangelical Christians have often not deeply considered.
We have frankly, not considered social institutions at all, social structures and the relationship between social theorizing and then eventually institutionalizing. We haven’t given much thought to that because we have taken certain institutions for granted and evangelicalism itself has been defined by a number of institutions that only now do we recognize might have been relics of some evangelical past rather than representations of the evangelical future. I was glad to take this assignment in a conversation with many of the others on the council of the Gospel Coalition. This is a pattern that has been detected, it’s a question that has come up over and over again and it is also one that is far larger than the evangelical equation.
This is a generalization, which is by the way where the word generations also has direct application to generalize by age cohort is to speak of generations. And that’s what we’re doing of course, generations also comes from to generate and comes from a birth cohort, but it combines in a very interesting way here because the generalization is that we are looking at an anti-institutional future and the society around us is going to have to ask some basic questions about what that’s going to mean, what it means to politics, what it means to education, what it means to business. But for evangelicals and for Christians, there are if anything more pressing questions.
Now, I want to give you an illustration. There were some signals about an anti-institutional bias that kind of entered into public consciousness, most importantly I would point back to the year 2011. Now you could look backward to say the 1960s where you had the hippies, the New York Times ran an article just a few days ago about the 1967 Be In that was held in March the 29th at [inaudible] of 1967. So it was a long time ago. A Be In, just be man, just be. It was a protest centered in being, also centered in drugs and other things too, that was a part of being according to those who were at the Be In. But a part of the message of the sixties was down with the man but the college students who have been saying that were the first to try to line up for tenure in the academic institutions as soon it was available.
So the baby boomer generation had an anti-institutional moment, but it was quickly retranslated into actually a takeover of the institutions as we shall see. But it was different in 2011 and some of you will remember September the 17th, 2011 and the launch of Occupy Wall Street. Now it is interesting that enough time has passed since 2011, that a lot of the people who we now describe as young were so young or are so young, they don’t remember Occupy Wall Street. But Occupy Wall Street was a response it was claimed, historically situated as a response to the Great Recession of 2008 and the claim of the failure of capitalism thus it began in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street. But what made Occupy Wall Street interesting and perhaps even more interesting in retrospect is that it claimed to be merely a movement, it was not going to institutionalize.
It basically organized around the principle of anarchism, which is a recipe for disaster. You want a short term movement, then be committed to anarchy. And by the way, the only lasting arguments for anarchy are held by institutions that claim to be anarchist, but have CEOs, so go figure. But nonetheless, there were three principles given by Occupy Wall Street student leaders as their new form of a movement. Horizontalism, autonomy and defiance. Horizontalism, everybody’s equal and autonomy, all that matters is the individual and defiance. So the press immediately said Occupy Wall Street is going to change the world. Of course it didn’t, it didn’t come close, partly because they couldn’t even release a statement.
Because if you are an absolutely horizontallist movement, then nobody can speak for you and so it turns out that’s a problem. Also, nobody can raise money for you and before long you stink and they move you out of the park and your movement is over. And that’s basically what happened. By the way, I interrupt this for a commercial announcement. I was told to remind you that this is a sponsored session. This session is sponsored by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They’ve given me some suggested text. I will simply say in summary, it is the most fantastical, super unbelievably faithful, singular and most important theological institution on the planet. You can learn more by going to sbts.edu, which is by the way an institution. I have a vested interest in this issue.
If you do look back to the 1960s, it’s very interesting, had the revolutions that took place in 1968 worldwide. Most importantly, in Europe and in North America, student revolutionaries that took to the streets. Lots of rioting, lots of protests, complete political disruption. Interestingly, what that produced was the political class of the left in the next generation. So some of the people who were actually arrested for terrorist activity in the sixties, became ministers of government in Germany and in France and some of the other nations later on. But what was interesting, Rudi Dutschke was famous for saying that what the sixties protests would launch would be “the long march through the institutions”. Now that is sometimes attributed to the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci didn’t say it, but he should have because that’s basically his argument.
But it took Rudi Dutschke to come along as an activist in the sixties to announce that the revolution would only actually happen through the long march through the institutions. [inaudible] recognize this, they didn’t say that the revolution would lead immediately to a removal, or a destruction of all institutions, but rather all the institutions of the old regime would have to be recaptured to become engines of enforcement and social control for the new regime. And the long march through the institutions, which by the way was a deliberate reference back to the 1930s with Mao’s long march in China. The long March through what? Through the institutions, the Marxists said, what we will do is bring about revolution one institution at a time, what’s so important there? Even the revolutionaries recognized they had to have institutions on the other side of the revolution, or they would not have a revolution.
They would just have a revolutionary spasm, that is not what they were hoping for. If we’re going to talk about institutions, perhaps we need to just make a very clear statement why we would make this argument. It is because institutions are the central control authorities in a society. Society by society, they are the central control authorities and they are the control of the culture and central to cultural production. Culture is produced by institutions that take the shape of cultural momentum and exercise the authority in a society. So there is no civilization without institutions. Civilization equals institutions, civilization equals more than institutions, but never less than institutions. Let me define the term an institution, this is my definition, is an organization for lasting purpose and commitment and concerted action.
It’s an organization for lasting purpose and commitment and concerted action. If you have certain convictions, you want to accomplish a certain purpose and you want it to last, you want it to exercise concerted action, then one way or another, you create an institution, or you take over an institution, or you further an institution because it’s institutions that accomplish that in society and it has always been that way. Now, modern institutions are far more complex. They are far more recognizable than many previous institutions, but if you have civilization, you have institutions. We are told that younger generations prefer movements to institutions, they want to be a part of a movement. They want their identity to be with a movement rather than an institution.
I think all of us can understand that in spirit, the problem is that movements end up being ejected from the park. Institutions have the lasting stewardship and by the way, that is something that’s reflected if you just think in the political sphere just fast forward from Occupy Wall Street to the current conversation, just to take a snapshot, say in the democratic presidential nomination process, you will notice that all the argument is institutional. All of it, all of the debate amongst the various presidential contenders in the democratic party, they are all institutional, even Bernie Sanders, maybe especially Bernie Sanders is institutional. The man is in the United States Senator, hard to come up with a more institutional institution than the United States Senate. And I do mean that sociologically not in terms of psychiatry.
It is an institutional institution, some of you will get that over dessert tonight, that’s all right. Movements form institutions, or they disappear. Now, this isn’t to say that movements are never important, movements are important, they just don’t last and lasting change in society comes through institutions. I’ll try to help make that concrete as we move on. We do not want our causes, our passions, our convictions to disappear. We certainly do think of biblical gospel centered Christianity as a movement, but that movement has to take institutional shape, or it too will disappear. So an institution is not merely a cause, though there’s a cause behind every institution. It’s not merely a brand, but any successful institution is a brand.
Now that’s contemporary economic speak, but we know what we mean. Just think of Andrew Pettegree’s brilliant book published in 2017 Brand Luther. Now Andrew is a historian, wrote this great book on Luther as a brand and Luther’s attentiveness to a brand, and Luther started a movement, but he did so from within a university and within the church, it was an institutional reformation by its very definition. The 95 Theses were a call to the Pope to reform an institution. Let’s think in terms of biblical theology for a moment, what do we think of institutions as we try to put the question in the frame of biblical theology? Well first of all, we go back to creation and the orders of creation and we understand that in creation, several institutions were given to us even in Eden, even in Eden.
Most importantly, the institutions of marriage and family but also less recognized the institutions of society and industry. And those are in Eden, they are in the command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. They’re in the command, therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh. It’s in marriage and the marriage conjugal union as a man and a woman for reproductive purposes, raising their children. The institutions of marriage and the family are so cellular, they are actually so molecular to society that they are the first in the orders of creation to appear and they were not human inventions, but rather this is a part of the goodness of God’s creation.
We automatically just by reading to ourselves Genesis one and two, we’ll see the institutions of marriage and the family. We might not so readily see, what we should see are the institutions of society and industry. And they are in the command to rule and to take dominion, they are in the imperatives of dominion and stewardship. Social context is immediately made very clear, you cannot exercise dominion without concerted human effort and furthermore, if you are also faithful to the command to reproduce, you’re going to be creating society, society is there. Of course, it’s an Edenic society in expectation. Industry is there also in dominion.
Now by industry we don’t mean just what Charles Dickens described as the dark, satanic mills of the industrial revolution. We just mean basic human labor that is turned into a productive purpose towards productive ends. They are all there, so as we’re thinking about the most basic institutions, we would see marriage, family, society, and industry in Eden, at least anticipated in Eden. But we don’t live in Eden, we live after the fall and after the fall, the most important institution given by God is not just society, it’s government. And that appears very quickly for example, in the Noahic covenant in Genesis chapter nine. And it appears in the very first criminal judicial application, and that is of course that if one takes a life by premeditated murder, then society is to take the life of the one who has committed that premeditated murder precisely because the destruction is not just of a human being, but particularly an image bearer of God.
You can’t accomplish Genesis nine without government, you can draw a direct line from Genesis nine throughout the experience of Israel, where you have other institutions that are given, the most important institutions given are the temple and the monarchy. So as you look into the Old Testament, just trying to think in the flow of biblical history and biblical theology, at the very least we have a divine declaration of the institutions of marriage, family, society, industry, government, monarchy and the temple. I’d love to be able to expand on all of these. But Israel is institutional, it is defined institutionally where those institutions are found. Well first of all, society, human culture, humanity is defined institutionally in the Edenic institutions.
And then government is a worldwide mandate given from God as a universal institution. But the temple and the monarchy, they are what define Israel even in the messianic promise. Again, it’s a promise which will involve both the monarchy and the temple. Shifting to the New Testament, the most important thing we can recognize is the continuity of the fact that God’s people are in institutions. Most importantly they are defined by an institution, which is the church upon this rock. Matthew chapter 16, I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The church is more than an institution, but it is never less than an institution. It is given order, it is given poverty, it is given identity. Very clearly in the New Testament, you come to the [inaudible] those who are in Christ and those who are not those who are in Christ are ecclesial.
They are a part of the church and we are to gather ourselves together as the visible church. And by the time you get to the end of the New Testament, there are functions given to the church and to individual congregations that are essentially institutional. The church is defined by its marks as the reformers would argue in the 16th century, their institutional marks. It is interesting to note that the arrival of Christ, the new Covenant in Christ does mean the end of an institution. When the veil was torn in the temple, when Jesus said it is finished, that spelled the end of the temple. The temple theologically, even historically, according to the scripture did not end when you had the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, it ended when Jesus said it is finished.
The form continued, but the institution was already over fulfilled, not canceled, but fulfilled in Christ as the great high priest. And so you have the passing of one institution was the temple and the inauguration of another, which will never ever cease to be, which is the church. Even in eschatology, we see a continuation of institutions as a part of God’s plan in the new Jerusalem. One of the things we need to recognize in the new heaven and the new world and in eschatology and again, evangelicals in superficial evangelicalism offers an eschatology no one should actually want. I mean, there’s the stupidity of doing nothing. I can still remember as a teenager being told you’re not going to do anything, but sing praises to God for eternity, I’m just thinking choir practice for eternity.
As a teenager that just did not sound like a vibrant representation of the kingdom of God, but rather we come to understand that when we reign with Christ, we’re actually… we’re in a situation better than Eden. I love the way Calvin put it in the very structure of the institutes, because of God’s purpose of salvation we know God not only as the creator, but as the redeemer. And our situation in the new Jerusalem will be infinitely greater even than Eden. Nothing will ever rust, nothing will ever pass away, everything we do will last forever.
There are several principles to be drawn thinking institutionally from the Christian biblical worldview and in some ways the Catholics are way ahead of us in thinking about this because of the structure of natural law thinking. And this is an issue for evangelicals that would be a fascinating breakout session just on that question, it’d be a fascinating lifetime of consideration for that matter. But we need to remind ourselves that evangelicals believe no less than Roman Catholics in the natural law. We disagree with Roman Catholics in two issues about the natural law. The first is whether or not sinful human beings can apprehend it. And then secondly, we did for about the mode of Christian argument as to whether it should be explicitly scriptural or grounded in natural law.
But we need to recognize that there is no controversy, there should be no controversy among evangelicals, amongst evangelical Christians in the fact that the natural law helps us to understand what is revealed in scripture. So it’s not our primary mode of theological argument, but natural law reflection does help us to flash out what is explicitly given to us in scripture. So this is where the natural law principle for instance of subsidiarity is so very important. And this goes back to the natural law argument, goes back to the middle ages in which the argument is that truth being beauty, human flourishing, subsists in the most basic of institutions and then are diluted in presence and incompetence at every abstraction from the most basic institution.
You think well, that is why I came to this session, I desperately wanted to think in these abstract terms. This isn’t abstract, I know it sounds that way but it’s really not. This explains why the most basic institution is marriage, the next is family. This explains why the most efficient economic political educational unit on earth is the family. It explains why if the family is weak, nothing else can be strong. Explains why if the family fails, no outer institution working outward from the family can be as competent as the family. In the pre-conference I spoke on, it takes a church making reference back to Hillary Clinton’s book, it takes a family from 1996.
I put that in the political worldview context then, but that was a lot of the controversy. In other words, yes there’s a role for government, but… and most evangelical Christians would know to argue that government can’t do what only the family can do, but they would lack the specific structure of argument to make. Subsidiarity is the structure of that argument. And again, it’s rooted institutionally. It’s thinking institutionally as we do biblical theology, we come to understand why that so, it’s not just something that sociologists would note, it is something that’s deeply rooted in a biblical logic. Again, we have to move on. Society is built by institution. So if you look at the history of Western civilization, just to take that which is closest to us and from which we’re speaking, you would see the kinds of institutions as guilds.
This is one of the most important developments in the early medieval period, you had guilds, professional guilds. You had guilds of tanners and of artists and iron workers, metal workers and all the rest and the guild and teachers. And guilds became what we would now call unions, associations, where you find Western civilization, especially moving into the modern age you find this massive development of associations and they’re perplexing to a lot of people. And for instance, I was being driven by one of my interns who is from a different nation, a European nation and he said, what is it about small town America and elks? I don’t even think there are elks here.
But he saw the honorable order of the Elks [inaudible] I was wondering why… I mean, elks are not holding a meeting there, what does that mean? But that’s just a part of the development of this associationalism that was massive in the late modern age. And you see the association, so this association, or that, more about that in just a moment. Schools, colleges and universities and then eventually the development of professional schools and graduate education, hospitals, corporations, museums, think tanks and of course, government and quasi government. And that has been the most massive expansion. If you look at the 20th century into the 21st century, the massive institutional change has been more than anything else in government, which has institutionalized more than anything else.
When I was preparing to speak across Europe in 2017 for the 500th anniversary of the reformation, one of those lecture series I did was on Christianity and the European university, the rise of the university. And I came across something from Clark Kerr and he was the chancellor at the University of California system in the 1960s, which was not a great time to be chancellor of the University of California system and he didn’t last long. But he was famous when he was the chancellor of that system because it was the biggest, most influential richest university system in the United States. He was a keen observer of history and of institutions and he made a fascinating argument that has stuck with me ever since. He said, if you look over the last 1000 plus years, now he’s speaking from the 1960s. So when he says the previous millennium, he meant before the second millennium.
We can just generalize and say over the last, say 1000 years, there have only been three continuous institutions that exist today. That’s really a very interesting observation. There are only three institutions with an unbroken institutional history of over 1000 years. And they are number one, the Roman Catholic church. And number two, the British parliament, kind of barely over a thousand years. But there has been a recognizable system, we would call the British parliament going back more than a thousand years. And then the third category will be eight medieval universities that still exist today. Very interesting. So that’s it and of course he was pointing mostly to the university, but if you’re looking over a thousand years, say what’s lasted a thousand years? That sounds like a good question.
What has lasted a thousand years? The Roman Catholic church, institutionally [inaudible]. The British parliament and eight universities, that’s it. Nothing else institutionally has survived for a thousand years now. Now of course, Clark Kerr was not looking at the Edenic institutions and as a matter of fact, even in the sixties, you can take marriage in the family for granted as institutions. In the English speaking world, the 19th century in particular saw the rise of this massive associationalism. And this really is a bit different in the English speaking world than in the rest of the world. The rest of the world, continental Europe, they don’t have so many associations. They had the guilds and the labor unions, but the British, the Americans and the Canadians were association wild.
A lot of them were charitable, some of them were fraternal, had to do with the fact that men were lacking in male companionship, so that’s why they started the honorable order of the Elks and the everything else. Of course, medieval… by the way, someone might say, someone might say, just might say I’m not going to follow this rabbit trail that masonry would be another institutional last more than a thousand years, but Clark Kerr didn’t talk about it, neither am I. It’s a different thing. But this associationalism, you just take London for instance, you had the development of organizations such as the metropolitan association for improving the dwellings of the industrious classes, I like that. There were lots of these. I have a couple of favorites, William Hague, former foreign minister of Great Britain gave an address at Westminster Abbey on this associationalism.
I happened to be there about that time, got a copy of the speech. And he talks about this very same thing and he pointed to associations in London, in the 19th century such as the society for the prevention of injury to boys who are climbing in chimneys in order to clean there off. I want to join, we should do that. And the society for providing housing for women who are unmarried, never married or previously married and who have seen better days. You could at least say as politically incorrect as that is, that you have no question what that organization is trying to do and that was evidently the rule in the English speaking world, just add words if you need further definition.
But that points to something else which is important for us to recognize. In the English speaking world, one of the things that has guarded democracy and freedom has been the existence and the public support for what are called mediating institutions, mediating institutions. Peter Berger the sociologist, Richard John Neuhaus, they and many others, Neuhaus and Berger actually wrote a book together on this in the 1970s. The English speaking world’s mediating institutions have preserved human dignity and human freedom because they are a necessary buffer between the government and the individual. And so just very interesting, those mediating institutions, you could have… people could come together, they could form associations, they could establish schools and universities that didn’t have permission from Washington.
They could create little league, all of these associations, all of these institutions they get established. Hospitals, they could do all of this. But Berger and Neuhaus both pointed out that if you take theology out of the picture, just think of the church sociologically the most important mediating institution in Western civilization has been the church. The church has functioned as the most important buffer between government and the individual, something which by the way they were raising the alarm about as early as the 1970s, looking at the secularization of the culture saying if indeed just thinking sociologically, just not even theologically. That thinking sociologically, if the church wanes in its influence, then nothing will buffer the individual from the government. The necessary check upon that power will be gone.
It’s about the same time that evangelicals began to think about institutions in ways we hadn’t before because we took institutions for granted. But it is interesting to look at the history of the evangelical movement and reflect upon the fact that evangelicalism, the new evangelicalism, the Carl Henry, Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, the movement that emerged out of the ruins of the fundamentalist modernist controversy in the United States, in which the modernist got control of all the main line institutions, that’s what happened. They got control of all the divinity schools, by the time you reach say 1935, 1940, the theological liberals are in control of the entire infrastructure of mainline Protestantism and thus conservatives are out. They had a battle, conservatives lost.
And so what do conservatives do? Well, they started institutions, but they were fragile institutions. They started institutions, they were kicked out of divinity schools and so they started Bible colleges. And so you can look at across the evangelical world and you can see how this happened. And those Bible colleges sometimes like the Bible Institute of Los Angeles that became shortened to Biola, just to take one example, it grew from being a Bible institute to being a university. But you’ll notice that meant that conservative evangelicals were about a century behind the liberal denominations and thus, we have never achieved any kind of institutional parity. We will never achieve that kind of institutional parity, I predict, because we have convictional boundaries that prevent us from ever achieving that kind of institutional parity.
You can imagine what some of those are if you have to hire and you have to admit on the basis of confessional and even now moral criteria, then you’re cut out of the sources of legitimation and a funding that you have in the mainline Protestant world. The new evangelicals, trying to say let’s create, let’s jump over the Bible college movement with its fundamentalist roots and let’s try to create some fast, just add water and stir, add big money institutions to join the mainstream. And so you may remember the Carl Henry, Ockenga and others, including Billy Graham, J. Howard Pew, who was funding it, who was then the founder of the sun oil company or Sunoco. They put all this into it, then they figured out it was going to take the equivalent in today’s dollars of about a billion dollars just to start one university that could hopefully grow into a research university.
And it turned out that evangelicals, number one, didn’t have it. That’s a problem. And number two, if they had it, wouldn’t spend it on this because at the very same time that the mainline Protestants were pouring all of their money into institutions of cultural dominance, evangelicals were pouring money into institutions of great commission purpose. So that’s the bargain that evangelicals made, it’s a theological decision. We’re going to put far more money into missions than we’re going to put into something else. Anyway, it’s just interesting to take that little institutional snapshot of evangelicalism. James Davison Hunter in his book To Change The World, he comes to the conclusion that evangelicals made a bad deal.
He does a lot of cultural analysis, which is extremely bright in which he points out that “ideas last because they become in his words embedded in very powerful institutions”. That’s important to understand, ideas last if they are embedded in institutions, that’s absolutely right, no argument there. He points out that if you look carefully, the most important actors in history have often not been individuals, but institutions. Institutions have given platforms for individuals, but if you take the institution away, the individual is never known, never has a voice, never has the opportunity for that kind of leveraged influence.
He also points out that revolutionaries who demand an end to institutions almost never… well in fact, if their revolution succeeds, they never actually destroy the institutions, they just take them over. That’s what happens. As we think of Missiology in the Christian future, I want to point to three realities. Number one, the necessity of institutions. So even though younger people may think I don’t, we don’t need institutions, I just want to be part of a movement. The movement’s going to disappear, the institution will last. And so it’s really important for us to recognize that if our convictions are going to last, they will have to be institutionalized. Now, most importantly, our confidence is that means the church, which we don’t have to establish, Christ did that. And the Christ is going to… and the church is going to endure by the promise of Christ.
So if not here then somewhere. But the people who say institutional presence doesn’t matter, just go with me to Turkey, almost all Paul’s letters were written to Asia minor. In most of those places, you can’t find a church for the last 13 or 14 centuries. It does matter, it matters for the great commission. It turns out that you can’t have the great commission without institutional platforms to send institutions and missions will not last if you don’t have institutions, most importantly the church. But churches pretty quickly need other institutions, which is the logic of denominationalism. Denominations don’t exist in order to suck the blood out of congregations. Millennials think of denominations as the vampire. Denominations exist because churches need one another in order to accomplish what they cannot do on their own.
And many of those churches are only explainable because of something whether you want to call it a denomination or not, you are denominational. This is what happens, you gather together for concerted purpose and that means somebody has got to organize it. Somebody has to call the meeting, there’s going to be some convening power. Somebody’s got to develop the strategy. Somebody has got to come up with the money and somebody got to be accountable for this. We live in what the sociologists call a fully rationalized society and you don’t know what that means. It doesn’t mean everybody’s offering rationalizations, that may be true too.
It means that the society’s rationalized such that you have got to follow rational processes which means you have to have an audit. You have an audit, you have an institution. If you don’t have any money, you don’t need an audit. If you have money, you need an audit. An audit cries out institutions, somebody’s got to assign it, who’s responsible for it. So all of this, this points to the fact that people who think we just should be part of a movement, movements don’t have audits, mission agencies do. And movements don’t pay you, mission agencies do. And movements almost never survive you, but institutions do. I look at my own history, I was baptized in a church, it was established. I grew up in Florida, so the history is shorter. About 60 years before I was born, which is pretty old for Florida, you can do the math on that.
But then I went to a college that was established in the 1840s. I went to a seminary established in the 1850s. I was able to walk into buildings I didn’t build. I’ve been eating from groves I didn’t plant to drinking from wells I didn’t dig. And the assurance I have is that if the Lord tallies when I die, someone is going to make sure the institution I serve continues. Somebody is going to be sacrificial. Somebody is going to be strategic. Somebody is going to care enough to make certain that mission is perpetuated. That takes institution. Secondly, the morality of institutions. Institutions are not immoral because they are institutions, but they are immoral institutions because an institution is the fleshing out the organizational representation of ideas and convictions and passions and purpose for action, then you can have moral action or immoral action.
So institutions should be judged just like we would judge individuals. There are people we would want to be associated with and there are those we would not want to be associated with. But we’ve got to kind of flip the equation, I hope I’m helping us to see, for younger believers that means many younger evangelicals to understand the institutional form is not the problem. The problem is distinguishing between the right and the wrong institutions and investing in the right ones, avoiding the wrong ones and we’re necessary creating new ones. Of course, there’s another thing here, which is this, the stewardship of institutions. My second point is the morality of institutions, I’m going to segue over to stewardship for just a minute, is that… and this is the evangelical predicament from the beginning.
How much do you expend on recovering an institution that needs to be strengthened or corrected? Or how much do you invest in starting a new institution? Now, almost no one says I’m starting a new institution. They say, we’re starting a new movement but the movement’s got a website and an address. And so you really are creating a new institution. The question, that’s a balance and I don’t know how to answer that question. Obviously evangelicals will answer some of those same questions differently and there’s not a right and a wrong answer to that. But the stewardship imperative is a very important part of this. The third point I want to make, the necessity of institutions, the morality of institutions, then the risk of institutions, institutions are a risk.
In a fallen world, they’re always a risk. And so I have donors sometimes ask me and say, I know Southern seminary is absolutely faithful to the scripture now, but what assurance do I have that it’ll be a hundred years from now? And I have to say zero. Now, I don’t mean that actually. I don’t mean zero, so I back off of that. I say, his history doesn’t offer us any assurance other than upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. But you look at any institution, college university, I mean we’ve lost most of them, we know that. The risk of institutions is that we lose them. The problem is if you don’t have them, you don’t exist. If you do have them, you may lose some, you will lose some.
But the good news is that faithfulness subsides in and continues in the institutions that are kept accountable and faithful. So we can’t deny the risk. One of the things I pointed out to the person who says what assurance do I have that if I give a million dollars to your school for its endowment, it’s going to be safe. I say look, I’m going to trust the average Southern Baptist over time to hold this institution true, more than I would trust any elite. More than I would trust any self perpetuating board. The best assurance we have is the grassroots Southern Baptist elect the board of trustees of this institution And by the way, we lose the whole Southern Baptist convention, then guess what? The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is doomed.
But I don’t have a better bet and I actually have a lot of confidence in that grassroots conviction. But it’s a risk, it’s a risk. Having children is a risk brothers and sisters. Establishing a new church is a risk. No one… I can’t say this. Rarely if ever was a liberal church planted. Okay, enough, it was stolen but nonetheless that’s what happened. And by the way, that’s why they have all the beautiful stained glass and the pipe organs and the real estate. The real estate, the real estate, the real estate. Just go to New York and realize okay, I want to plant a church. I’m going to get this old patch, got the black turtleneck. I am going to establish a church, Where? Where? And I’m saying this with affection.
I mean this with most sincere affection, we need every gospel church in New York City just to take one example, Paris, Montreal, Washington, DC. But where? All The properties owned by, they were established as Orthodox churches, but they’re gone now, we can’t… and they don’t want you to meet in them until they’re so desperate that they can’t pay their light bill and just maybe you can meet in their basement. So all that’s just a part of the risk, but it’s a risk we have to take. So why institutions in conclusion? To steward mission. Number one, to steward mission. This is how you do it. And of course, I mean, after marriage, family in the church, what we would call institutions, steward mission. Secondly, they perpetuate message. And this is one of the reasons why in the reformation, or even in the early church, you saw creeds and confessions. We want to make sure the message is straight and perpetuated.
I just wrote a book that came out last week on the apostles’ creed. How many institutions have maintained one message for that long? I mean, in its current form, you’re looking at the very latest 390. And then of course the whole point was this is going back to the apostles in terms of what the apostles preached by the claim and by the remnants and the fragments and the truth. It was already there even the earliest church. Name another institution, I don’t think the British parliament kept its message straight for over a thousand years. They haven’t kept their message straight for the last 15 minutes, look.
That’s a very powerful thing. Do you want to perpetuate message, look at the church of the Lord Jesus Christ first of all and then institutions that are accountable to that church, that’s where message is perpetuated. Just look at political parties for instance in the United States, are they free trade or not? Well, it depends on when you look at them. I don’t have time to trace that, but you see it. Number three, to endure over time. There’s a reason why institutions last, people believe in them, they invest in them and they endure over time. Fourth, to spawn or give birth to other institutions. So in the most amazing things, it takes a strong institution to create another institution. So if you look at even how schools are formed, it’s often a few members of this faculty will move over and start this new school and before you know, it’s a thriving institution.
It does the same, hospital by hospital, this is the way it works and of course, this is the very genius of church planning is the book of Acts. And fifth, to exercise influence. That’s not accidental, we really do give ourselves to institutions because we want to perpetuate and exercise influence. If you don’t want influence then just don’t do anything. But if you do anything, it’s one way or another because you want influence. We hope to want… the right influence for the right reasons, accountable to the church, but perpetuated over time. And I am no pun intended over time, but it has been a privilege to think about these things with you. And I pray that because of our generation and the generations to come, the right institutions will be invested in, in order the generations not born will continue in faithfulness in the Christian faith. God bless you, thank you so much.
This episode of TGC Podcast is brought to you by Operation Christmas Child. National Collection Week is November 16th through 23rd. Visit SamaritansPurse.org/occ to learn how gift-filled shoeboxes will result in evangelism and discipleship for millions of children this year.