A Case for Institutional Church

February 10, 2011

No doubt an “Organic” church is much more appealing than an Institution.  Yet even Brian McLaren, in his book Church on the Other Side, recognizes that any church that includes more than a handful of people needs some level of organization, and the larger a church gets the more organization it requires.  While the notion of a purely “Organic” church seems nice, it is hardly realistic.  Those clamoring to remove all remnants of the church as an “institution” are not only kidding themselves, they do not seem to me to be thinking Biblically.

Jared Wilson, a missional practitioner and pastor, offers 10 Reasons for the Institutional Church:

  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

3 Responses to “A Case for Institutional Church”

  1. seaton garrett Says:

    Reminds me of this quote from Eugene Peterson,

    “What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it. Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death. So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.”

  2. Dennis Griffith Says:

    Thanks, Seaton. That is a great thought. Wilson alludes to that quote in his post, but he did not elaborate as much. I don’t recall reading it before.

  3. David Alexander Says:

    I guess it’s how you describe “Institutional” and what is really ment by that word.

    Must admit, on the service “institutional” doesn’t sound good. If you mean “traditional” in how the Church is govered and driven by the Gospel, being relivant to the culture and community it serves, I agree.

    The word “institutional” for me reminds me of a prison where people are held captive and regulations rule the day, and their are plenty of guards making sure no one breaks the rules. Could be a bit of fundamentalism and or legalism.

    Not sure that there is no other place to be a Christian but the Church! Again depends upon what is meant. We all as Christians make up the Church. I don’t have to be in a building or part of an organization to truly Worship. I know there are some who will disagree and thats fine. I certainly don’t think we can be Christ Followers outside the Body of Christ and alone. Thats just not how God made us. We are made for each other. We are made to Worship as a Body.

    Maybe it’s just the word “institutional” that I have trouble with as a discriptive of the Church. I just don’t see the Church as institutional in the proper context with the Gospel being the focus and message. Don’t think Jesus was institutional. Maybe it’s a concept like many others that came from the Roman Catholic Church and we hold on to it to discribe the Church in general.

    I find it hard to get my arms around a live, active, living body that is Gospel driven and Jesus focused as an institution. Not sure the Church lends its self to that discriptive. Certainly not a relevant to many outside the Church in todays culture…maybe !


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