Institutionalism

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At Ministry Academy this weekend I said something that warranted murmurs and looks. When asked about whether our individual churches were bridging the gap between Ecclesio-centric (Church focused) or Communio-centric (community focused) I brought up the fact that I believe the Institutions of the Church, The United Methodist Church included, are expendable and are transient. I said that, though important, things like programs and making sure apportionments are paid in the institution they are ultimately secondary or even tertiary to building God’s Kingdom on Earth. This is our goal, this is why we are being transformed through the sanctifying, transformative and saving grace of God.

My mention specifically of how the UMC may, one day, end was not met with applause as you could guess. I have since evaluated carefully my eschewing of the institutional side of the Church for a purely missional ideology. My wife pointed out that the institution is a necessary vehicle for the betterment of the kingdom and I could scantly deny that! The United Methodist Church has been a fantastic place of growth and knowledge for myself and others, and to deny such a great facilitating work for Christ to use in my life seems foolish. However, I still am suspicious of churches that emphasize the survival of their particular denomination or institution to the detriment of building and transforming lives of those that make of the body of Christ.

What do you think? Is the missional and transformative mission of the universal Church so important as to sometimes neglect the needs of the institutions, or must we accept that in order to lay foundations for the Kingdom we must protect our institutional branches of the Church in order to allow transformation to happen?

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3 thoughts on “Institutionalism

  1. Your theological questing has brought out the Baptist in me, and I like it. Baptists are, at heart, if not in practice, suspicious and mistrustful of any centralized authority headed by a man not named Jesus Christ (or, you know, whatever his actual name was). Baptists, at least those of my family’s ilk, don’t ask you if you’re a Baptist; they ask you if you’re saved. Belief in Jesus is all you need, even if all the rest get the details messed up (in particular those half-heathen Catholics). Any man with a Bible in his hand (preferably a King James) and the Holy Spirit of God in his heart can preach the Good Word.

    Looking back, I think I must have taken being a Baptist to its logical extremes, to the point I was coming against church doctrine by not aligning with my reading of the Bible, and any good Baptist will tell you we are sojourners of this world. Half the Baptists I know probably couldn’t tell you who P.B. Shelley was, but they’d surely read “Ozymandias” with a reserved, semi-sadistic gusto at the poetic images of a man’s empire in a shambles. The grand idol of some mere mortal half-buried in the sands of a long since inhabited desert are the stuff of a grim hymn from a dusty hymnal, sung in a contradictorily jubilant tone.

    It is with that in mind that my gut reaction to your quandary is to say, bluntly, fuck institutions. But that’s the Baptist in me, and I’m not very well-read on Methodist doctrine. I don’t know how concerned they are with making more Methodists as opposed to making more Christians (“believers” we Baptists call them). Maybe a Methodist doesn’t think faith is enough; I hear they sprinkle babies instead the sensible believer’s baptism down in the crick given to those who come of their own free will. Lord have mercy, I’ve heard they even use alcoholic wine for the Lord’s Supper.

    You’re going for discipleship, right? And maybe disciples need more than a Bible in hand with the Roman Road highlighted (even if it’s a Scofield Study Bible). They need teachers, and maybe teachers need institutions. Maybe anti-authoritarianism and anti-institutionalism aren’t conducive to discipleship. Personally, I think making a room full of Christians murmur is one of the best things a person can do.

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  2. Most Baptist churches I have witnessed are more preoccupied with the Justification part of salvation, but do not often if ever talk about the transformative act of Sanctification. They seemed much to worried about making sure someone was “saved” than how the Holy Spirit was working in their life, leading them to Christian Perfection.

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