Life in the Institution

Eugene Peterson’s ‘The Message’ Bible is a favourite translation of many people I know in Pentecostal and other churches. Its accessible text is great for seeker sensitive services, and it is a popular devotional translation. Many of the megachurches seem to regard most denominational churches as ‘dead’, or at least look down on them for their small numbers and lack of apparent ‘life’. Here is what Eugene Peterson says about ‘institutional’ churches. In this context, he has been describing traditional local churches, not megachurches, and the preceding example was a Norwegian Lutheran congregation.

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 and 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.

From Christianity Today, March 2005, in an article by Mark Galli.

So – is there life in the local, small church so frequently accused of being ‘dead’ by its bigger cousins?

Is there life in the bigger ‘institutional’ church (such as a mega church) – or is it an unscriptural ‘dead’ form itself?

Is Peterson right to suggest there is no church if not institutional, and that the institution is the ‘bark’ protecting the life within?

Footnote: Peterson’s opinion on the idea of relevance (from the same article):

I think relevance is a crock. I don’t think people care a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they’re taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or their consumer needs.


2 thoughts on “Life in the Institution

  1. Too many megachurch ‘ministries’ have belittled the local church to the extreme and for too long. The attitude can be seen by it’s members as they trot around admiring the local churches small numbers. I used to be one of them.

    Us mega-church members stand out like a sore thumb as observers and are not afraid to speak to others as though we carry some high influence. I’ve seen myself in these other people. They see us ‘suffering’ and ‘failing’. To my young friends that have studied at Hillsong or at CCC bible ministries, some of their attitudes are highly offensive and disgusting when conversation swings around to helping support local ministry. Other random students who go to these colleges, that come from a local church or aren’t institutionalised, have trouble dealing with some of their peers attitudes towards local church ministries.

    The main set go back to support their mega-church back or home or support a Hillsong or CCC overseas. Why rescue the local church that is ‘failing’ in their leadership skills? These local churches don’t want to move on. They’re happy drowning in their ways.

    No joke. That’s what most of my conversations have come down to with these young bible college students. It’s really sad and it really angers me to see such young people blinded for God by these bigger institutions.

    Heck! I go to mega churches anyway to fellowship with the global body of Christ occasionally. I’m against the institution because it has institutionalised these Christians. And while I still love my Christian brothers, (as hard as that may be and seem), I am angry that they’ve been so easily… (couldn’t think of any other word to describe, sorry), mindf^kc3d into selling their life to something as dead as a vision or a building. God is so much more than a building or a vision!

    So am I a hypocrite because I say ‘how dare they say that about the local church’ when I seemingly insult them back? Maybe. But I am not the one who started this elitist crap to begin with. It’s always been my dream to see the church, (big and small), get local together.

    I don’t want to see a big boy steer the ship. I want to see God drag people outside of their own excuses and be, together, a support community in the community.

  2. At risk of sounding deludedly random, let me liken the problem to people crying about ‘the poor’ in foreign countries, and how we ought to send them aid to ‘give their children a chance’!

    The real problem is mostly ‘a lack of work’ for the parents; and this can be dealt with technically & economically.[prayers would only help of course!]

    ie; People need functional-faith today perhaps as never before; that helps people, that can pay its way, and works in the ways and wonders of heaven.

    Funny thing, but ‘numbers dont count in assessing wrong from right’, hence my ferocious reaction whenever I hear a preacher imply;”because we are in agreement, we must be right!”, or “Theres strength in agreement”….this is no substitute for true wisdom or understanding.

    Nope- Gods salvation, truth, life & wonders are experienced existentially, as individuals, and in larger groups. It is plain false-reasoning for a larger group to suppose it is ‘more right’ just because it is numerous.

    Ive always just called myself ‘A Christian’, and feel embarassed whenever a Christian Institution wants to make some sort of parade about its particular ‘badge’.-However, this is only because I feel the Institution can get in the way of people coming-into Christ!

    The real culprit is “Corporate-re-invention”, for all Corporate entities reach some high-point where they must decide to positively re-invent and develop themselves or face cultural decay.

    If guys in the commercil realm can figure this, why cant Church-Men?—is the profession ‘Too-holy’?

    I couldnt care if my faith was served by sackcloth-wearing monks with bare feet in a little stone building; if Petersons 3rd paragraph was practiced there, I’d count it pure joy.

    love from Z.

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