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.
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.