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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Institutionalism

"I firmly believe that if God had wanted us to create organizations of our own to carry out the tasks He set for us to accomplish, both individually and as congregations of His body, He would have mentioned something about it in the Book. It's not as though it's exactly rocket science; organizations and their benefits have been well-known at least as far back as Egypt (which had an organized army and organized slave labor, as well as a hierarchical government bureaucracy to oversee both occasionally unruly bodies). So it seems to follow that if we cannot find any indication that God wants us to set up organizations to do His work, that it must be because He does not want us to do so, rather than that He didn't know how, or forgot to mention it, or just didn't think it needed pointing out." – Ryan Waldron in "Institutionalism" on The Good Fight (by permission)

Ryan Waldron is a member in the Church of Christ. Though he and I would differ widely on some issues, I can't think of how I could have said this any better or any closer to my own opinions on the matter.

12 comments:

Will Fitzgerald said...

But, but, but (he sputters), there are lots of organizational structures mentioned in 'the Book,' including all of the OT ones (Temple worship, judges, etc). In the NT we have the diaconate, the widows's roll, elders, Paul's collection for the churches in Jerusalem. Plus we have both explicit and implicit approval of government (Romans 15, of course). Further, we see many *changes* over time in the structures, so we can't say that there's only one set of structures that God approves. Not all organizations are good, and no organization is wholly good (see: total depravity), but in many cases, yes, I believe God does ask us to create organizations to carry out the tasks God sets for us and/or use the organizations that exist.

Anonymous said...

If every born-again person were fully surrendered, to organize would be redundant.

amity said...

Will, I think few people would have a problem with institutions the Lord has Himself instituted in scripture. That is not a blanket endorsement of any old instution that may suit man's purposes, though. So many churches operate on institutional imperatives, developing programs just for the survival and furtherance of the church as an institution, regardless of whether it furthers the cause of Christ or not.

Here is one example. The discussion on "clown-led worship" that was the subject of one of Robert's columns a couple of months ago. This was based on a link I had sent him from another listserver. The discussion on THAT listserver generally concluded that clown-led worship was fine, because it would bring in the masses to hear the gospel. This led to a discussion of the regulative principle of worship (started by me), which led to people asking me why I drove a car to church, since it was not authorized by the Bible (my answer: driving a car to church is not a part of worship). Their answer: everything we do should be worship. Which led to me asking why not carry their principle of "whatever will pack the house" all the way by featuring exotic dancers on Sunday morning? That would draw in the exact people they are most hoping to reach, would it not? Believe it or not, some people endorsed this idea and I lost my argument!

Well, you get the idea. If we don't limit our notions of what is suitable to the house of God, to what has specifically been commanded by God, then things can go more than a little haywire.

amity said...

...or did I just lose another argument?

R. L. Vaughn said...

I think you did! If "saving lost souls" is the driving purpose of the church and the life of a Christian, then whatever accomplishes that goal should be done, shouldn't it? I mean, if my son or daughter, father or mother were diving straight into a Devil's hell and having exotic dancers in church on Sunday morning might get them saved, why wouldn't I go for it? All other purposes pale in comparison.

Of course, what I would actually argue is that driving purpose of the church and the life of a Christian is to glorify God -- which can be done through preaching the Gospel but couldn't through having exotic dancers in church (IMHO)!

amity said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
R. L. Vaughn said...

Will, I'm not sure I have the answers to all your questions. But as Amity wrote, I/we would not have a problem with institutions the Lord has Himself instituted in Scripture.

Where I especially have problems with institutions is in cases where the "institution" the Lord has Himself instituted is replaced with another "institution" to accomplish its purpose -- e.g., a seminary for teaching instead of the church; a missionary organization for preaching the gospel instead of the church.

amity said...

I just hope we don't start seeing billboards advertising "stripper-led worship" now at my suggestion!

(shut my mouth!)

will Fitzgerald said...

It's a long way from (say) having a Sunday School to having stripper-led worship.

So, reading a bit about Primitive Baptist (including your "Kinds of Baptists" post) indicates that "institutionalism" was a key stumbling block.

And Waldron's essay certainly gives a strong case for anti-institutionalism given 'restorationist' assumptions. He neglects to discuss Old Testament patterns of institutions (the Temple priesthood definitely fits his definition of 'institution'), but I don't suppose that would count as very important.

amity said...

I believe the Old Testament teaches in "types and shadows" and that the OT priesthood was a picture of Christ. Now we are priests and kings to God and need no man to act as mediator for us.

The institutionalism that was in question back in the 1830s was the missionary movement, including Sunday schools, but also the propriety of churches sponsoring and supporting a special class of missionaries to go into the frontier areas and try to convert the populace. They didn't feel that that was a role for the church, but one that had been given to parents, evangelists, etc., acting at the bidding of the Holy Spirit. A scriptural example of evangelism might be Philip and the eunuch, or Peter and Cornelius. No institutions were involved.

amity said...

... and as far as Sunday school, why not have the children in the service with the adults? That is the scriptural pattern.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Will, I don't want anyone to misunderstand what I wrote several comments above. I agree with you that it's "a long way from having a Sunday School to having stripper-led worship." One is a usually honest attempt to study the Bible whether "institutionally" correct or not (at least in any churches I've known), while the other is an immoral act.

Nevertheless, what I wrote was not intended to be facetious or sarcastic, but was to illustrate (by overstatement) the following. If I were consumed with the belief that the eternal fate of my family and friends depended on my getting them to church to hear a sermon, then this end would to me justify any means necessary to accomplish it.

The term by which I titled this blog -- institutionalism -- is probably more of a restorationist term than a Baptist one. At least some of those churches are divided as "non-institutional" and "institutional" -- the non-institutional churches rejecting such organizations as missionary and benevolence boards/societies, orphans' homes, organized Bible classes, seminaries/Bible colleges and other church "auxiliaries". In these areas non-institutional churches are to the Restoration movement what "primitivistic" churches are to the Baptist denomination.

I really don't know whether "institutionalism" is a common term among Primitive and other primivistic type Baptists. I chose the word (not used in the excerpt, I think), based on the title of the article from whence it came. The key in what Ryan Waldron wrote, to me, is not just "institutions" or "organizations", but "organizations of our own".

As for me, I approach this from the belief that Apostolic or New Testament practice is normative for the entire church age. In this approach, it is not so much whether I consider something an "institution" as it is whether I consider something to be (or not) the normative practice of the New Testament churches.