Institutional church – an analogy

On Wednesday, this question was posed on Twitter:

The following exchange was:

This got me thinking.

I’m happy for an institution to exist which supports the church, but I would hesitate to regard the two as equal. In the early church, when the apostles started to find their work hindered they delegated responsibility. The seed was sown for an organisation to help the body.

I view it as one might scaffolding. It can be a bit ugly, certainly not as beautiful as the building beneath. This can put people off; though they may glimpse something of what is within, it’s often masked by steel, or plastic that flaps in the wind. It’s firmly attached to the building, but it is not the building. It’s sometimes staffed (manned?) by those who occasionally shout at one another, or give unhelpful comments to those passing by.

With a large church, it’s an unfortunate necessity, borne not out of theological imperative, but of practical need.

Some churches may try to be inside-out, giving a beautiful presentation to the outside world, only for some to be bitterly disappointed when they enter, finding building works going on indoors.

Picture by Peter Broster, used under creative commons license

Picture by Peter Broster, used under creative commons license

All analogies, have their failings, as does this. But might this ring a little true in your experience? I’m just musing here.

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3 responses to “Institutional church – an analogy

  1. Great analogy! I particularly like the picture of the inside out church – could that be a perfect analogy of seeker sensitive churches?

    One question in my mind – if we don’t want the over bearng institution do we need a smaller church?

    • To the first point, possibly. I had in mind those that are very good at evangelism, bringing people in, but focus wholly on that, setting people up for a disappointing follow-up.

      To the second, I would be tempted to answer yes. I like the idea of an individual church serving its local community, but in open fellowship with those nearby and being part of a loose network. The obvious pushback to this would be the CofE, and I am hesitant to suggest a panacea to the speck in their eye.

  2. Thought-provoking!

    The whole area of ecclesiology is a massive issue. Clearly the church is the people, Christians united by faith to God in Jesus Christ. But, as you say, the institution needs to grow up around it to an extent – before you know it you end up with a threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons and an established church.

    The Reformers distinguished between the visible and invisible church. I’m not sure if that’s always a helpful distinction, but it is true that there is only one (invisible) church no matter how many denominations there are. “One holy catholic and apostolic church”, as the creed says.

    Fundamentally the most important thing is what is going on inside the church, i.e. whether the gospel is being clearly proclaimed and is encouraged. I said to Vicky Beeching on Twitter in answer to another question, I think the church as an institution remaining together despite fundamental doctrinal differences is theologically incoherent. The gospel creates the church, not the other way round.

    Anyway, I’ve probably gone on long enough!