Church as an Institution

Note:  As I promised yesterday, we begin our look at Christ and religion today with a short series of posts from several years ago as an introduction. This is the first in that short series…


Since I am in one of those periods in between series of posts, there is something I’ve been thinking about writing, that doesn’t exactly fit neatly into a study of a particular book of the Bible, yet they all seem to have passages that come back to my topic in one way or another. The topic I feel compelled to write about really goes to the very nature of what “church” is all about, and as a result, it goes to the very heart of following Christ. It really boils down to this: What exactly is “church”?

As I thought about it, I came to realize that there are three things I want to address briefly in this discussion, so I’ll break this into three posts, the first of which will talk about Church as an Institution, the second about “Doing” Church, and the third about relationships and community.

This is by no means an exhaustive study; it’s some thoughts. It is not a theological discussion; just some observations… got it?

Is the church an institution? Before you answer, I mean the New Testament church that we see in Scripture as it exists today, you know, the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven… is it an institution?

Let’s see, an institution might have a CEO and a board of directors, some vice presidents of this and that, regional supervisors who oversee some district managers who oversee some store managers, who oversee assistant managers who deal with employees and the public. There might be annual shareholder meetings, a headquarters, a headquarters staff, and a policy manual. Without question there will be financial reports, traffic counts, an advertising budget and a certain way of doing things. Of course, everything would be subject to the directives that come from the legal department…

Is this what the Body of Christ is? Is this what “The Church” really is?

No, of course not, for I didn’t use the right job titles.

If I had used the right job titles, would you agree that is an accurate description of the Kingdom of Heaven? Is that what Jesus was talking about?

I doubt it. It might describe a denominational structure, however, but a denomination is not “The Church”. To be fair, this is not to say that there is anything wrong with a denominational structure, nor is it to say that denominations might not be doing great work, but any given denomination in and of itself is hardly the point: The high officials of any denomination would surely be the first to point this out, don’t you think?

The church of our Lord is so much more significant than an organization made by men, so much more than a building or a name or a procedure manual; it is the very purpose of God in action. Yet, in this world, such an organization might well prove to be expedient; a useful tool: Fine and dandy.

Yet no denomination or brotherhood of believers that I have ever heard of has any legitimate reason to claim to be the only group of Christ-followers. The church is so much more than that.

Of course, you are free to disagree, but in my view, we must train ourselves to stop thinking of church as some kind of an institution, for the reality is that church is not an institution at all− it is movement. When our Lord went through the countryside preaching the Kingdom, He spoke Truth to the people; He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk and drove out demons. The word of what was happening spread like wildfire and the crowds became larger and larger. People came from miles around to hear the Truth, to be healed, to gain sight, to walk, and to be spiritually cleansed; it was a movement that even the authorities could not stop. After His resurrection, He passed the mantle to His disciples, and they did the same, even under persecution, and the movement grew, precisely because it was God’s purpose in action to save humanity from sin and death.

We might wonder why we don’t see such a movement today, a movement that changes hearts and minds for Christ, and that is a fair question for us to ask. The answer I propose is this: Movements change hearts and minds, the movement, the Way, that was the church, changed hearts and minds for Christ until, like all other movements, it stagnated and became an institution that must maintain the status quo.

This is why we need a whole new way of thinking about church today; we must begin to see that church is not an institution, but a movement, a movement that changes lives for Christ.

Next time let’s get back together and talk a bit about another one of our attitudes that might need a little work…

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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6 Responses to Church as an Institution

  1. I wish we would think of the church as a movement, a growing organism. If we are busy during the week doing what we can to help the movement spread, it will not matter if, on Sunday morning, the songs are dragged, the Bible reader stumbles over words, the preacher forgets what he was going to say. Nothing external can stop you from worshiping and being glad you are with other worshipers with strengths and weaknesses.

  2. When I was *much* younger I pondered just what Jesus was trying to create. One passage (Matt. 19:28) stuck me in particular – Jesus was trying to take them (us) back to a time before the Kings, when there were just the twelve tribes and the Judges. A time when Israel was directly ruled by God and were responsible to Him alone, not to man.

  3. jlue says:

    The New Testament describes the church as a body, specifically the body of the Lord Jesus. It is a beautiful picture when we think about it. We are His body. He has been resurrected from the dead. We are alive in Christ!

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