I love fellowship with other Christians. Nothing is more powerful, more biblical, or more kingdom building than when true Christians come together to gather in the name of Jesus Christ and worship biblically. So please hear me when I say this post is not meant to neglect gathering together as expressed in Heb. 10:25. Rather my challenge to Christians is to make sure that is what they are seeking and not an idol called “church” that relieves them of their biblical responsibility to other Christians.
Millions of Christians gather in buildings on Sundays called churches because they have been taught that is what they are supposed to do. These churches are institutions. What is an institution? It’s an organization formed by men for the purpose of accomplishing a goal of some kind and are usually governed by some type of bureaucracy. Government is an institution with a goal of serving its citizens by protecting their rights and their property. Public schools are an institution with a goal of educating children in knowledge and skills that help them grow to maturity and to be a productive member of society. Would you say these institutions are successful in reaching these goals? Of course not because they are managed by men and men are sinful and fallible.
Most churches are institutions founded by men with the goal of furthering the gospel and discipling their congregations to maturity in Christ. Like other institutions, how are they doing at the task? I’ve According to research conducted by Barna Research Group (google it; it’s been out for while now), many professing Christians no longer think Jesus is the only way of salvation, that He lived a sinless life, and are mostly biblically illiterate. These are just a few of the conclusions from the research. Of course most Christians would say, “not in my church!”
In the past people used the term “institutionalized” to refer to someone who had been in prison and could no longer function in reality. Applying to the topic of church, the word means someone so deeply absorbed into the structures and rituals of their local or national church bureaucracy their interpretation of scripture, their understanding of ecclesiatical practice (fellowship of believers), the gospel message itself is all skewed by this lense. They attend and revere their “institutional church”.
Here are the signs of someone institutionalized by a church:
- They usually talk about “their” church instead of God’s church. They talk as if totally oblivious to the fact there are Christians in their community that don’t attend their church. The whole idea of the church being a building is not only unbiblical, but actually “anti-Christ” in nature. Christ did not die for another temple made with hands, but for a body of believers, a people he would purify for Himself.
- Institutionalized Christians rarely study or teach the bible, but rather read and study books that are published by the bureaucracy that formed them. Remember men formed these organizations, not Christ. He formed His church over 2,000 years ago and it is still the only church in existence today. In fact, Jesus’ Church is the only “C”hurch because all of its members are believers indwelt with the Holy Spirit. They make up His body. It’s their identity.
- They are insulated within the 4 walls of their own church. They rarely get out into their own communities to share Christ with others, take care of the poor, the widows, or the orphans unless it is a rigorously organized event by the bureacracy and approved by their local leader. The reason for this is control must be maintained over the insitutional Christians lest they witness the work of the Holy Spirit up close and realize their institutional church is not only unbiblical, but also quite dead. It resembles a cult.
- They give their money to support a professional “bureaucrat” that has graduated from one of the organizations’s accepted educational institutions and therefore considered to be “the authority” in their local church. This does not follow the biblical principles for selection of elders or recognize the Holy Spirit’s role in the giving of spiritual gifts, but turns the leading/shepherding of a congregation from a calling to a career with salary and benefits. These are able bodied men who can hold down jobs, being paid for by their congregation, and often being provided very good benefits and even retirement plans. I don’t know the statistics nationwide, but this is what I witness locally in my own life. I serve with a homeless ministry that receives 80%+ of its donations from individuals. There are over 3,000 churches in our community, but few of them give to the homeless because they can barely cover the pastor and the building expenses.
- Institutional churches and the Christians that attend them usually are engaged in spiritually immature theological issues. The Calvinism vs Arminianism debate is a great example of this. This totally disregards Paul’s criticisms of the Corinthian church and goes against Jesus’ teachings on division. When you say you are a Calvinist, are you not being carnal?
The things I mentioned above are just a few observations. If any of this rings a bell, then PLEASE get out your bible and do a deep dive into what being a disciple should be like.