Monday, September 12, 2016

What's the Main Thing That Makes an Institutional Church Institutional?

I'm taking a quick blog series break here to ask one important question: what is the primary factor that makes a church institutional?

I've written previously on several occasions about a sort of unholy trinity that forms the backbone of institutional church life. These three are expensive/special church buildings, salaried clergy, and worship services/ceremonies. Almost all institutional churches have some form of these three in place. They may go by different names, of course, but at a substantive level they are the same.

Other components of the church institution are also extremely common: budgets, fund raising, youth groups, committees, tithes and offerings, Sunday School, bulletins, nurseries, church signs, websites, etc.

Keeping all this in mind, what do you believe is the one main thing that makes the institution in fact the institution?

I'll tell you my answer: salaried clergy.

Of all the various parts that make the church institution what it is, the most significant is full-time clergy who dominate the life of the fellowship. While scripture describes an active body where each part is important, the institution gives us a drowsy group put to sleep by pastors who do almost everything. If you attend almost any church gathering it is the salaried clergy who stand front and center. They expect to do this, and the folks in the pews expect it, too. It's much of the reason pastors/priests receive paychecks.

Since the clergy are paid, they need something to do. Go ahead and ask institutional believers what their pastor's most important task is. Most will respond by saying preaching. By this they mean giving a 30 minute lecture once or twice on Sundays. This lecture requires both a special building and a ceremony. It also demands that the people sit quietly and obediently.

If church families desire to avoid institutionalization what they must do is minimize the role of the clergy. One means of accomplishing this is simply to not pay anybody. If you remove the paycheck, then everyone is forced to become more active. This has the potential to bring about great vibrancy within the fellowship. I highly recommend it.


Paul G said...

Spot on Eric, I have experienced and observed that many times.
Every time without fail when a small group of believers organised, the assembly dies.
I think it is in the organisation where all the problems are, organisation creates institution.

The first thing they do is to select a pastor, I'm not sure why, perhaps they don't like that the Lord Jesus Christ is their pastor, therefore they select one member of the assembly and pay him a salary to run the church.
He then becomes the Boss, and the mediator between God and man.
They mostly chose some kind of a charismatic career pastor who is very good in preaching tithing and playing golf :-)

To justify his salary and job, he divides the congregation into two, the clergy and the congregation. The clergy become the teachers over the pew sitters who never come to the knowledge of the truth.

T Aagard said...

I'm torn between the salaried clergy and preach the word equals lecture the word as the foundation of institutionalized faith. The main reason for a salaried clergy is the expectation that feeding the sheep equals lecturing the sheep every week for the whole time of truth expression. What is the main reason for teach = lecture? Probably the false expectation that you need a Bible expert in order to "teach". The two are intertwined in a fabric of corruption. The two corruptions are brought in together and assumed onto the text. The salary ruins the impact of stewardship and the lecture ruins the impact of every member being a manifestation of the Spirit and the power of relationship both vertical and horizontal.

Eric said...


It truly is a sad, downward spiral that so many new churches take. What a shame. If they can avoid that first step down the dark path then they have a chance.

Eric said...


The two factors you've mentioned are difficult to tease apart. Maybe we should leave them together and simply say that the combination of the two is the biggest institutional problem.

Peter Horvatin said...

I think that the men who lead ( I don't like the word pastors) are so glorified by the people that it is to the detriment of the people. Jesus is no longer the head of the body and the people become passive participants with no way to manifest the spirit or share in deep relationships with each other.

Eric said...


Exactly. Jesus is replaced as the functional head. What a horrible thing this is. And as you've stated one of the outcomes is an inability to grow close together. Frankly, the church basically stops being the church at that point.

Paul G said...

Yes, and some of those leaders demand that you call them PASTOR, or REVEREND, FATHER or BISHOP, which is a direct disobedience to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word (Mat. 23:2-10), He said that we are all brothers.

I think that they are just men with an uncrucified lust for money power and greatness.
(2 Peter 2-3) in greed they exploit the congregations with useless stories, Shepard's who feed themselves and boast about themselves (Jude 8:12 etc. etc.

Well, it sounds like I hate the Pastors, but I really don't hate any pastors at all.
I think it is an offence to the Lord my God Jesus Christ to do such things which is obviously against the Lord's Word and His instructions for the Church.

Paul G said...

Additional trivia,
Did you know that Reverend in the Scriptures means "AWESOME", Psalm 111:9, "Holy and awesome is His Name (NASV.)" and in the (KJV.), "holy and reverend is his name."
Those Scriptures refer to the Name 'JESUS', it is Jesus who is Reverend or Awesome and not a man who is disobedient to the Scriptures and the Lord.

Why on earth should we call a brother AWESOME ?

Some of us brothers went for a walk through the City of Brisbane Australia, and on a church billboard we read, "Very Reverend John Brown".

VERY AWESOME John Brown ? What next ?
Perhaps, 'Very, very, super Awesome John Brown'. :-)

I think that there is no restraint and no bounds with those egomaniacs.
It is weird that those men who are plainly disobedient to the Scriptures and the Lord want to have spiritual authority over us.
What amazes me is, that the men in those institutional churches say nothing, surely they have a Bible, have they ? and surely they can find out what the Lord says concerning His Church.

Arthur Sido said...

I am not sure I agree. I am against salaried or any sort of paid clergy but I think you can also have an institutional church without the salaried pastor. To me it is the very existence of a self-perpetuating institution, i.e. local church, with it's own real estate, property, money, bank accounts, etc. that makes it institutional. To me, paid clergy is a sickness but it is a symptom of a larger problem.

Eric said...


That is an interesting idea. I'll have to think on it. As with many complex issues, it is often difficult to get the cause/effect relationship correct. However, it's clear that the concept of the local church, as it is today in our country at least, is right at the heart of the institution.

T Aagard said...

Arthur - There are several negative issues with buildings even when the staff is volunteer.
1. It takes a lot of money to buy and build, rebuild after growth and maintain the whole thing. Lots of money. God never asked for special buildings for his people. He didn't give a command not to, but He shouldn't need to. He gave commands for ministry that cost lots of money - serving the poor, helping widows, meeting material needs, and most of all, reaching all nations. When you devote money to things God did not ask for, it takes away from ministry he did ask for. When "giving" becomes pooling to buy goodies for those who give, believers hearts are corrupted to focus on themselves. "..for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also..." (There are 2 key corruptions in this paragraph.)
2. The only need for buildings is to get more people in one room that won't fit in a home. Lots of people in one room is not a sign for anything God asked for. In the current system with buildings, lots of people in one room means the leadership is not reproducing. They are holding believers in perpetual dependency. They have complicated leadership into a Bible knowledge expert driven thing, rather than a walk with Christ, example driven function. This is a severe corruption. I'm not saying leaders don't need to be knowledgeable, but it's not one of the requirements to be a Bible answer man.
3. With 50 or more in one room, the "one another" life decreases proportionately to the larger size. More people do not expect to participate. Passivity increases as the group size increases. More and more people acquiesce to the more focal or expert few and find it fulfilling enough. Less children will participate. Body life by ALL is exchanged for a pool of a few talkers.
4. With these 3 issues in motion, a complete paradigm shift away from the headship of Christ and his direct connection to EVERY believer has taken place. Yet everyone feels a cool-aid of love and happiness. Now there is no reason to not grow the group to any number of people in one room up to 50,000. The excuses are in place for any size. After all the larger number of people in one room is proof God is at work and everything is "his will".

There are other spiritual corruptions that are sucked in with the institutionalizing process that nullify the commands of God. They are subtle, but that's the way the devil works. The devil would start with, "has God said don't institutionalize"? God has established the identity of the household of faith, and it's the opposite of a brand named institution located at an address.

Is there anything more "self perpetuating" about an institution than a community of believers without institution?

Currently organic fellowships have difficulty perpetuating. From my observation, it is mostly because the members are still stuck perpetuating institutionalized habit patterns in their small fellowship. They have not grown to be practitioners of "the new and living way" spoken of in Hebrews 10:19-26.

Is there a merit to more people in one room at a separate campus that is more important than these issues that take place automatically with institution process?

Gunnar said...

In John 13:35, Jesus said ”By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” What I seem to hear in many house church circles is, “By this all men will know that you are the real church (or ekklesia) if you don’t pay your pastor, and you don’t have a building and you sit in a circle and have discussion rather than teaching.” One of the biggest problems in “institutional” church is that they divide into their groups (denominations) with their special teachings, and everyone tells each other how right they are and how wrong everyone else is. It seems to me in many ways the house church movement is often just “institutional” church in a smaller setting. I didn’t leave the “traditional” church looking for the “correct” way to do church. I am convinced that God has called us to radically love each other --- a type of discipleship and commitment that influences your whole life --- not just when we have our meetings. That is what I look for in a church, and what I seek to be. I think these “trappings” that you are discussing here, can easily distract the church from who we are called to be, but I think a church can have many of these trappings and still be the type of church that Jesus has called us to be. In short, I think the question is not whether or not a church is “institutional”, but rather, to what degree these traditional church practices are hindering the church from walking out its calling. And, likewise, as a house church, now that we have shed many of these traditional practices, in what ways are we taking advantage of this new freedom to really walk out Jesus’ calling to radically and really love each other.

T Aagard said...

" I didn’t leave the “traditional” church looking for the “correct” way to do church."
Nobody here is talking about the "correct" way". That is a word you are choosing. If "the obedient way" is synonymous with "correct" then okay. You are playing with words. Obedient is very important because you can't say you love if you are not obedient. " If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." The key elements of institutional practice are almost the opposite of obedience to the instructions from Jesus. To help believers recognize the disobedience factor we have to talk about specific issues that are wrong or incorrect or sinful or fleshly, or whatever term you like. When some say " you home church guys are all just critical so you don't love" is a logical fallacy of merely putting negative labels on people without engaging with the issues. They relabel Biblical rebuke and correction as criticism or negativism. Can you pursue "radical love" without addressing specific obedience issues that must be stopped and replaced with obedient habit patterns?

Paul G said...

Hi Gunnar,
What do you mean by 'I am convinced that God has called us to radically love each other --- a type of discipleship and commitment that influences your whole life' ?

I'm not sure what you mean by radically love each other, is there something more to the love we have for our fellow brothers and sisters ?
Jesus said, 'love one another as I have loved you.' It seems to me that the love we have for the body of Christ is the same as Jesus has for us.
Or do you have another idea ?

Gunnar said...

T Aagard: I understand what you are saying, but I disagree. Every Biblically literate person that you talk too will be able to defend his “way” of doing church. There are things that are clear --- we are saved through faith alone in Jesus, for example. But, I think there can be reasonable differences on “how” we are to do church. Although I probably agree with you on almost all your points on “how” to do church, I am hesitant to say that I have figured out the correct Biblical way to do church and all the other Godly Christians who do it differently are not only wrong, but in sin. I don’t have trouble saying that there are better ways, but I have trouble saying that they are disobedient if they aren’t doing it the way I think it should be done. I think the positions that you seem to hold to are the better way to be a church because they allow the most freedom for us to be the church. But, I think that it is possible, though rare, to accomplish God’s goals for the church in a more “traditional” way too.

Gunnar said...

Paul, you asked what I meant by “radical” love. I don’t mean more or less than loving each other. Radical just means root --- or, in other words, actually doing it, instead of just talking about loving each other. If I “loved” my wife and my children, the way most Christians (in house churches or regular churches) “love” each other, they would think that I hated them --- spending time with them a couple hours a week (maybe with a meal), and occasionally getting together outside of “church” for a meal or perhaps helping occasionally with a chore around the house. For me the example of what the church is to look like is Jesus and his disciples. They spent quantities of time together to really get to know each other. We live in a world where we Christians have adopted the values of the world for how we live our lives. We work long hours (and maybe husband and wife have jobs) so we can have a nice house and two cars and a vacation and so our kids can go to a good school. And we make sure that our kids are active in all kinds of activities so that they are “fulfilled”, and we want to make sure that we have time for our TV shows and our activities too. There is nothing wrong with any of this --- but it leaves no time to spend time together and be the church --- showing our love for each other by actively seeking each other out so that we can love each other and get to know each other and serve each other. And, it is my opinion, that when the church is doing that, the world will see that we really love each other --- and don’t just get together and smile at each other for several hours a week. A major reason that we left a more traditional church was that their focus was on activities and ministries --- instead of walking together and being the church all week. I call this kind of love “radical” because you really have to step out of our modern cultural (and church) values to take the time to focus on walking out real love for each other. And it is hard. The Lord has taken us through a difficult time this past year, and we have had very little time to walk out what I am talking about --- I feel like a hypocrite, but at least it is what I am pursuing.

Paul G said...

Thanks Gunnar for explaining that, I think similar to that and I like what you have said, but because of my inability to love my fellow brother as I should, I have to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for shedding His love abroad in my heart.

I think that the Lord's love in my heart for my brothers has set me free from trying to love my brothers or the Church. Otherwise, how will I ever get it right ? and my love would never be good enough for them.
I think that if we love the Lord with all our hearts, it would be impossible to transgress or hate our brothers.

T Aagard said...

Gunnar - Thanks for the great interaction. "Every Biblically literate person that you talk too will be able to defend his “way” of doing church." They won't be about to defend with the Bible their practice of consuming 84% of their giving to buy a special building and a hired Bible lecturer for every Sunday. God has a specific equation for increasing "love and good works" and it's called the "new and living way". This "new and living way has four specific steps. Hey. 10:19-26. The culmination of this way is the opposite of listening to a Bible lecture every week of your life till you die. It's sin to reverse what the Bible teaches and call it godly. That is no more defensible with the scripture than praying a rosary to Mary or following a Pope. I must place my confidence in God to accomplish his purpose through his word regardless of whether one of his children will receive it. It's not right for me to assume they won't, just because the last 50 believers did not receive it. I would say sharing the truth unconditionally in open relationship with the household of faith is radical love. Today, Sunday, I will go sit in a pew somewhere trusting God to direct me to a believer who might receive the truth.

Gunnar said...

Paul, I agree. It is only through the Spirit and God’s grace that we can love each other as we are called to.

Gunnar said...

T Aagard: I’m not sure what you meant in regard to the Hebrews passage. I read it, but it wasn’t clear to me what you saw in it.

T Aagard said...

Update on my fellowship at a pulpit and pew oriented church this Sunday referred to in my previous posting. I chose a church with an old church building and a non-denominational name. They are 4 blocks from where I've worked for 33 years. When I arrived they were having church on the turf - folding chairs set up under folding tents outside on their astro turf. I went and sat down. The pastor noticed me and introduced himself. Sermon on Joshua 3 & 4. Afterwards we all brought out tables, moved the tents and had a picnic. I sad down at a table with three couples. They saw I was a visitor and engaged me in conversation. They asked me were I went to church. I said that is a long story. They wanted to hear the story. My story helped them understand I did not fit in almost every church. They wanted to know why. I introduced them to the concept of the reality that believers are forced to consume 84% of their "giving" to buy goodies that benefit mostly themselves. This means they are not giving. This routine also forces a "worship" routine where they are not expected to offer any personal expression of church. That's all outsourced to a hired man. This is what we had just done the previous hour. These saints were very engaged and offered pushback. I showed them from the scripture specific statements that called for the exact opposite of what we did. When it was all over they asked me if I would return. I said I would. The pastor was not at that conversation so I should email him to fill him in what what we discussed and if he would like to talk about reconnecting what the Bible says about practicing church. We had some great fellowship. Some seeds were planted.

Gunnar said...

T Aagard --- Very interesting. I think it is great that they offered pushback. I prefer a conversation where the other side has strong opinions and is able to defend them. That way, if they do come around, you know it is because of thoughtful conviction, and not simply because you were convincing.

T Aagard said...

Gunnar - Regarding Hebrews 10:19-25 Did you see the author identify the process that Jesus opened up for us called "the new and living way"? Did you see the 3 "let us" statements that culminate in believers speaking truth in "one another" dynamic"? Did you recognize that the 3 statements are every believer preparing themselves Monday - Saturday in relationship to God so they can relate and build properly when they meet? This is all the exact opposite of the pulpit and pew routine that is claimed to be a "worship" event. Every time I hear a sermon or read an article about this passage by anyone, it is calling people to be regular attenders at one way communication driven event where only one person has prepared to contribute. The corruption of God's design is a complete reversal. This even leads people to consume 84% of their "giving" to build special facilities and hire staff for this routine. This institutionalized routine is a severe corruption of God's Word.

I was delighted with their pushback. If people don't express their objections, they will never be answered. If they merely posture externally that they like what I say and hold back their disagreement, their objection will never be answered. From my experience, most believers take the posturing agreement approach. These brothers were very open and thoughtful. They were surprised that it is so simple to show the current system as self-centered and consumeristic.

Paul G said...

Yes brother Tim, I agree with what you have said.
An institutional church might listen to what you say, but they surely do not believe what you say. To them it is a threat, they think that you want to destroy their church, and take over and be their pastor etc.
They feel comfortable in their pulpit and pew routine and think that without their leadership the church would crumble, and in part I agree with them, just as the Lord Jesus said, that we cannot put new wine into old skins, otherwise they may burst.

From my experience I can say that it is impossible for institutional church to repent and change their practice.
Have you ever seen an institutional church turn into a biblical new and living way Church with all the functions and gifting ?

Now I think that, if the Lord does not build the house, the laborers have labored in vain. In other words, it must be the Lord Jesus Christ who brings together man and woman who are filled with the Holy Ghost and function according to their gifting in fellowship.

T Aagard said...

No, I've never seen a church repent to be obedient to Heb. 10:24,25. But I don't walk by sight, I walk be faith. I must be obedient to this passage. I come prepared to "stir up one another to love and good works" and "encourage one another. After the "service" is over, I'm free to begin. The pastors email is in the bulletin so I will email him why I am there. I will connect what he preached the last 2 Sunday's in Joshua 4 & 5 to what I am interested in presenting. Everything about the current system is set to protect itself from even scriptural rebuke and correction, but I must place my confidence in the power of God. He has given me spiritual resources to distribute. I follow his direction, not my human assessments. Perhaps you should consider preparing for such a service. This site has good input for that.