Organic verses institutionalism

Introduction/ institutionalism

The Church today is generally thought of (both by those within and outside of it) as an institution based around denominations and relying on traditions, buildings, programmes, methods, creeds, ministers, personalities, social activities etc. in order to give it its life, shape, structure and validity.

However, in the history of the Church the movement from local fellowships of believers (the organic Church) to denominational or national Church structures, we would suggest, is too often the story of growing institutional and bureaucratic power and declining spiritual power. 

There can be little doubt also that institutions have an inherent tendency to create a life and dynamic of their own, whereby, rather than serving the people, they themselves need to be served.  Institutions cannot heal or love the unlovely - only individuals can do that.  Institutions do not incarnate Jesus.  

This is not to write off the members of the institutional Church - there are many Bible-believing and Spirit-filled Christians within the institutional Church.  Indeed, the organic Church can be found both within and outside of the institutional Church.  We will simply make the point that no static system or entity was ever intended to be the vehicle for God's plan. 

The organic Church

Let's look at the organic Church and begin with Jesus' definition of Church:

For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matt 18:20)

This, in a nutshell, is all that is needed to be Church.  The Church is people.  It's organic and can only be thought of in two ways - the Church universal, made up of individuals spread throughout the earth, and the local fellowship of believers.

The Bible describes the Church figuratively in various ways: living stones, aliens and strangers, citizens of heaven, ambassadors of Christ, the army of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ, salt and light, the Bride, etc., but never as an institution.  Paul says in Ephesians 4:15-16:

We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

The organic Church in essence comprises all the believers from every nation, tribe and tongue who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ in word and deed, irrespective of Church style, culture, denominational affiliation, size of church, etc.  It has no national or global headquarters or organisational structure by which to identify it.

The Church through which God expresses himself

The organic Church is a living, moving, breathing, developing body of people through which God expresses himself.  It is the means whereby he manifests his purposes, person, glory and rule in the earth.  Since God is not static, neither can the Church be.  If we're to partner with a God who will not be tied down or boxed in, we too must take on similar characteristics.

People conforming to any externally imposed pattern or method simply constitute an institution and the organic Church will always resist the pull of institutionalism.  The new wine requires flexible wine skins.  John MacLauchlan, in an article in Fulness magazine, wrote:

Is such a concept, such a non-institutional approach to Church possible?  We respond that it is the only approach possible, if we have an eye for the glory of God.  Any other approach robs him, and forms something that in itself takes away energy and attention for its own self-realisation and perpetuation.     

The Church is the Church by virtue of its continuous response to the living God and cannot be defined by reference to buildings, creeds, ecclesiastical structures, celebrity ministers or experiences.  It's a living organism, composed of countless individuals who are continually responding to the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit in all aspects of life, growth and development.  

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