Friday, April 06, 2007

Say It With Me: The Institution Is Not The Enemy, Even If It Has Become The Sacred Cow

Several years ago I read a book by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost called The Shaping of Things to Come. Admittedly I found the book provocative, stimulating, challenging and unnerving all at the same time. My most severe critique of the book is that I fear it calls us too radically away from an institutionalized Church. What I mean by this is that Hirsch and Frost seem to call for the abandonment of any gathering of believers which can rightfully be recognized as a church where there is structure and clear hierarchial roles of authority. They also passionately argue for a subversive, winsome, creative, compelling gospel-centered, missional-driven lifestyle that may or may not be rooted within a traditionally understood biblical model of the church.

Today I was reading a post on Alan Hirsch's blog (and it is good for us all to read individuals who challenge us to think outside of what is normal and acceptable in our own minds) and came across this quote from Jacques Ellul in The Subversion of Christianity.

“No doubt some will reply that God is not a God of disorder, incoherence, or arbitrariness, but a God of order. Of course he is. Unfortunately the whole of the Old Testament shows us that God’s order is not that which we conceive and desire. God’s order is not organization and institution (cf. the difference between judges and kings). It is not the same in every time and place. It is not a matter of repetition and habit. On the contrary, it resides in the fact that it constantly posits something new, a new beginning. Our God is a God of beginnings. There is in him no redundancy or circularity. Thus, if his church wants to be faithful to his revelation, it will be completely mobile, fluid, renascent, bubbling, creative, inventive, adventurous, and imaginative. It will never be perennial, and can never be organized or institutionalized. If the gates of death are not going to prevail against it, this is not because it is a good, solid, well organized fortress, but because it is alive; it is Life that is, as mobile, changing, and surprising as life. If it becomes a powerful fortified organization, it is because death has prevailed.”

Ellul aptly reminds us that what God defines as order is not necessarily order as we might conceive of it. This, is in fact, a healty perspective. We cannot put God in a box and His ways are not our ways, and in His works will manifest themselves in many designs, shapes and experiences of which our finite and feeble minds would never imagine. So the challenge here, as Ellul sees it, that God's people (His church) would mirror God's penchant for new beginnings and creative interaction with His creation. To some degree I agree with Ellul. The church should be dynamic, creative, inventive, adventerous, imaginative and without resistance to change. However, I disagree that the characteristics for which Ellul believes the church should be known are incongruous with the institution or structure of the church. I believe Ellul's critique likely stems from an observable deficiency within the modern Church to display any winsome gospel-saturated vigor in a culture where Christianity is becoming increasingly marginalized. 95% of churches are declining in numbers. The institution of the church, on many fronts, appears lifeless and culturally insignificant. But we must resist the temptation to move outside the boundaries of Scripture as it relates to order and structure within the body of Christ for the sake of flexing our creative and adventerous missional muscles. Creativity, adventure, imagination, renacence are more are not enemies of structure and institution, although few could argue that they aren't well-acquainted. Our challenge is to function within the biblical prescription for church life with such dynamic vigor and creativity that an unbelieving world cannot help but notice our presence.


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