The New Anti-Institutionals

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Within Churches of Christ there is a group of people who believe Christians should not support institutions. Because the New Testament doesn’t authorize local congregations to support such things as orphans homes and Christian colleges, they believe that support from church budgets should not go to such institutions. Those who hold to that view are often called either non-institutional or anti-institutional. While this is a very small percentage within the Churches of Christ there are brothers and sisters today who still hold to that line of thinking.

Today, a new anti-institutionalism is showing up. This time it is not exclusive to Churches of Christ. In fact, it is coming from all over the place. This time it is not about orphans homes or Christian colleges. The institution at the center of the debate is the church (properly defined of course). Church properly understood and as defined by the New Testament is not an institution. But has it become one? It sounds like Church of Christ arguments from years gone by (kind of like we are the church of Christ and the only church is Christ’s church so only members of the church of Christ are going to heaven kind of logic). The bone to pick is not with the body of people who make up the church but with the building and all that goes with keeping up those activities that typically are focused on Sunday and Wednesday. There is a growing feeling that the modern model of church has missed the point, has gotten almost completely in-focused and has misunderstood its mission.

Like the original non-institutional movement those who believe this are also appealing to scripture. Their appeal is not about what the New Testament does or does not authorize. Their appeal is about the identity and mission of the church as defined by the New Testament. In many ways it reminds me of a Restoration Movement 2.0. It is a plea to get back to the church we find in the Bible and understand the limitations of the model we have landed on and that it does not perfectly mirror what we find in the New Testament. There we find a church on the move. We find a church battling culture. We find a church reaching the lost. Their point is that it is entirely possible that the 21st century church and the model we have adopted for it can actually work against that mission.

Where does this come from? While the original Restoration Movement came out of a Modern worldview of certainty, this one comes out of a post-modern view that comes from uncertainty and a willingness to question everything. It is important that we understand what this conversation is about for several reasons:

  1. Maintain our relevance in a changing world and people with a different worldview than the church leadership
  2. Evaluate how effectively we are accomplishing our mission
  3. Understand what we are communicating (everything we do communicates something)

I don’t agree with all the points coming out of this line of thinking but I think it is a valuable discussion. Congregations should be able to readily demonstrate how they are carrying out the mission of God. We should understand our role in equipping God’s people for works of service and not leaning on paid staff to get everything done. We need to make sure we are clearly communicating that our worship and identity is not wrapped up in a couple hours per week in a single location. Last we need to understand the limitations of the structures we have in place and not make an idol out of them. Have you guys experienced this?

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