Movement Or Institution

The difference between an institution and a movement is that one crosses boundaries the other guards them”. The Bible says very little about church structure and even when it does the references are not prescriptive.  It does however talk about the activities, attitudes and relationships, which characterize church.

In ‘Organic Church’ Neil Cole describes the process God took him through to the point where he had to make a basic decision. Did he want to put his energy into an organization or a movement? If he chose the latter than he had to yield up one thing – he could not keep in control. The former would have its limitations but the latter contained the missional DNA to multiply according to the principles of Jesus. The church of the first three centuries was fundamentally charismatic and organic. Christianity did not begin as a religion but a movement of people around a conviction that Jesus Christ was Lord. It was primarily a movement. Alan Hirsch marvels at the remarkable growth of the early church. This was at a time when it was persecuted, when it had no scriptures or church buildings and when leadership was pre-institutional. Christians infiltrated every avenue of Roman society and had become a major threat to the social and political order of the Empire. John Swindell writes in an unpublished paper about the spirit of empire and how it has invaded the church of today.

He suggests that some of its primary characteristics are:

  • Self-serving and self-indulgent
  • Ever seeking to expand
  • Wanting to impose its values on others
  • Their world vision is the right one
  • Centrist control with very strong hierarchical structures
  • Can provide some good for those who are under its control but if push comes to shove it is more important for the people to resource the empire than the empire to resource the people.

If we ask what does it look like in the church? The crusades of the middle ages are an obvious example but also the history of conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Less obvious but nearer home perhaps is the centrist control and drawing upwards of resources in denominational structures. In these structures there are supreme rulers and imposed values enforced by overt or covert power. Success is measured by the increase of their territory and expansion. What does it look like in the individual?

  • Do we seek to impose our values on others?
  • Do we seek to violate their boundaries and thus increase our territory?
  • Do we use power to impose our will and get our way?
  • Is our primary aim to resource and release or to draw from and clone?
  • Self-serving, often gaining more from others (overtly or covertly) than we give.

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