Monday, November 24, 2008

Why do the institutions in Christianity always collapse?

That is the question asked on the Albert Mohler show last Friday. In the show, Why Christian Institutions Are So Easily Lost, Dr. Mohler laments the loss of so many Christian institutions while in New England, home of so many fine universities that were founded for the propagation of the Gospel and now are Godless, secularized shells of themselves. Dr. Mohler knows this issue from the front lines, being one of the leaders in the "Conservative Resurgence" in the Southern Baptist Convention and a driving force behind removing the heretics from their teaching positions at Southern Seminary. In his accompanying blog post, Echoes of Old Heresies Still Among Us -- A Visit to Divinity Hall, Dr. Mohler makes the following observation...

Standing in the chapel in Divinity Hall last evening, I was struck by how contemporary Emerson's argument sounds. The call he issued 170 years ago is the very message we now hear from others -- Christianity must change or die. We cannot simply preach a book that is two thousand years old. God still speaks, and a slavish dependence on the Bible is both offensive and ineffectual. Doctrines must go -- intuition and sentiment will be enough.

The issues and arguments are the same. Nevertheless, we have all the evidence we need to show us where Emerson's argument leads. It leads to the death of churches, denominations, institutions, and ministries. It leaves sinners dead in their sins and robs them of hearing the Gospel.

The church has never needed "newborn bards of the Holy Ghost." Instead, the need of the church is for preachers who are skilled in the art of preaching the Word of God -- rightly dividing the Word of Truth, while holding without apology to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

I am glad I visited that historic room in Divinity Hall last night. It served to remind me of what is at stake in our generation -- and for eternity. There are no new heresies, only echoes of the old ones. And yet, the old ones come back again and again.

As I listened to the broadcast on my way to work and back (my new job is measured by podcasts, it is an episode of the White Horse Inn and half of an Albert Mohler show each way!) I was struck by what Dr. Mohler didn't suggest. The thought I had was whether Dr. Mohler was missing the most obvious reason that Christian institutions are lost: Institutions by nature are antithetical to Christianity. Look at the history of the church, and ask what institutions have survived. The church became mainstreamed under Constantine and that eventually led to Roman Catholicism and a thousand years of darkness. The reformation came and the church was on the road to reform, but what came out of that movement was the magisterial reformation in Europe. What are the fruits of those institutions in Western Europe, once the cradle of Christendom? Empty churches. Massive secularization. What about America? Look at the universities and seminaries. The ones that are the oldest have almost all gone secular. Look at Baylor, Dartmouth, Wake Forest, Harvard, Princeton, Yale. All established as Christian institutions, all lost now to the church forever. The great denominations? Other than the Southern Baptist Convention (which has it's own issues) they are all creeping or charging toward heresy. The United Methodist church. The Episcopal church. The Evangelical Lutheran church. The Christian Reformed Church. The Presbyterian Church-USA. Churches throughout New England sit empty in town after town. There are virtually no institutions that have been established as Christian institutions that have survived more than a century unscathed.

Christianity is not an institution. When people try to emulate the secular world by creating institutions, those institution eventually emulate the secular world by becoming secularized. We seek to create new and improved institutions to replace the corrupt institutions without asking if the problem is in institutionalizing the faith in the first place. Yet we lament the loss of one institution after another. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But that is exactly what we have been doing for centuries.
Am I wrong?


Joe VonDoloski said...

But if we do away with institutions Arthur we will only have prayer and the Bible and the Holy Spirit left for power and authority?

We might even have to fast for crying out loud. And what will we do with the youth pastor? Millions of pie in the face games and "Christian lock ins" Will become obsolete. You are indeed seeking Revolution Arthur, not Reformation.

And how in the world do you expect churches to grow if the pastor doesn't have a seminary degree?

Bethany W. said...

Good thoughts here! Another great post!

You make me laugh!


Alan Knox said...

I think there's a fairly simple explanation as to why "Christian institutions" fail: All Christian institutions are man-made and all man-made things fail.


Paul Woods said...

How do we converge then? If all man-made institutions fail(assuming that every denomination is a man-made institution) where do we go? What is the answer? Seriously, what does the church faithfully do with this information? A new denomination will not do.

Arthur Sido said...

Paul you are dead on that a new denomination is not the answer. I think we need to look at everything we do in light of Scripture, while trying to minimize our own preconceived notions and traditions. Whenever we gather, sinners are present so there is no perfect assembling. But I think that as a rule, the simpler our gathering the less room of manmade mischief.

Anonymous said...

Hello Arthur, from an "old" , ok forget the qts: OLD voice from Mormon Coffee; great artilce, I may just pass this one on to my pastor. What does a 'simple gathering' look like to you ?? Thanks for your MAnY thoughtful insights over at MC. Do you ever feel like it's shouting into the waterfall ??

Strong Tower said...

It is not the institution, nor men in them, but sin. The church is an institution, believe it or not, with at minimum an inferred structure and hierarchy. God made it, not men, and it(they) always fall apart. But, that is what God has designed it to do. Why? Well, the fall happened. Revelations reveals a fallen church, all seven of them make one church. The institution always has this flavoring to a greater or lesser extent. It does no good then to avoid them, rather we erect and reform an push forward, not abandon. It is not insanity that we try the same thing over and over again. Because we expect the same result, not a different one. We expect the church to fail as an institution, established by God. That is what the apostles told us would happen, because that is what Jesus told them would happen. And it will happen over and over and over, and we are expect to rebuild the institution over and over and over expecting that until the Lord appears in the heavens that all thing will remain the same as they were in the beginning. Without institutions we would have long ago ceased to exist. There would be in fact, no structure to life.

Arthur Sido said...

Strong Tower, what hierarchy among believers do you see in the Bible? There is a difference between leadership and hierarchy.

Strong Tower said...

No, there isn't really. I suppose you could look at Ephesians where a hierarchical structure is plainly revealed.

I don't import the modern idea of "boss" into the idea. Hierarchy simply refers to the structure of authority. One which makes no sense with an insitution within which the hierarchy functions. We are not to lord it over others, still, our relationship is likened to the family where the hierarchy functions for the benefit of the institution. Other institutions, be they seminaries or other ministerial organs established by the churches also cannot function without hierarchy. It is the biblical way.