Monday, March 09, 2009

The institutional church

I caught this quote from Eugene Peterson on Ben's blog. It was in a 2005 Christianity Today interview. I loved Ben's question: "Is Eugene Peterson a prophet or just grumpy?" Anyway, the interviewer made this statement: "Many Christians would look at this church and say it's dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith." This is what EP said...
What other church is there besides institutional? There's nobody who doesn't have problems with the church, because there's sin in the church. But there's no other place to be a Christian except in the church. There's sin in the local bank. There's sin in the grocery stores. I really don't understand this naive criticism of the institution. I really don't get it.

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There's no life in the bark. It's dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it's prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn't last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it's prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregation - what it is. It's a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn't idealize? There's no idealization of the church in the Bible - none. We've got two thousand years of history now. Why are we so dumb?

Hmm. I had never heard this before. Kinda makes sense.


Whisky Prajer said...

Peterson has been grumpy about this subject for quite a while. I may as well admit his assertions in this matter have been part of what's motivated me to keep attending and participating in a congregation.

dan horwedel said...

I've always wondered if part of why I resonate so much with Peterson is because of my grumpiness too.