David Bosch on the institutional church
November 14, 2007
Over the past months I’ve been thinking about the whole conversation going on regarding the institutional church, many being quite negative about it. I’m trying to get to a responsible approach to this. I’m studying Transforming Mission at the moment, and Bosch spent some time discussing this as well, so I thought I might just as well post some more thoughts.
Just before moving to this blog, I posted some thoughts in this four posts on the question:
institutional church #1 – posting the question
institutional church #2 – the internet and blog-o-sphere
institutional church #3 – the early church
institutional church #4 – something from the NT
I’m not promising that what I’ve written there, and what I’m going to write here will be the same, since I’m still thinking about stuff myself, but this is some thoughts.
A very popular argument going around nowadays is that the church was institutionalized by Constantine in the early part of the fourth century, when Christianity was made state religion. Although I think we can learn a lot from this further institutionalization of the church, making Christianity a bourgeois religion (burgerlike godsdiens), we need to recognize that Christianity was being institutionalized long before this. Although Bosch gt information from a lot of other people, I’m not going to mention them, simply how he in the end understand things. Read Transforming Mission pages 50-54 for some more.
According to him we might possibly find the first steps in institutionalizing the church already with people like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both members of the Sanhedrin, who helped smooth out the transition from a movement to an institution. We are talking about the first thirty years after the events at Pentecost.
And Bosch considers the institutionalization as a failure of the early church. Jesus did not come to establish a new religion. The followers of Jesus was not given a name to separate them from others, they were simply a community, meant to provide an alternative, to both challenge and serve others, but not to exist simply for itself, a kind of “the bureaucracy is expanding, for the sake of the bureaucracy” thing. But this did not last. The question Bosch asks is, were there any alternatives? And the answers seems to be no. Any movement need some form of institutionalization to survive.
The question we should be asking seems to be not should the church be institutionalized?, but rather, how should this institution look, if it is to retain it’s core identity. Maybe this was part of what my posts on the round-table church (here and here) was about. But it surely is difficult. Should this go in hand with just starting out anew, for some this is the way to go, but for many the difficult talk of rethinking the church institutions they are part of is laying ahead.