Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

the history of the institutional church


I have spoken often about what I refer to as the "institutional church", so it is perhaps time for me to attempt to define what I mean by that term. Who or what constitutes this institutional church in my estimation? Any one of us might wonder if our religious affiliation makes us a part of this "institutional church".

Obviously, the existence of "the church" as an institution is controversial. Most want to see their religious affiliation as placing them into a God ordained fellowship and not simply some manmade organization, claiming divine sanction. I have certainly shared that feeling before.

Interestingly, Jesus had very little, if anything, to say about the church. Instead He spoke often about the imminently coming kingdom. There is no hint in the teachings of Jesus that He intended to establish a new organization. The church, as such, does not come into existence until the Roman emperor, Constantine, decided to make "Christianity the state religion of Rome in the 4th Century AD. That move was as much a political ploy as it was a statement of religious conviction. Thus, from its outset, the church as an institution was conceived as a tool of the state, cementing a relationship which continues into our day.

Looking back in history, we see certain characteristics which always seem attached to the church as an organization, be it comprised solely of the Roman Catholic Church as it was for over a 1000 years or of the various collection of Christian denominations resulting from the so called Protestant Reformation. These identifiers include a hierarchical leadership structure which places certain individuals in a position to rule over the majority church member. These leaders often draw their livelihood from these leadership roles and frequently claim a divine calling to that role. Additionally, this organization or collection of organizations always proclaims a God given mission to instruct in the proper way to please God and gain His favor, which would include associating with that particular group, embracing its doctrines, and providing for its financial support. The assumption of this role by such organizations is immediately disturbing because it makes some men the conduit for God's blessings upon the rest of humanity. One can easily see how such an arrangement is unworkable and subject to manifold abuses. The briefest survey of church history only confirms that conclusion.

Churches, which I would include as part of this church institution, are under extreme pressure in our day, because the younger generations don't recognize and accept the moral leadership role which these organizations have historically claimed. It remains to be seen what will happen to the institutional church, moving forward, but it is unlikely that the old status quo can be maintained under the influence of the Information Age.

If your church group claims to be in the business of dispensing God's favor on humanity, under the guidance of its human leadership, such favor accruing through association with that group, then your church is indeed a part of the institutional church.

All groups forming a part of this conglomerate, called the institutional church, should be recognized for what they assert, namely that they are the "funnel" through which God's blessing flows to all mankind. That is a preposterous claim by any stretch of the imagination, and that arrogance is not mitigated by any reference to scripture.