I am an institutional type. I love our Lutheran institutions. From our seminaries to our publishing house to our relief organizations to the churchwide structure itself, I appreciate their work and pray that they continue to be effective ministries pointing to and living out of the cross of Christ. Let us thank God for their work!
In some of the Emergent Church literature and websites I’ve been reading there is a persistent anti-institutional theme. To many in the Emergent movement, institutions represent the worst of the Modern World and Church. To them, institutions resist change, toil for their self preservation, lack a mission focus, and exist to serve only the interests of old, out-of-touch constituencies. Perhaps we all have seen these characteristics at work in failing institutions. But it would be unfair to paint all church institutions with this largely negative and simplistic brush. I wonder if these critics don’t risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater . . .
Thanks to our church institutions, every three years 40,000 Lutheran youth and young adults attend the National Youth Gathering. Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Disaster Response, church institutions both, are among the most respected and most effective humanitarian organizations in the world. Thanks to our seminaries, thousands of congregations have theologically-trained pastors and lay leaders. Augsburg Fortress Publishers provides Sunday School materials through which hundreds of thousands of children learn about God. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans gives millions of dollars each year to congregations and religious schools. And there is more that I could say about our church organizations.
Our church institutions are far from perfect. At times they represent the worst of the church by preserving unjust policies or failing to proclaim and live Good News among people outside the Middle-American Middle-Class. But at the same time, they can represent the best of our tradition and mission. Through these institutions we can live out the mission of the church to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, lift up the lowly. By banding together in broad organizations, the church can do what it cannot do as separate, isolated, go-it-alone communities.
Whole-sale rejection of church institutions is a grave mistake (and it is no better to reluctantly acknowledge the need for such instutions but simultaneously undermine them with our negative thoughts, words or deeds). Rather, I think we owe it to our institions to give them our whole-hearted support – to pray for them, to give money to them, to rebuke them when they go astray, and to lift them up when they excel in fulfilling the church’s mission. Afterall, we’re all part of the same church and we share the same mission.
Praise to the Holy Spirit for flowing through these organizations and using them to bless the world!