A Non-Institutional Church? Why Are We So Dumb?

Yesterday was the PLANT Chicago quarterly.  We’ve had some outstanding speakers on important topics this year.  I was really looking forward to hearing Jared Wilson speak on the exclusivity of Christ and I was not disappointed.  I’ve appreciated his clear and compelling points in writing (The Pastor’s Justification is a must read for pastors!) and now I have a taste of his humble and genuine demeanor in person.


Here are a couple of the great quotes Wilson gave us yesterday:

This is why most southerners go to church and most northerners do not – because they’re ‘good’ people.

To reject the church is to reject the gospel because the church is something the gospel has made.

And then going along with that last one he read a longer quote from Eugene Peterson about the institutional church:

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 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?

In all our desire to see a movement of rapid church planting, let us not lose sight of the fact that we’re trying to plant institutional churches, because there really is no other kind.


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