terça-feira, 12 de agosto de 2008

Sobre o Institucionalismo na Igreja

Algumas impressões de Alan Hirsch sobre o problema. Para quem tiver tempo livre...

"Perhaps a further exploration of what is meant by institutionalism is needed here: Institutions are organizations initially set up in order to fill a necessary religious and social function and to provide some sort of structural support for whatever that function requires. In many ways they fulfill the very purpose of structure; organization is needed if we seek to act collectively for common cause. And all movements start this way, but in the initial stages structure exists solely to support the grassroots. The problem happens when the newly instituted structures move beyond being simply structural support and become a governing body of sorts—structure becomes centralized governance. So religious institutionalism happens when in the name of some convenience we set up a system to do what we must do ourselves so that over time the structures we create to do this take on a life of their own. A classic example is when churches outsource education to external organizations. Initially these training organizations exist to fully serve the grassroots. However, over time they increase in authority and eventually becoming ordaining bodies whose imprimatur is needed in order to minister. As the provider of degrees, they become increasingly more accountable to the government bodies than they do to the mission of the church. But the net result for the local community is that not only do they become dependent on an increasingly powerful and cloistered institution, they also lose the ancient art of discipling and educating for life in the local setting. The local church as a learning and theologizing community is degraded as a result.

But something else begins to happen: as we outsource to the structure what is essential to the function there is a transfer of responsibility and power/authority to the newly established centralized body. In this situation they inevitably become the locus of power which uses some of that power to sanction behaviors of its members that are out of keeping with the institution. Instead of serving the mission, institutions begin to have a life of their own, and they can become blockers not ‘blessers.’ One of the most tragic examples of the conformist impulse in institutions was seen in the effective hobbling of the remarkable organic Celtic Mission by the more centralist Roman Catholic Church in Britain in that fateful meeting at the Abbey of Whitby in 664. The Celtic movement was never the same again. But centralized coercion and conformity surely climaxed in the Inquisition (est. 1231) which burned and killed hundreds of thousands of people in the name of compliance and control.

The tragedy these examples serve to highlight is that when power is entrenched in the religious institution it creates a dangerous culture of restraint. No one intends it; it just appears to be a part of our fallen condition—genuine gospel freedom it seems, is very difficult to maintain over the long haul and one cannot bind it down in well meaning structures. But when organizations enshrine this culture of restraint, they are extremely hard to change. As far I am aware, no historical denomination has ever been able to fully recover its earlier, more fluid and dynamic, movement ethos again. That’s why it is the network structure, where power and responsibility is diffused throughout the organization and not concentrated at the center, that more approximates our real nature and calling as the Body of Christ. A network structure thus guards us against the dangerous creep of religious institutionalism.

And so it should be no surprise to us that genuine Jesus movements operate are essentially networks. Curtis Sergeant, an expert on the Chinese underground church, notes that in regard to the issue of control and growth that

In regard to church-planting patterns, external human control over the new converts and churches is inversely proportional to the potential growth and rate of growth in terms of both maturity and size. If a church planter or agency or denomination or other entity seeks to exercise authority to a great extent, then the new church and its members will tend to be dependent and not take responsibility for their own growth or for reaching others. Every time you are tempted to micro-manage, remember this principle.

As Church Planting Movements researcher David Garrison says that in all truly vigorous Jesus movements leadership authority is decentralized…

Denominations and church structures that impose a hierarchy of authority or require bureaucratic decision-making are ill-suited to handle the dynamism of a Church Planting Movement. It is important that every cell or house church leader has all the authority required to do whatever needs to be done in terms of evangelism, ministry and new church planting without seeking approval from a church hierarchy.

Both these men are reflecting what that great missionary prophet Roland Allen said in the early parts of the 20th century when he noted that “we instinctively think of something which we cannot control as tending to disorder.” But he suggests that there is another way that lies beyond control—what he calls the spontaneous expansion of the church.

By spontaneous expansion I mean something which we cannot control. And if we cannot control it, we ought, as I think, to rejoice that we cannot control it. For if we cannot control it, it is because it is too great, not because it is too small for us. The great things of God are [always] beyond ‘our control. Therein lies a vast hope.”

To illustrate this with a bit of living irony, Michael Frost, a friend of mine was recently privy to a meeting with three Chinese leaders from the underground church who were smuggled out to a group of Western leaders about issues they were facing. When they were asked what wanted prayer for they asked for three things: Whilst acknowledging that the government has become more lenient, they were still not allowed to gather in groups of more than fifteen people and that when they grew beyond that they had to split and start a new church. Could the westerners please pray for that? The second issue they asked for prayer for was that they were not allowed church buildings and were thus forced to meet in homes, cafes, karaoke bars, and social clubs. Could the westerners please pray for that as well? The next thing they felt they needed a breakthrough with was that they were forbidden to develop separate organizations where they could collectively train leaders; they were forced to train leaders in the local church. Michael, himself a vice-president of a seminary, says in all good conscience that he simply could not pray for them in this way because he and the group gathered there realized that in many ways the Communist state was forcing the church to remain more true to themselves. Philip Yancy likewise reports on his life-changing trip to China. He says “Before going to China I met with one of the missionaries who had been expelled in 1950. ‘We felt so sorry for the church we left behind,’ he said. ‘They had no one to teach them, no printing presses, no seminaries, no one to run their clinics and orphanages. No resources, really, except the Holy Spirit.’” Yancy wryly concludes “It appears the Holy Spirit is doing just fine.”

These stories highlight how reliance on buildings and external institutions can seriously distort our experience of God, our understanding of church, and our experience of Apostolic Genius. History has amply shown us that we are actually at our very best when we have very little of these.


. The main issue at the synod was ostensibly to set the correct date for celebrating Easter and to address the issue of the hairstyle of the monks (called a tonsure..)The Roman party thought the Celtic calculation, which differed from their own by only a few days and the different form of tonsure was tantamount to heresy. It was over these trivia that the Roman party was able to tame the most remarkable missionary movement in Western history. See for instance, Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (New York, Anchor, 1995.)"

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