Insidious Institutionalism

It is sadly all too common a situation.

In the Enlightenment period, (roughly 1500-1800AD) it is apparent in the writings and the lives of most of the great thinkers. And today, one meets it regularly both inside and outside the Church.

I am talking about the disillusionment with ‘institutionalised’ Christianity.

Honest hearts, struggling with their own weaknesses and faults, look to the Church hoping to find a solid rock of Truth, a firm foundation of Hope on which to model their lives. It is to our shame that such hearts sometimes find nothing more in the Church than an organisation, an institution, a structure. The vision is missing and the original principles of Christ are, shamefully, relegated to a lower priority than principles invented by humans.

This is the great danger of becoming an institution. I hope you don’t misunderstand what I am saying; we benefit greatly from belonging to such an institution; but only if it is done right. If it is done wrong, we can suffer equally greatly.

Here are some of the more common signs of institutionalisation gone wrong:

– acceptance of using the strategies of the ‘world’, whether within the Church, or in dealing with those outside it;

divisions based on loyalty to a personality rather than to Christ Himself;

– acceptance of the principle, “The goal justifies the means”;

– emphasis on achieving things rather than on being a good person;

– dry ritualism rather than using the rites as personally-moving prayers.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the WWJD question – What Would Jesus Do? It finds an application here. If our Lord were to come to Church this Sunday, I wonder what He would think of it all? It was He who said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, and His Apostle said, “For the letter of the law kills, but the spirit gives life”. If Christianity teaches anything, it is that how you live your life, who you are, deep inside, is what really matters. The outer appearance is secondary, and should naturally flow from what is real inside the heart of the person.

Is it too dangerous for the Church to be an institution? Many in Western Churches have taken that view, and starting from Martin Luther back in the 16th century have gone outside the institutional Church to try to recreate the Church in a more natural setting. But I think this runs an even greater risk. Human beings are who they are, and in the absence of having “The Church” as their foundation, they will seek other foundations, and not always in the right place. Thus we see Churches that care far more about the personalities of the leaders or about being rebellious, or about being ‘hip’, or about one tiny little aspect of Christianity or… or…

The Truth of the Gospels remain untainted by the faults of those who follow the Gospels. If you have a bad experience with a surgeon, it would be irrational for you to condemn all surgery as harmful. Back in my medical days I was privileged to assist a wide variety of surgeons as an intern and resident. At one end of the spectrum was a gentleman whose operation style was anxious and jumpy. One never felt he was really quite sure of what he was doing, despite his many years of experience. At the other end of the spectrum was a quiet, elderly man whose deft, pinpoint accurate touch made every motion of his hands enchanting. I would leave his operations with the feeling that I had not witnessed an operation, but a work of art, like finely performed symphony orchestra concert. It was truly a poetry written with scalpels and stitches.

We should strive to make our institutional Church like that. Our history and our heritage are ingredients of the highest quality, and more than capable of producing works of beauty. We walk in the footsteps of Christ, and in the footsteps of those who walked in His footsteps – St Anthony of the Desert, that noble spirit who blazed the path of quiet contemplation; Pope Peter the Seal of Martyrs, the scholar, the profound philosopher who was martyred with his people; St Athanasius the undaunted spirit who could not accept that evil should dominate the Church … the list goes on.

In these examples and the many thousands more whom history has not recorded lived the spirit of the true follower of Christ. For them, the institution of the Church was the arena for living out the teachings of Christ, each in their own way, and sharing that way of life with others.

The Proverb says, “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness”. The Church will be, for you, whatever you make of it. If the Church is the little seed that grew into a towering tree, seek then for the sweet sap of the Love and Truth of Christ within its heart, rather than being content to gnaw upon the dry outer bark of human institutionalism.

Fr Ant

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4 Replies to “Insidious Institutionalism”

  1. Good day…. Father Antonios , your Holiness actually put the facts forward and in depth …..i believe all of us agree when any organization gets bigger the norm is the development of a lot of structures within it to look after its affairs for better service and survival , however to focus in its mission and not to deviate as deviation of any institutionalized organization will mean the beginning of the end if not the end itself ….also the beauty of it that the whole pyramid from the top to the bottom must be responsible and accountable to one another at the end of the day, accountability at all levels is of great importance ….also all agree that systems and procedures of those structures must be revisited from time to time to adjust and tune up to make those structures viable , valid and efficient and that is natural and healthy … everything had been evolved even the Job of the priest , if we look at his job description ,as church sacraments practitioner , mediator ,councilor, confession tasks , school teachers etc , might need more than 24 hrs a day , what is that ??sometimes some wonder and say you can ring the prime minister and talk to him and harder to ring a priest and find him !!?? anyhow sometimes we go further in restructuring , reforming and look at job descriptions to make the whole organization more efficient and cost effective to be competitive to survive by not deviating from its mission “”Spirituality “… anyhow we come to our topic i believe institutionalization within the church is a must and not choice in order to survive …at the time of Jesus we used to feel the concept of leadership , followers , treasury , time management , performance , rules , regulations ,decision making , conflict resolution ,management ,control of different sort of behaviors some assertive , other passive and others aggressive ,all these aspects used to be in that small organization of Jesus as the leader and his desciples the followers …jesus used to teach them and others ,adjust ,. tune up , check their performance ,manage in a great organized way …they used to know their rights and the rights of the others , they used to be accountable at the end of the day to one another and to the others and to God ….above all they used to be guided by prayers of Jesus to manage all those affairs and to spread the word of God , the good news ……. even when Jesus left them he left them in a well organized way of life and supported them by the guidenes of the holy spirit so the guidelines of INSITUTIONALISATION is not something new , taught before two thousands years by our lord Jesus ……now a day i believe the implementation of it within our Coptic church in this part of the world had been deviated and that the dangerous part as it lacks i believe two of its important and essential components as an example the real rights of those structures which we call some of it committees etc to do their work and to have their say , things usually dictated to them and not reflecting the real concerns of the church community , and the second fact nobody takes responsibility and accountability at the top of the pyramid , forgive me father in highlighting some facts so the consequence of that i believe the Coptic community reacting by just do their prayers on Sundays and acted in a passive way in the other affairs and some prefer to withdraw entirely , figures in the churches started to decline ….i believe the new generation will act soon differently because they know exactly their rights within the Church and the support within the big Australian community and the support of the Government ….just we have to pray to our lord Jesus Christ to guide the whole Australian Coptic community to look after their own affairs with the guiddnes of the holy spirit , amen …. forgive me father and bless me, that was my analysis and my views , i hope time will prove me wrong ….

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  2. somebody the other day said to me ya the priests in this part of the world and everywhere and specially under institutionalization, truly they are under tremendous pressure because of those plenty of tasks in their job description, they are church spiritual sacraments practitioners ,spiritual ad visors and guiders , confession tasks ,councilors , mediators ,school teachers ,visitations of the sick at homes and hospitals ,regular visitations of the congregations , administrators , advisors in general life aspects , etc . and he added all of us must feel pity for them and their families because they would not have time to see their families and the stressful aspects on their life from work load, besides it is a big pile of qualifications and essential tasks ???!!! other said i wonder if some tasks in their job criteria could be creating conflict of interest with other tasks done by them , such confessions might leak out with mediators tasks information which need to be testified in courts sometimes , he wondered how things work in this scenario ???!! ??! oh mate i said i do not know either but seems to me the old days might be better without INSTITUTIONALIZATION if not implemented correctly as it used to be small spiritual tasks with clear direction of spirituality and aspects related to it , used to be good blessed simple days for all of us to our parents and graaaandparents …seems life is evolving too fast with great pace and a lot of changes occurring over the years ….may the holy spirit and its great power which Jesus left the first church with it to guide us all in the right direction to praise the name of the Lord all the time till thy kingdom come ..just i refer to a nice book of pope Shenouda ‘ THE HOLY SPIRIT AND HIS WORK IN US “, given to me by Father Antonios in one of those occasions when he distributed some books to the whole congregation after church ,Iquote ,when David the prophet did something wrong ,said to the lord , “DO NOT TAKE YOUR HOLY SPIRIT FROM ME ” means the HOLY SPIRIT can be departed by the power of God as it is given , so we pray to the Lord not to take his holy spirit from us in this part of the world and the other parts of the world so his name will be praised all the time all over the world , amen ….forgive me father just reflecting some thoughts , all of us we learn something and we might benefit everyday till we die , pray for me father and forgive me ….

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  3. This morning after the mass and in the usual regular announcements Father petros “Peter “, mentioned the new nomination names of the church committee and he advised the youth to familiarize themselves with the names and ask if they do not know , really i found this is a great step , good encouragement and positive sign for our future Church congregation which will be mainly from those youth as the old generation will never be replaced any more as there in no any more immigration to this part of the world …anyhow i went outside the church and i found an argument about this as one said it will be good that the church committee to have some of those youth who they will reflect the real needs and concerns of the church community , the other said , in good faith , oh mate those youth they do not work and they do not have time to do work for the church !!?? i went home annoyed , as i felt that there is something going wrong and i said to myself this is no good for any future positive vision not only for survival of our church but also for any improvement and real new blood committees reflecting the actual needs and concerns of the church at least in our local church …. from here i believe and i suggest and i encourage some youth to come forward in those committees and learn and experience such roles as future leaders …also i suggest that the church must reserve 50% of the committees places for the youth and to be elected among themselves ….they have to learn and experience sometime and look after the church ….may our lord Jesus Christ guide us all in every thing we do ,amen …..

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  4. The other day i was driving in left slow lane in the free way and i was looking at the fast lanes and i wondered and i asked myself what is happening in the world why those people are running so fast , what are they trying to catch !!!???suddenly i realized , also in the fast lane , somebody driving fast , talking in his mobile , at the same time shaving , eating a sandwich and reading the news paper ??!! i suddenly screamed oh my God what is that ???!!i started to process what i have seen slowly and i said to myself either i am getting old and i am not accepting what is happening around me or life is evolving and changing very fast could be there are more challenges there or might be the world is not the world anymore ????!!!anyhow i would like to share this experience with you , Somebody was talking to me the other day and told me what is all this fuss about this SPIRITUALITY FEVER ???!! he said , spirituality level under institutionalization umbrella and in the old days ,he said Spirituality level in the old days it is as today and on the contrary we find today the good news of the word of God is everywhere and more broader and the real believers and followers of Jesus Christ increase everyday and through the whole world … he added that the word of God is no more exclusively only on churches sermons and only by priests , we find it in the internet , TV , CD, DVD and through all these media and sort of technology …heaps of people become every minute followers of Christ !!! ..he added it is a sort of SPIRITUALITY FEVER hitting the world with real strong and blessed outcome ….I said as Jesus said , the whole world will go but not even one word of mine will not go ….Jesus said ,the first will be last and last will be first ….i believe all the promises and times of our lord have been fulfilled ….mate, truly seek the kingdom of God first and all will be added to you, try to experience that …. ..Jesus wants your heart only no more than that , love God from all your heart and soul and love thy neighbor as thyself ..on the same token look after those least from your needed time and money and not from your excess ones …it will be your credit oil on judgment day ….do not be stale in your classical and routine prayers and you do not feel it as most say from time to time …mate develop , experience , talk and even argue with JESUS in your personal prayers and trust me you will feel him next to you in everything you do, you must experience this yourself in a practical way and he will dwell in your pure heart … i believe life is changing , more fast and a lot of challenges in it , a lot of worries there in life , you need education , career , job , establish family . need to survive and do something for own self , but trust me all of us went through these experience but and but the bottom line without that personal spiritual relationship between you and Jesus you will get nowhere …praise the name of God by your life , amen ….

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