Institutionalized religion: epic fail
Have you ever gotten in a rut? I mean, every day you follow the same old routine, eat the same foods, watch the same shows, and never venture outside of your “world” because you are “comfortable.” We are often “comfortable” with so many parts of our lives because that is what we are used to and we become very reluctant to change.
Prison inmates, believe it or not, will do the same thing. Psychologists will often describe this reaction as institutionalization. In fact, some incarcerated offenders become so institutionalized that they choose to return to prison soon after release because they don't know how to function out in the real world. I even heard a story about an inmate, who after being released from prison, took a bus driver hostage just so he can go back to prison.
Christians are often guilty of the same thing and demonstrate a tendency toward institutionalization. Let me show you what I mean through a little quiz.
1. Do you have a worship style preference?
2. Are you disinterested in attending a worship service that is different from your preference?
If you answered “Yes” to both of those questions … you are institutionalized! Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having a “preference.” Unfortunately, we cling to what we like and are comfortable with, focusing on our wants and needs, rejecting God’s changes. And we miss a great opportunity to serve Him. It ain’t about what we like; it is alllllll about what God is doing, whether we are comfortable or not.
The problem becomes when we get comfortable in the way we do things like the songs we sing, the way we conduct business, and the things we “like.” When it becomes more important to do what we want than it is to reach out to the people around us, then we have become institutionalized and God can’t use us!
I found this definition of institutionalized religion: it is a collected group of Christians who don’t want a relationship with Jesus Christ on his terms, but on their terms. Therefore, they create and serve a false Christ which leads to bondage, a lack of power, and a delusional mindset that leads the group to believe they will inherit eternal life when in fact they will be damned to hell if there’s no repentance.
Paul's first missionary journey, detailed in Acts 13-14, describes the extension of the gospel message of Christ to the Roman Empire. This journey marks the big change in the ministry of the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Previously, the church’s activity centered on the Jews in Jerusalem; but in Acts 13 and 14 everything moves to the Gentiles beginning with the churches of Galatia and centered on Antioch. This passage shows the tremendous turns in purposes and elective plans of God.
Acts 13:2 "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
“Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” “For the work to which I have called them.” This is something God had in His mind and purpose in His elective plan for the world before its foundation. This event is the first missionary journey, the sending forth of Barnabas and Saul on that journey in about 45 AD. Having been sent by the Holy Spirit, and with the prayers and the laying on of hands, they went down to Seleucia, the port city of Antioch, about sixteen miles away. Then they set sail for Cyprus and began their ministry there in Cyprus.
The Holy Spirit is the initiator of the new step, just as the Spirit had led Philip to the Ethiopian and Peter to Cornelius, now Paul is led to the Gentiles. This radical shift of the Christian outreach is from a Jewish to a Gentile frame of reference.
The shift becomes reality because the Jews rejected the proclamation of God's fulfillment of the old covenant in the new covenant. The Jews had become institutionalized. They didn’t want things to be any different than they had been for centuries: even though Messiah had personally shared His Message with them and demonstrated His authority through signs and wonders. They refused to see! Consequently, God moved His hand of acceptance to include the Gentiles. I have all too often witnessed God leaving behind a community of “faithful” who have become closed to the possibility that He might do something new.
When a community of faith takes refuge in its own power structure to maintain the status quo and ignores God’s movement, often the fallout is seen in God leaving behind the community. Second Timothy 3:1-5 warns us about the result of institutionalization of religion,"1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away."
Having a “form of godliness” is saying all the right religious talk and outward appearances, but no power. The institutional church is powerless over sin, powerless over demons, powerless to heal the sick, powerless to do all the things Jesus said believers in him would do. And why, because they denied the source of the power which is Jesus Christ.
Man’s natural inclination is to serve something — for we were created to worship. As a result, when the true God comes to the human race and says this is the criteria for eternal life, these people rebel and say, “No, that doesn’t quite fit the way I want to live, Jesus, so I’ll do it my way.” Then they set up a false god in their minds and worship that instead of the real one.
God has a response for the institutional church in 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 "10 … because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
The institutional church can be a group of people, an external ministry, a house church, or an assembly of people in a building. Whether a small group of people or a metropolitan mega church, the institutionalized church embraces legalism and lives by a set of doctrines that teach a person must work their way into Heaven; it’s all about what you do for God. These delusional "Christians" think God allows them into Heaven based on the works in their own life. Instead, Jesus says repent from sin, trust and obey me, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and conform you to my image; don't follow a set of rules made by men. If a person stays in the institutional church, it’s evident that they love the world and its iniquity rather than the righteousness and holiness of the true Jesus Christ. If you are a part of the institutional church, get out before it’s too late.
We may have been deceived, but like a good shepherd, God will guide us back into all truth.