Question: What do you think of the institutional church? Is it not detrimental to the real work of the church as set forth in the New Testament?
I understand the term "institutional church" to mean a church that not only does the direct work of preaching the Gospel and building Christians up by teaching the Bible, but one that also looks after the physical and mental welfare of its members and congregation by various institutions. Such work is NOT necessarily detrimental to the real work of the church as set forth in the New Testament. It may be a valuable auxiliary, provided the physical and intellectual are kept in thorough subordination to the spiritual.
The apostolic church was, in a measure, an institutional church. It looked out for the physical welfare of its members (Acts 6:1-5), all property was held in common (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35), and the Word of God increased and prospered under these circumstances (Acts 2:47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:7). Of course, the institutions were not many, nor where they very largely developed. In a similar way today, the church can have various institutions for looking after the physical and intellectual welfare of its members. If a church is located among the poor, it can offer financial counsel and assistance and can help people to heat their homes in the winter; it can provide libraries, educational classes, and so forth, accomplishing a vast amount of good, and making all this subservient to the preaching of the Gospel. All these things can be used as means of getting hold of men, women, and children and bringing them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
However, there is always a danger in an institutional church. The danger is that the institutions will become the main thing and the Gospel will be put in a secondary place or will be lost sight of altogether. This has been the history of more than one institutional church in this country, and it is always a danger. In such a case, the institutional church becomes detrimental to the real work of the church as set forth in the New Testament. The first work of the church is seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10; Matthew 28:19-20). Its second work is the spiritual care of the congregation (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2-4), and its third work is training the membership for intelligent service (Ephesians 4:11-12). If the institutions connected with the church are allowed to put any one of these three things in the background, they do more harm than good. But if the institutions are carried on in the spirit of prayer and with the intention - never lost sight of for a moment - of winning men for Christ, and if everything is made subordinate to the preaching of the Gospel and the salvation of the lost and the edification of the saints, then the institutions may be very helpful.
~R. A. Torry~