In an article that claims that the Church is an institution and not a movement, the chookwatchers, channeling their favourite pirate, Chris Rosebrough, make some extraordinary claims that are both illogical and unscriptural.
Here’s how they quote Chris in their post:
“You’ve probably heard it said that the church is a movement, not an institution. That’s not true.
The church is an institution. It’s not a movement.
And because the church is an institution, it has offices. That’s right. In fact a pastor is a man who is the current office holder of the office of pastor within a congregation. And that office has particular duties and responsibilities and requirements for the person who is the office holder.
So a lot of people don’t understand this. And as a result of the kind-of the loss […] of this idea that the pastor holds an office, their [sic] has been a lot of misunderstanding.”
Well, we can all agree that, in a certain context, the Church is an institution, depending on your understanding of the word. It is ordained by God.
And everyone, I think, understands that most churches have a pastor, or more than one pastor, depending its size, and that this is a recognised office in the local church. No problem.
I don’t know anyone, actually, that doesn’t understand the office and role of a pastor in the local church, so what Chris is going on about here is quite obscure, unless he has a particular kind of pastoral role in mind that relates to his own position and understanding.
There is no misunderstanding amongst other evangelicals about the role of a pastor. He is the overseer of a local church – a flock of people, responsible and accountable before God for the spiritual welfare and wellbeing of the congregation, called and separated by Christ to train and equip the Church for the work of the ministry, to grow in Christ, and to build one another up in love.
But to say that the Church, because it could be said to be an institution, is not a movement is disingenuous at best. Unless you are part of a local church or denomination that is so entrenched in its past that it has no viable future.
Since when was the notion of a church being part of an institution and a movement mutually exclusive? When did it become either or?
An institution is an organisation founded for a religious, educational, professional or social purpose. There is, however, no reason why that organisation can’t also be understood to be a movement.
What evangelicals say about movement
The dictionary defines movement as the act of moving.
It can also be a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas. We could add to that religious or theological ideas, or any number of common goals undertaken by a group of people.
There is nothing illicit or sinister about this definition in terms of the discussion here. So it could even be a movement of Protestants, as in the Reformation.
Theopedia, an online evangelical web resource, which recommends scholars like Michael Horton and J I Packer, states:
‘The Protestant Reformation was a major 16th century European movement aimed initially at reforming the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.’
Notice they call it a movement. Orthodox traditionalist Protestant commentators, then, have no issue with the idea that the Protestant revolution was, in its beginnings at least, a movement. It was a popular activist movement, in fact, that impacted the world following Martin Luther’s rejection of Roman Catholic practices that denied the Word of God. Theopedia continues:
“In 1517, in one of the signal events of western history, Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk, posted 95 theses on a church door in the university town of Wittenberg. That act was common academic practice of the day and served as an invitation to debate. Luther’s propositions challenged some portions of Roman Catholic doctrine and a number of specific practices.
“The movement quickly gained adherents in the German states, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Scotland and portions of France. Support came from sincere religious reformers, while others manipulated the movement to gain control of valuable church property.
So, again, evangelical historians refer to the Protestant revolution as a movement. Men like Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Knox were all considered amongst the leaders of this popular movement to restore the Word of God and scriptural doctrine in the Church.
Brittanica also calls the Protestant Reformation a movement. Wikipedia calls it a movement. And so on. You get the picture. In fact the use of the word ‘movement’ is descriptive of a growing ideology. There is nothing sinister about it. It merely characterises the nature of an entity that has momentum.
In the Book of Acts, the Church was certainly, in terms of development, a movement. It spread rapidly throughout Jerusalem in the early years, when God added to the Church daily, and the Body even experienced multiplication – which is movement.
Significantly, it’s momentum was under threat of being checked when disciples neglected to leave Jerusalem, as Jesus had instructed, and take the gospel to the rest of the world, so it was in danger of becoming institutionalised and contained.
However, after a great persecution by Rome, during which Jerusalem and the Temple was sacked, as Jesus had predicted, Christians were forcibly dispersed and, as they went out and preached the gospel and formed local churches outside of Jerusalem and in the provinces of Rome, the momentum was regained to such an extent that it was said that the whole of the known world of that time was influenced by Christianity. This is movement.
It is said that a movement without momentum becomes a monument. It speaks of its past and not its future. Monuments require upkeep and investment just to remain static. This tends to deterioration and stagnation, or, worse, idolatry of the monument for the sake of preserving the past that has gone.
Movements also require investment, but this is to continue the momentum. This tends to advancement and increase. Growing movements have more energy and resources because they continue to grow and add talent, ideas and life. The dynamic of increase is expansion.
Exceedingly growing faith
Jesus spoke of the small seed that grows to a great sheltering and fruitful bush and likened it to the empowerment of faith, always looking forward to it’s fulfilment, built on love and hope, which, in turn, is our vision of the future.
Momentum requires the spark of life and leads to movement. With life there is always movement. Dead things are static, powerless, and deteriorate rapidly.
James said that faith without works is dead. Works require life, movement, action and momentum. We’re not saved by works, but they will demonstrate our salvation, commitment and discipleship. Jesus, and James, said we should be doers of the Word, not hearers only – movement.
God’s powerful words, “Light be”, in Genesis 1, began the momentum and movement of the creation, and it is still moving today as the universe expands and life on earth regenerates.
God swore by Himself that blessing He would bless, and multiplying He would multiply – movement. The Ruach is the Breath of Life – movement. No living, active thing in the universe isn’t moving in some way, macro or micro. The earth is a buzz with motion, action and growth. The sign of life is movement.
‘Church is not a movement’ – Rosebrough & chooks
I said all this because, as I said at the beginning of this piece, the chookwatcher clan have added an extraordinary piece to their recent list of ill-considered posts that claims the Church is not a movement but an institution.
This lack of reason is based on that article by pirate radio host Chris Rosebrough, which is interesting because he is also a Lutheran pastor. He is, perhaps unwittingly, rewriting Lutheran Protestant history. Has he forgotten the struggles and sacrifices of the early Lutheran movement as it entered the Reformation? What is a Reformation if it is not a movement?
So on the one hand orthodox evangelicals readily consider the Protestant Reformation to be a movement, and on the other Rosebrough stigmatises any movement as error.
Marriage is a movement, Brian
Quoting Brian Wolfmueller, Rosebrough says about movement, ‘No, the church is instituted like marriage and family.’ Well, yes, marriage and the family is indeed an institution arranged by God. But I put it to you that marriage is more than this.
Marriage and the family is real life. It begins with two living breathing people, a husband and his wife, intimately engaging in their marriage. It is very much movement. In the course of this intimacy, love and relationship, there will inevitably, all being well, pregnancy and the birth of new life – children will come. This is movement.
But wait, there is more. The children will be nurtured and grow – movement. They will become adults and enter relationships of their own, more children will be born, and we have much movement, momentum, life and increase, blessing and multiplication, generation by generation, all out of this wonderful institution called marriage and the family.
And yes, as Paul reminds us, marriage is a type of Christ and the Church. There is much movement in the growth and increase in and of the Church. Wolfmueller goes on:
The ‘karma’ of Ephesians? Que? We’ll leave that one for now!
Well you’re not supposed to stop at Ephesians 4:12, Mr Wolfmueller, it is only part of the story. Paul goes on to say that we ‘may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.’
Yes, the Body, fitting together, working together and supplying to one another causes growth, which is increase, and, wait for it – movement.
Wolfmueller concludes that Christ “puts the Pastor in the mist of the Lord’s Church for two things: to preach and to administer the sacrament; to teach and baptise and give out the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins…”
That’s five things, actually, but, anyway, according to Mr Wolfmueller, the role of the pastor is to be a Lutheran priest serving the sacraments, teaching the daily reading, and baptising, presumably in the font.
Not quite what Paul had in mind for the pastor, nor what Christ had in mind when He was setting Peter apart to feed His sheep, making disciples, and teaching them to observe all He had taught His disciples.
Institution and movement
Which brings us full circle to the premise made by Lutheran priest and pirate Chris Rosebrough regarding Church institution, movement, and the role of the pastor. He is clearly viewing the situation from the perspective of a Lutheran pastor, whilst denying his own denominational roots and the amazing and influential growth of the Protestant Reformation.
When he speaks of the office of a pastor he is referring the sacramental obligations which remained from the era of Catholicism from whence Lutheranism came. The accounts in Ephesians 4 that describe the ministry of the pastor do not mention this.
It speaks of their ministry being ‘for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’
The end result of their call and ministry will include the edification and growth of the Body of itself in love. It will, inevitably grow and there will be increase, if it operates according to God’s Word and the Christ-ordained training of the pastoral and apostolic ministry.
So the Church is both an institution ordained by God, and a movement envisioned, provisioned, equipped and empowered by God.
And to God be the glory for His grace.