On Institutions

Interesting philosophical idea presented to me (and others) today by a very smart man: institutions, no matter what goal(s) they are founded on, will ultimately turn and make self preservation their primary goal.

That in itself is very interesting. But here’s what has me: if – or rather, when – the institution to which you subscribe (for whatever reasons/goals they stand for) becomes more interested in self preservation than in its initial goals, what will you do? Really there are only two options: one being to submit and make the preservation of the institution your goal as well; the other being to reject the institution in order to pursue the original goals.

There are many places this theory of institutions rejecting their original goals may be acted out – universities, for one. My favorite, though, would be in the church.

And of course by favorite I mean the one that makes me sick.

Picture a bar in Fort Wayne. Smoky, crowded, and an amazing band (I think called Homeless J or something, not sure) steps off the stage for the last time. It’s been a great night and you’re beat. One way or another you find yourself sitting across the room from a couple of exciting minds – one is a hopeless dreamer and the other a graduate of the Lutheran seminary. Settling in you prepare yourself for something amazing. Transcript below.

Hopeless Dreamer: (clearly a few beers in) Okay, so I’ve been thinking about Genesis lately.

Seminarian: (sipping his first) Right, Genesis. What do you want to know?

Hopeless Dreamer: No, that’s not what I meant. I’ve been thinking about it…and I guess I just wonder why I should have to believe that the accounts of creation are detailed, explicit accounts?

Seminarian: What do you mean?

Hopeless Dreamer: Okay, well let’s just say it’s poetry. What if it is? Does that really change anything?

Seminarian: Yes it does.

Hopeless Dreamer: Really? What does it change?

Seminarian: Everything. If you disregard Genesis as anything but a literal account you discredit the entire Bible.

Hopeless Dreamer: Wait a minute. I didn’t say anything about the rest of the Bible. I’m just talking about Genesis.

Seminarian: You’re saying you don’t believe in Genesis.

Hopeless Dreamer: No, I’m not saying that. I said that I think Genesis could be interpreted as poetry, a literary device. I believe the essence of it to be true – that God created the world and everything living – but I don’t think it has to be that way. The writer – or writers – of Genesis didn’t write the way we write today. They wrote to bring about a certain kind of effect, they wrote toward a goal – and sometimes they used literary devices to do it. It doesn’t have to be a literal account, does it?

Seminarian: Jesus talked about it. Paul talked about it.

Hopeless Dreamer: Right, they did. And what about it?

Seminarian: If you don’t believe Genesis then you’re calling Jesus and Paul liars.

Hopeless Dreamer: Hold on, I didn’t say I don’t believe the Genesis accounts. And who’s to say Jesus and Paul weren’t just speaking to the people using the literature they understood and believed? I mean, did either of them explicitly say that the accounts were literal?

Seminarian: If Jesus said it it’s true.

Hopeless Dreamer: You’re not even listening to me, are you?

And so it continues.

I’d say the seminary is doing a good job of indoctrinating/brainwashing/sapping the intellectual virtue from its pupils. If all they’re doing is pumping out robots to spew forth their institutionalized doctrine, what are they really doing? These students will go on to be pastors (God help us) and teach a whole other slew of people to be robots just like them. Oh, and what happens if they don’t want to be robots? Odds are they will receive the same treatment of the Hopeless Dreamer above. To the Seminarian (read: Institution, Bigot, Close Minded Anyone) the Hopeless Dreamer (read: Free Thinker, Honest Intellectual, Question) can be a very scary thing. So scary, in fact, that the scared will deem the scary a threat to its absolutes – or, as the case may be, its institution. In the end the Hopeless Dreamer is either 1) cast from the church in disgust or 2) leaves the church, disappointed to be rejected for thinking outside of such a tiny box.

And what the Lutheran Seminary does is beyond what I can understand – just look at all the hell Luther raised for thinking. Why should the resulting church be so close minded?

The church is losing the dreamers. The church (I’m referring to the institution of church here) is surrounding itself with leaders and speakers and believers who depend on a foundational understanding of the Bible and God. The dreamers end up on their own, either resorting to some ulterior spiritual endeavors or finding themselves as outcasts in the Christian community.

The church (I’m referring to the global, unified church here) exists not due to institutions but in spite of them.

Is it possible that the dreamers could outnumber the institutions? Is another reformation at hand? Will the postmodern Christian make the church her own? With groups like Mars Hill and countless young and open minded souls starting churches, there seems to be hope on the proverbial landscape.

Will you cling to the goals you fell in love with when you joined the church? Or will you become so attached to the particular institution you are in (be it by denomination, culture, teaching style or otherwise) that you abandon the very reason for the pursuit in the first place?

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2 thoughts on “On Institutions

  1. I love your unbias opinion 😉

    Question: What is the goal of Lutheran seminaries? It is not to be the church. It is to educate men(errrr) in the Lutheran doctrine to become pastors, missionaries, or whatever. Their primary purpose is not to promote individual thought, enlightenment, new ideas, or whatever you want to call it. Individual members of the whole institution(say, the sem in Fort Wayne) may promote personal growth and development in their students as a secondary purpose, but the main goal is always to teach them the necessary skills needed to be a pastor, among which is how to carry on the beliefs of the institution they are representing. They aren’t losing track of their original goal. They are concerned with self-preservation, but only because that is part of their goal and always has been.

    And the hopeless dreamers do have places for them in Christian community. They are called nondenominational churches. You’ve been raised in the hopelessly oppressive, stifling, doctrine-obsessed environment of ALC(please find the sarcasm there). It is a LCMS church. It is required to follow that doctrine because that’s what it is. Directly teaching something different from that doctrine causes a lot of problems, i.e. the accusations made against Pastor a few years back. And there’s your self-preservation thing.

    But the Lutheran church isn’t keeping anyone from thinking freely, and it’s not discouraging anyone from doing it. It just thinks it is the “most right” religion/institution, which is where you get people like the Seminarian who will tell the Hopeless Dreamers they are wrong. Why would the Seminarian say that? He thinks he is more right(only the really brainwashed people think any religion, theirs or not, could be totally correct). Whether or not he was brainwashed, he at least chose to enroll in the seminary, consciously knowing he would have to teach that set of beliefs. If he already knew he didn’t agree with the Lutheran doctrine, he wouldn’t have gone to a Lutheran seminary.

    I’m kinda getting off track here. The point is that Lutheran seminaries aren’t the church. They’ve never lost track of their original goal. I agree with you that the goal of churches now is to lead people to God etc. etc. more or less through their beliefs in their doctrine. That is self-perservation, and whether that is good or bad is all a matter of opinion.

    This is just part of the age old problem of seperating the church(the global, unified church, the body of Christ) from the institution of religion. A postmodern revolution won’t end it either. Sorry.

    I hope this made sense. Good article though, parts were very cute 🙂

  2. as pire, n. - » Isn’t She Beautiful?: Sunday Service

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