I’m a pretty big baseball fan. I enjoy the game. Not only do I enjoy the game I enjoy the institutionalization of the game. Big brick buildings, nice seats, hot dogs the whole works. The sights, the sounds mmmm… yup! the whole experience. I’m a spectator or baseball. I’m not on the field of play but I love to watch. I’m a fan of the business of the game as well. What front office will pull together the best players with the least amount of money? How deep can they make it into the playoffs? There are so many great story-lines. Baseball wasn’t always like this though. It was a much more simple game 130 years ago. There were no big stadiums, contracts, home-runs etc. Just a simple game played from town to town for fun and enough money for gas and food. But Baseball is an event. People come to see and experience something great. The game is more than a mere idea to be practiced, discussed and theorized about but at the end of the day its an event. In america today it’s an event big enough to attract hundreds of thousands of people all over the US in just one day!
I say all of that to say this. It seems lately that there is some kind of disdain for institutionalization. For the purpose of the article the institutionalization of a local church. I was talking with a friend recently and he seems to think the superior church is the non institutionalized church. Perhaps he is right. Perhaps that’s the direction Christianity is going? Small groups praying, discussing, theologizing, teaching etc. But I have just a couple of questions concerning my friends favorite kind of small no paid staff, no building, living room and out in the community kind of manifestation of the local church. The Gospel is an event and discipleship is what happens when spectators become players. The proclamation of it through preaching is something to be experienced. There is teaching in a small group but what about preaching. How do you preach the Gospel in a living room? Seems like such a small venue for such a big proclamation. What about spectators? Where will they sit and watch? I remember the first time I watched a major league baseball game. I was so inspired I went home and began to play baseball myself for the rest of my life! A church building can be a terrific place to house a Jesus event. Spectators will leave what they have seen and experienced and then take that home to emulate and practice. Where will the spectators fit?
Christianity has always had spectators. Teaching doesn’t fit a big building I understand that. But we are not called to sit around and only hear a teacher. We are called to sit under the proclamation of the Gospel as well and this is no mere thing getting to hear a herald. This is an event. At this event spectators become more than mere fans but participants through the power of the Holy Spirit. If the Gospel was not an event but instead just a mere message I think small Anabaptist groups would be justified in their disdain for the institution of church. Instead I say bring on the music, the noises and sounds, the clapping and crying, ushers, programs and Vacation Bible Schools because Jesus is not only a message he is an event. He is to be experienced as an action through the event of faith, through the event of the word, and through the event of Gospel proclamation. Today we do this at sporting events because we want to experience a great event together we want to celebrate it together.
Many Churches today with big buildings, big numbers, etc are institutionalized for sure. Have they institutionalized Jesus? Maybe some of them…but not all of them. Like seats in a movie theater they are just waiting for a good show. The proclamation of who Jesus is, what he did and is still doing.
Have the Mariners as an institution made the game an institution? No they have merely framed it, and pretty well i might add, to display the event of baseball. Many churches have died because there was no longer an event to come see and inspire. So say be a big old church with a handful of people praying that your pews will be filled again with people coming to see and participate in the main event! Good for you!