Breaking the Institutional Cycle that Quenches the Life of the Spirit
While doing research for my book, 2000 years of Charismatic Christianity, and looking for evidence of Spiritual gifts in church history, I found something in church history I was not looking for. I discovered what I call an “institutional cycle” in church history. In this cycle there comes a spiritual awakening with emphases on life in the Spirit, freedom, relationship, issues of the heart, etc. The revival lasts for a while and then inevitably comes the institutional trend where the emphasis shifts to things like authority, order, governmental structure, etc., and out of the revival emerges another denomination. I discovered that this institutional cycle has been occurring since the first century.
“Institutionalism” is defined as “an emphasis on organization at the expense of other factors.” Something is always lost in an over-emphasis on organization; and in the church this loss is always in the area of the freedom and dynamism of the Holy Spirit. In other words, institutionalism quenches the Spirit and replaces it with ritual, formality, and a hierarchical leadership that claims to speak for God. What I discovered was that, throughout history, institutionalism has been the greatest enemy of revival, and it seems to me that we are seeing this same institutional process at work in our day.
During the 1990s there was a powerful move of the Holy Spirit throughout the earth. I remember hearing the Holy Spirit clearly speak to me in August of 1993 during my daily prayer walk. He said, “A new wave of Holy Spirit outpouring is coming and will continue to the end of the century.” It was such a clear word that when I returned home I opened my calendar and wrote down those words on August 23, 1993. Shortly thereafter, revival broke out at Oral Roberts University, where I was connected at the time. We saw students praying into the wee hours of the morning and many being slain in the Spirit across the campus grounds. Praying, singing, and shouts of praise could be heard, ringing forth from the dorms and the cafeteria. There were classes in which I was not able to teach because of the students being overwhelmed by the presence of God. It was an incredible moment in time. Soon afterwards, we began hearing reports of revival springing up in other parts of the world.
No, the revival was not perfect—revival never is. There was much flesh and probably even some demonic stuff that intruded at times. I am sure God would like to use perfect people, but the only problem is that he can’t find any. So he uses what is available; and I would say He has done quite well considering the material He has had to work with. Nonetheless, in spite of the problems and defects, this revival impacted many lives around the world and brought a new sense of liberty and freedom to many.
But since the year 2000 (it was in the works before that) I have been seeing in real life what I had already seen in church history—an institutionalizing of revival. The emphasis now, in many quarters, has shifted and is now on authority, structure, and governmental order. Although expressed in a variety of ways, the most popular approach seems to be the current emphasis on the restoration of the office of the apostle along with apostolic order and structure. My basic issue with this approach is two-fold: (1) ministry and leadership in the New Testament is functional in nature and not official and (2) there is no prescribed order in the New Testament laid down by either Jesus or the apostles.
Now, we know that organization is needed to carry out the work of the ministry. No church or ministry can carry out the work to which God has called them without some element of organization. The question is, “How do we know when we have crossed the line and are institutionalizing a work of God?” Below are five indicators that indicate that church and ministry are becoming institutionalized. These have been drawn from a wonderful article by Findley B. Edge entitled “Experiential of Institutionalized Religion?” Findley, who served for many years as the Professor of Religious Education at Southern Baptist Seminary, said the Church is becoming institutionalized . . .
(1) When its adherents are related primarily to the church as an institution or to the organizations of the church rather than to the living God.
(2) When the church turns its concern inward upon itself and is more concerned with its own existence and progress than it is with the mission for which it was founded.
(3) When the multitudinous activities required to build up and enlarge the organization becomes identified with “doing the will of God.”
(4) When means becomes ends and ends becomes means. Institutions and organizations which were designed and intended to be used as a means of serving people may become ends and the loyalty of the people is determined by their service to the institution.
(5) When the spirit of religion is lost and only the form remains.
Another way of saying it would be, “When the spirit of freedom (revival) is lost, being replaced by outward forms and authoritarian offices and structures.”
Some years ago, Sue and I heard Dr. Harvey Cox, of the Harvard Divinity School, speak shortly after he had completed a two year sabbatical during which he had been studying the history of the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement. He had also been visiting Pentecostal-Charismatic churches and ministries around the world, out of which had come a just completed book entitled Fire from Heaven. He said one thing that I never forgot. He said the early Pentecostal revival exploded in growth because it was “quasi-chaotic.” He meant this as a compliment and was referring to the fact that at that early stage, the movement/revival had not yet institutionalized and was being borne along on the dynamism, freedom, and power of the Holy Spirit.
My prayer is that, as we move forward in doing His will and advancing His cause, we will walk carefully; and not be guilty of quenching His Spirit with organizational offices and structures. Let’s stand fast in the freedom of the Gospel and be the generation that breaks that “institutional cycle.” As we do, times of refreshing will surely come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).
 If you would like to read more of my thoughts on this topic, see my article entitled, “Why I Have Not Aligned Myself with the Modern Apostolic Movement” which is posted at http://www.biblicalawakening.blogspot.com/2012/06/why-i-have-not-aligned-myself-with_05.html.