One of my pet peeves over the years has been the abuse of language.  Or to be more precise, the use of language that distorts the meaning of words.

For example,Christian Music”.  Is there really such a thing?  No.

The word “Christian” is a noun that defines an individual’s relationship as a disciple of jesus Christ.  The term “Christian” Music turns the word into an adjective that modifies the noun music.  Can music be a disciple of Jesus? How silly.  The term “Christian” as it relates to music creates an easy way to market a product to a targeted demographic, but it is terrible abuse of its true meaning.

There is music that is sung by Christians.

There is music that is written to worship YHWH.

But… there is no such thing as music that has accepted Jesus as Savior and therefore no such thing as “Christian music.”

I believe the same principle about “Christian Music” applies to the term”Institutional Church”.  The latter term exposes a gross misunderstanding of the word “Church.”

There is simply no such thing as “Institutional Church” or “Organic Church.” or any other culturally-conditioned man-centered noun modifier that belong in front of “Church”.

There is only one Church defined as the men and women who are collectively saved by the shed blood of Jesus.  There are some churches that live out their faith in a more structured way and others in a far less structured way, but they are all still THE Church.

My biggest gripe about the myth of Institutional Church, is that the term is used to create a divide between followers of Jesus.  If a Church is deemed “Institutional” by some group then somehow, magically, it is no longer considered a valid gathering of saints.  “Institutional” becomes a pejorative, created by one group of Christians, to marginalize another group of Christians.  It is used to create an artificial divide between what some consider the “real” church from the “false” church… Does this sound familiar?

“whew.. I am glad I am no longer part of that Institutional Church and that my faith is real.”

Words have purpose and their use has consequence.  In this case, the purpose of calling some gatherings ”Institutional” has the consequence of dividing the one Church into social denominations.

Let me be clear…

Are there some practices carried out in some Churches that depersonalize our faith?  Yes.

Can we do better at living out the nature of Church in America?  Yes.  

But… using pop-culture market-driven phrases designed to sell books and that have no biblical foundation only creates division and will keep the one Church from going where we need to go.

So can we all agree to reject the myth of “institutional” and be the Church together?


Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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