Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Armies, part 2: The Institutional Army

A while back, I wrote about the interaction between the institutional, relational, and missional aspects of being an army. Since the Church is, in some sense at least, the Army of God advancing against the gates of Hell, it seems appropriate to warn of some of the dangers of wrongly prioritizing these three elements. One of the big dangers is that the Institutional aspects are allowed to predominate, with the community aspects next, and the missional aspect last. What is interesting about this kind of army or church is that when an army or a church operates this way, it affects every other aspect. The community life is important, but we must all respect and carry on the traditions of the unit, or else major conflict will result within the unit. Change of any aspect of the traditions will result in lack of unit cohesiveness and even division. Moreover, the mission is changed from confronting the Enemy and seeking victory in battle (whether physical or spiritual) to the preservation of the unit in the form in which it has always existed. This means that in the final analysis, the unit ceases to function as an effective army and becomes something of a living museum piece, carrying on the traditions and practices of long ago, but having long ago stepped back from any real battles.

The best living examples I can come up with of this kind of thing is re-enactor groups. One of my former college roommates was a Civil War re-enactor. He wore the authentic uniform, carried the authentic rifle, ate the authentic food, lived in authentic quarters, and was a member of an authentically re-constituted unit. He even authentically charged the enemy over the authentic battlegrounds. But his rifle was loaded not with Minie balls, but paper wads over black powder. The Civil War was over long ago, and the Army of the Potomac no longer exists in any real sense, but these men are committed to maintaining its traditions and history. In the same way, many churches maintain traditions and history but have the re-enactor's effect on the outcome of the actual battles going on in our world today. That is, they continually re-fight battles from long ago for the sake of history and tradition, sometimes little realizing that the battle lines have moved elsewhere. And so they become ineffective at neutralizing the Enemy's work and taking his captives from him for the sake of Christ.

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