There is a grand difference between being part of an institution and be institutionalized. But they seem to have been blurred in modern culture. One definition for institution is provided by Dictionary dot com:
An organization, establishment, foundation, society, or the like, devoted to the promotion of a particular cause or program, especially one of a public, educational, or charitable character.
By that definition there should be no shame in calling a church, any church an institution. It is a place where people are loved, nurtured, protected, heard and sustained. The church has a responsibility to continue in these things. An institution is a social mechanism for making a desirable experience easily repeatable and sustainable.
Football is an institution, Thanksgiving is an institution, so why the blurring of the lines between institution and be institutionalized?
Institutions, as we have seen are not a problem. The issue at hand is the corruption of the good of continuation and viability with the idea of a corrupt idea of institutionalization. An institution can enrich life. But when the institution itself sees itself as only the mechanism and the goal is not the good but the continuation of the machine, it becomes institutionalized. The method becomes more important than the product. The system overshadows the purpose. So how does this subtle change happen? How does the church change from a vehicle for liberation and love to an engine of unchangeability and rigor?
The Pharisees of Jesus’s day were masters of this metamorphosis. They took the institution of the Sabbath, a weekly pause intended to renew the human spirit and turn in so imperceptibly into a life quenching list of prohibitions. They took the idea of a coming Messiah and pointed it toward a mantra of things that had to be done to earn the coming presence of the Great King. The faith of Isaiah and Jerimiah degenerated into an engine of oppression. An engine with all the trappings the faithful. A form of godliness without the power.
The church is an institution. That is nothing to be coy about. It is your and my responsibility to keep our churches on an upward path. A path of life-giving renewal. Remember that task is not as important as the people.