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April 21, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

The period between Passover and Pentecost gives us an opportunity to reflect upon the beginnings of the organized Church.  It is the period in which Jesus gave his Apostles their post resurrection instructions.  The Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:16-20 is given in Galilee.  It forms part of the teaching Jesus must have shared with the Apostles during this intervening period between the spring festivals in Jerusalem.  Certainly we have in these verses only a bare outline of what Jesus communicated, but the essential kernel is given.  The witness to his resurrection, and all that that involved in the taking away of the sin of the world, was to go to “all nations.”

The equipping for this mission would come on Pentecost when the Apostles were gathered for Morning Prayer at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The instruction was repeated by Jesus just prior to his ascension from the Mount of Olives when the band was back in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost.

A simple definition of the institutional Church is “a group of believing Christians organized to carry out the work of Jesus in the world.”  In the beginning the organization was uncomplicated.  It started in Jerusalem, and from there moved out into the Roman world of that time.  One point of these early accounts is that without some organization the work could not be done.

Today there seems to be some aversion to the institutional Church.  One hears that people want to be identified as Christians, but they avoid attending or joining the organized congregations.  The latest statistics show that perhaps 40 percent of Americans are in church on a Sunday morning.  Some who study these trends would put the figure closer to 20 percent.  It is clear that in the past decade church membership has decreased.  There are some significant reasons for this that I will not get into now.  I simply want to affirm that without the institutional Church, the work that Jesus assigned his followers simply will not get done.

When Jesus sent his Disciples into Galilee to preach the Kingdom of God he included in that command the healing of the sick, the cleansing of lepers, the casting out of demons, and even the raising of the dead.  In other words Jesus wanted his followers to demonstrate the love of God in works of charity and compassion.

Those who want to identify with Jesus but avoid the institutional Church are simply out of step with what Jesus intended.  His teaching was that “if you love me, keep my commandments.”  Those commandments cannot be kept without the body of believers organizing to keep them.  Personal religion alone will not cut it.

If the Church was not organized the hospitals would never have been built; the universities would never have been founded; slavery would still be practiced in Western civilization (although we took too long with that one); there would be no rescue missions for alcohol and drugs; and the list could go on and on.  The fact that many of these works have now been secularized does not negate the fact that the Church was the founding institution.  Further, the secularization of some of them has not been an improvement.   The churches are still deeply involved in meeting the needs of people who are caught in unfortunate circumstances.  And yes, the churches also preach the Gospel.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at