Why institutions matter. Everything that follows is from Mike Metzger. Enjoy!
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It’s stunning that while Christians understand marriage as an institution established by God, most evangelical Christians are anti-institutional. They imagine institutions as cold, calculating corporations. This explains why evangelical Christianity is often so powerless to affect real change in the world. It has become, as Theodore Roszak, a Professor of History at California State University memorably put it, “socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging.” The proper exercise of power requires a proper understanding of institutions.
Power is translating authority into action. Having authority is having dominion. Jesus said all authority has been given to him. He has delegated authority to Christians (what is known as the Great Commission). We don’t have authority over all creation, but do have it over spheres of creation, such as a local business or school. Power is the capacity to translate wherever we have authority into action. Without this power, our faith is socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging. This power comes internally from the Spirit of God and instrumentally from institutions.
The best book on this – other than the Bible – is Robert A Caro’s masterful tome on Robert Moses, called “The Power Broker.” In studying the life and impact of Moses, Caro learned about the power of institutions. It began with an “epiphany about power” in the early ’60s. Moses got approval for a bridge from Rye, N.Y., across Long Island Sound to Oyster Bay – a bridge so atrociously big that it would disrupt tides. Caro never imagined Moses getting approval. He had been incredibly naïve. “I got in the car and drove home to Long Island, and I kept thinking to myself: ‘Everything you’ve been doing is baloney. You’ve been writing under the belief that power in a democracy comes from the ballot box. But here’s a guy who has never been elected to anything, who has enough power to turn the entire state around, and you don’t have the slightest idea how he got it.’ ”
Moses got his power by heading, or sitting on the boards of, most of the most influential institutions in the city. I’ll be telling you more about this in an upcoming column. But this does raise a few questions.
Questions to ask:
- Does your church know which are the most influential institutions in your city?
- Does your church have a plan to head, or sit on the boards of, most of the most influential institutions in your city?