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Reid targets institutional view of church as ‘somewhere to go’

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–If Southern Baptists increasingly embrace an institutional mindset, they will let the world continue on its hell-bound path, Alvin Reid, professor of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared.

Calling institutionalism an “enemy to the preaching of the Gospel, of missions and evangelism,” Reid reminded listeners in a stirring chapel sermon at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Oct. 30 that Jesus Christ did not call believers to produce or preserve programs, but rather to follow Him in a radical movement of evangelization.

“I’m not saying institutions are wrong. I’m not against all programs,” Reid said at the Wake Forest, N.C., campus. “I’m saying they’re not the point. The program is important, but it’s secondary to the life and movement of God in the church.”

Reid took his text from Matthew 4, in which Jesus called the disciples to follow Him and fish for the souls of men in a movement that would change the world.

Reid distinguished between institutions, which are necessary strategies for fulfilling the Great Commission, and “institutionalism,” the mindset that he said embraces institutions as an end unto themselves rather than following after Christ in a movement to proclaim His name to all the ends of the earth.

“We can poison the movement of God by running so many programs that we can’t even hear the voice of God,” Reid said.

The kind of mindset that sees programs rather than the Great Commission as the Christian’s ultimate objective can manifest itself in the church in many ways, all of which exchange what is most important for things which are less important by comparison, Reid said.

Additionally, Reid encouraged churches to alter their definition of an ideal church member to emphasize commitment to Christ and sharing the Gospel over the external trappings of religiosity.

“Our problem is we’ve elevated behavior over belief,” he said. “So we decide that a great Christian is a person who looks and acts a certain way. When you do that, the first belief that goes is a commitment to the Gospel.”

Reid criticized the “come and see” mentality that replaces a “go and tell” evangelistic focus, making some churches seem “more like the Dead Sea than the Sea of Galilee.”

“You don’t go to church; you are the church,” he said. “We think church is somewhere we go … every church building in America could burn down tonight and the church would still be there.”

That shift in focus — from being the church to simply going to church — has watered down Christianity in the United States to the point that Reid believes that true spiritual revival, a genuine movement of God, is the only remedy.

Reid concluded with a challenge to Southeastern students to make a difference in the church today and not to lose sight of its mission from the Master to share Christ with a world desperately in need of Him. Otherwise, Reid cautioned, the mindset of institutionalism could creep in and render the church ineffective.

“What are we doing to touch eternity?” he challenged his chapel audience. “Jesus gave His followers a mission that hasn’t changed. Who’s going to take a stand and lovingly teach our people that we’re part of a movement?”

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  • Kyle Smith