the weblog of Alan Knox

Institutional Lens

Posted by on Jun 1, 2006 in scripture | 3 comments

Almost everyone who studies the Bible recognizes that they read Scripture with certain assumptions and presuppositions. This “hermeneutical lens” affects the way we understand and teach the Bible. The exegete will attempt to remove as much of this hermeneutical lens as possible in order to determine the intent of the original author.

Lately, I’ve tried to remove the “institutional lens” that has affected my understanding of Scripture. That is, I have attempted to understand the Bible apart from the institutional and cultural phenomenon that we call “church.” For example, consider the modern usages of the following words: church, worship, service, ministry, pastor, member, preach … We regularly use those words (and many others) in ways that the biblical writers never intended. Certainly, meanings of words change. However, we must be careful not to read these modern meanings back into the text of Scripture.

I would love to hear from others who have attempted to read Scripture without being affected by this “institutional lens.”


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-2-2006

    Oh, boy, it changed everything for me when I did that. It’s actually a lot of fun and quite refreshing; although at times, it will leave you feeling like you’re tumbling down the rabbit hole. But go for it. Take the red pill! :) (Apologies for the “Matrix” allusions, especially if you haven’t seen the movie!)

    Seriously, it’s a great thing to do, I think, and it will cause you to get so excited about what “church” really can/should be.

    As a result of taking my institutional lens off, I went through the following multi-step process:

    1. I chose to stop receiving a paycheck for my institutional church staff position
    2. Eventually, I resigned that position
    3. My wife and I began to seek fellowship outside the institution
    4. We eventually stopped going to the institutional church altogether, and now fellowship with other believers in homes.

    So, buckle your seat belt! (Although from what I have been reading on your blog in the past couple of months, you have already been seeing a lot of this stuff in your study. Keep it up!)

    God bless!
    steve :)

  2. 6-2-2006

    Alan, I am currently in the process of trying to remove the “institutional lens,” myself. It is not easy. In fact, it is a very difficult personal struggle for me at times.

    In my experience, the reason for this is two-fold. First, we like our models and institutionalized ways of doing things. You see, it provides so many oppurtunities for the luke-warm complacency that my (our) flesh desires. For example, it places all the responsibility on the pastor(s), so the so-called “laity” can sit back and relax for God. So much for 1 Cor. 12:7. We can participate as part of the Church simply by showing up. Then, those who are gifted to be leaders are entitled to recieve a weekly paycheck. Fellowship can even be planned as a monthly meal event, instead of an intimate sharing in one another’s lives based on the common bond of the Holy Spirit. You see, in many ways “church” becomes easier and much more comfortable.

    The second reason I believe removing this lens is difficult is because it changes everything, and honestly I am often scared of change. It can make you an outsider or even an enemy. Change disrupts that complancent bliss I spoke of in the previous paragraph. It requires us to think biblically instead of “the way we always done it” mentality. Many times, change means repenting before a Merciful God for doing things our way instead of His. Therefore, my fleshly and sinful tendancy is to try to resist the removal of the “institutional lens” b/c of the change it may bring.

    All of this is to say that the removal of the “institutional lens” is difficult. It is not fallen man’s natural tendency to want to think Biblically. However, in a time when the Church is seen as no more than another thing that some people “do,” it is necessary! And praise be to God that through the redeeming work of Christ and the sanctifying work of His Spirit it is possible to study Scripture through more than our “institutional lens.”

    Thanks for the post Alan.

    In Christ,

  3. 6-2-2006


    Thank you for your comments. In some ways, I removed the institutional lens many years ago. In other ways, I’m still learning. It’s much like peeling an onion… layers upon layers continually come fall off. I am definitely enjoying (with trepidation) the journey.

    Per your four results:
    1) I refused to begin receiving a pay check.
    2) I’m still struggling with the position and what it means to be a pastor/elder.
    3) My family fellowships with many believers from different communities.
    4) I’m not convinced that the institution can be removed completely. Perhaps the institution has been shaken up and changed drastically. To me, the key is to constantly reform.


    Thank you for your honest comments. I’m enjoying travelling this journey with you.

    In Christ,