In his book Bound for Glory, R. C. Sproul, Jr. makes the following observation (from a US point of view, of course)
God, in His mercy and his power, has established in this world four institutions. One is the individual. The second is the family. After that comes the church. And finally he has established the state. The drive in our age is to reduce that number down to two, to eliminate what the sociologists call the “mediating institutions,” the family and the church. The culture looks at each of us principally as individuals who are likewise part of the state. Our identity in the family or the church is seen as coincidental, if not problematic. But in actuality the family and the church are mediating or middle institutions, in that they protect us from being swallowed into one of the other two institutions.
Sproul’s identification of the four institutions is not something I have thought about before, but seems obvious now. Of course, it fits. The rampant individualism of the last 40 years has damaged the culture’s concept of the family, and certainly corroded the way the church thinks about itself. It is no surprise, therefore, that when Christian individuals can’t deal with issues increasingly even their cry is to the government to legislate and/or act to the point of damaging the middle institutions they are part of.
3 thoughts on “Sproul on Institutions”
Although I completely agree that rampant individualism is an almost entirely bad thing, I can’t agree with Sproul’s “4 institutions”. The problem, I think, is in trying to tie that elusive thing “community” down to specific levels. It’s far healther, I think. to see ourselves as individuals as being part of a spectrum of communities that might start with “family” or “dormitory” and blends up through “neighbourhood”, “work”, “church”, “village”, “tribe”, “county”, “state” and “alliance” to “humanity”.
There’s no boundary to community, and there are many trees through which we can reach up from small scale to large – political, religious, economic and so on. Trying to see things in terms that are too simplistic (as I think Sproul is doing) is actually dangerous because it will tend to make pronouncements on what “family” means – does that mean mother, father and 2.4 children, in which case where does that leave the single-parent family (whether caused by divorce, bereavement or whatever)? Where do the unmarried fit in? And similar questions.
pax et bonum
Steve …I have a blog….at last they say …shared4u.blogspot.com.
Still a realtive rookie though ..anyway have a peek and try not to laugh too much
Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you.
I suppose it is true that there is a ‘spectrum’ of ways of looking at society. As in many things our imagination knows no bounds, and can be useful. However, Sproul’s desire is to see things from the point of view of the covenant community that God has created in his Son. From this point of view it is, yes, simple, but definitely not simplistic.
Of the four institutions, the Bible as a whole majors on the central two – the family and the covenant community (i.e. the church in this day). Though Sproul doesn’t go into this (the book is a bit short and could really do with more extended treatment of the issues, I must concede) the other two, the individual and the state, seem to me to be less prominent. The other elements of your spectrum are even less prominent, if there at all. Now that’s not to say that these other communities mustn’t be dealt with by the Christian living in the world, but it is clear what his/her priorities must be.
Finally, to be fair to Sproul, he does deal with singles and single parent families in the context of church life elsewhere in the book. I’ll get round to doing a review one day.
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