Gustafsson, B.

Types of Religious Institutionalization

Genre: Literatuur




Types of Religious Institutionalization


Firmly established role systems and institutions have always existed in the history of the Church. Though some liberal theologians in the beginning of the twentieth century assumed that at least in the primitive church, continuing even into the beginning of the second century, some sort of charismatic anarchy prevailed, more recent research has shown that the episcopal office and a cohesive ecclesiastical order originated within the Church.


Institutionalization of the Church

There is always an institutional aspect in a church; only the mystic and the liberal, who are found outside the Christian parochial fellowship of divine service and communion, live religious lives without any marked institutional characteristics. Though religious individualism essentially denies the institutional, at the same time the representatives of this individualism are dependent upon traditions and a heritage of ideas.

It is, however, apparent that the institutional characteristics within the life of the churches vary radically, not only from


church to church, relative to the differences between episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational forms of government,1 but also from time to time. These historical variations are intimately connected with the changing sizes of the churches; they are connected also, and even more significantly, with the extent of interaction between the church and the community setting.

We may here take our starting-point in the changing firmness of the institutional pattern. An institutionalism that regulates everything in detail, from the seating in the church to the knowledge required for entering into marriage, involves an all-inclusive interaction with the community setting, an interaction that will keep its inclusive character only in so far as it does not conflict with the social setting of any social subgroup.

When the interaction with the social context becomes more rigid, the general social structure will influence the churches as institutions. A developing class structure will in great degree influence, and often disturb, church life and create disunity. This happened to several Lutheran churches in northern Europe toward the end of the nineteenth century.2 The disturbing effect of the developing class structure in a growing industrial society was dependent upon the fact that the churches were institutions of all social classes, institutions that were influenced by the nations in their entirety and by the general social development. We are here concerned with national churches, which were woven together with the whole social context and strongly impressed by the older cultures.

The institutional patterns of common moral sentiments and definitions of statuses and roles3 are apparently connected with the types and extent of groups and social configurations that influence the institutional roles. Of greatest importance, therefore, is research into what it is that institutionalizes. The schema with four different types of religious organization — church, denomination, sect, and cult4 — is very illuminating as it relates to the question of adaptation to social change, but this schema seems to be too formal to get hold of the dynamic element within the religious organizations as institutions. This element is what pulls the

[142] 1. W.G. Muelder, “Institutional Factors Affecting Unity and Disunity,” The Ecumenical Review, January, 1956, p. 123.
2. See my book Kyrkoliv och samhällsklass i Sverige omkring 1880 (Church Life and Social Class in Sweden Around 1880), with a summary in English (Stockholm: Svenska Kyrkans Diakonistyrelses Bokförlag, 1950).
3. Cf. T. Parsons, Essays in Sociological Theory (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1949).
4. Muelder, op. cit., pp. 116-118.


individual into certain patterns of behavior and gives him his institutional roles. Elsewhere I have developed my reasons for this statement,5 starting from the social behaviorism of George H. Mead, who uses the concept of role as key unit. An institution is, according to this theory, a relatively rigid series of common responses to certain situations on the part of all in the society or the subgroup. These responses are always roles, and the situations are expectations derived from the generalized other, “what he wants me to do.”

The differences between church, sect, denomination, and cult are connected to the differences in these expectations. If the society that defines the roles is a voluntary association of individuals within a multigroup society, we have a denomination. If the group which defines the roles is a voluntary organization of adults with rigid and strongly deviating norms, we have a sect. If the roles are defined by all the organizations which penetrate and control the society, we have churches.

When we distinguish between different religious institutions, the essential point is the difference in roles, and these roles have different sources. These sources are partly to be sought outside the institutions; but the primary religious institution defines roles that are accessible to all, whereas the secondary religious institution defines roles that are accessible only to some persons and, therefore, their voluntary character is stressed. We can get hold of the role sources if we approach the question of religious institutions from the point of view of what it is that institutionalizes the roles. Why are the role systems sometimes very exclusive (especially in the case of the sect), sometimes more differentiated and open (the church type)?

It is necessary to stress that religious institutions are not institutionalized solely from outside, even though influences may come from either a local community or a national social setting. The religious roles and functions are in a very high degree settled by tradition, theology, and preaching. There is always a great measure of self-institutionalization within the religious organizations which have traditions to keep and to hand on. The socializing

[142] 5. “Sociologien och kyrkan (Sociology and the Church),” Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift, 1953, pp. 93-107.


effects of one period in the life of the church affect the socialization of later periods, though in a less degree in epochs of rapid change. But in this heritage we also meet an older social context, where behavior and definitions of roles are dependent upon the type of cultural and general social institutionalization that occurred in the past. The continuing self-institutionalization of the religious institutions, however, always takes place within a social context, and the occasion that is dangerous to the unity of the churches, as regards the process of institutionalization, is often to be sought in the dependence upon this social context.

The importance of this search for the different role-sources will be quite evident, if we try to define the concept of institutionalization more precisely. That the roles become institutionalized means that they achieve stability and uniformity. Stability means here that the roles become regular and are performed repeatedly whenever the same situation arises. The individual behaves in the given situations in a certain manner; the mode of behavior becomes firmer and firmer. But the roles also get something of a life of their own and offer themselves to individuals as ready-made behavior patterns. Therefore they can be performed by the individuals without any need of choosing in each instance what to do. One by one, firmly fixed patterns of roles are built up. They get modified in single cases, but always remain self-evident to the individuals who perform them. This stability renders every at-tempt to change the roles and the attitudes more difficult.

By uniformity we mean that the same role is performed in the same way by several individuals. If religious life did not display this uniformity, it would make no sense to speak about religious institutions. Institutionalized roles are thus roles that are common to a great number of people. One also can point to an inner uniformity, an inner correspondence, that is, the way in which roles correspond with each other and get the character of a more or less closed wholeness, in which each single trait contributes to the totality. Such uniformity can in a higher or lower degree be coterminous with other social boundaries, and thus coincide with the cultural uniformity of a whole nation, a particular region, or a


neighborhood. It can also correspond to the role systems of a certain social stratum, for example, a social class, or a marginal group such as rural people who have migrated to a city. To the degree that such a correspondence between the religious role system and the role system of a group or a nation is discernible, we must assume that not only has the religious role system become institutionalized by this latter role system, but also that there may have been processes of interaction between the two systems. Both the stability and the uniformity of the roles are to be traced back to some common role sources.


Different Kinds of Institutionalizing Agents

We may start with the agents of a geographical type. In most countries there are striking differences between different regions. In Sweden, for example, the different denominations are concentrated in different regions. These regional differences can be traced not only to a common religious heritage within the region and a common regional historical development, but also to the socio-cultural characteristics of the region, for instance, common dialect and common cultural attitudes.6 Both the dialects and the ethno-cultural attitudes show in many cases the same geographical distribution as certain denominations and religious activities. Then we must assume an institutionalization of the religious life within the region by characteristics within the region itself.

The same can often be said about the differences between rural and urban regions, though in some instances neighboring rural and urban regions have the same religious geography. Different kinds of communities can be examined: for example, those of urban type in small cities, cities of middle size, metropolitan areas. There are also great differences in institutionalization in downtown areas, apartment areas, and suburban areas.7 Clearly, the institutionalization by a region or a community may be a factor that causes disunity between churches and denominations.

Institutionalization by a nation can disturb the relations between churches even more. The Protestant churches in northern

[142] 6. See my Svensk kyrkogeografi (Lund: Gleerups Förlag, 1957), pp. 167ff.
7. See, for example, F.A. Shippey, Church Work in the City (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1952).


Europe have to an especially high degree become institutionalized by national cultures. By mission or emigration, these national religious role systems have spread to other parts of the world. In America, in India, and elsewhere, ecumenical efforts have been obstructed by this type of institutionalization.

Races and racial heritages must also be mentioned as examples of institutionalizing agents. Also social classes can to a high degree institutionalize the roles within a religious organization. Some churches are more institutionalized by the upper classes in their patterns of attitudes and roles, others by the lower classes. Conflicts between different churches are sometimes also conflicts between class attitudes and class manners.

Of special interest are marginal groups of different kinds: groups which are isolated, socially, culturally, or geographically; groups which are maladjusted in a changing society; and immigrants. There exists a great number of institutionalizing agents, sometimes operating independently, sometimes interacting. Christian divisions are dependent in part upon this fact.

The process of institutionalization and its social mechanisms need to be described. Of this process the individual is unconscious, at least to a very high degree. The institutionalization and continuing control of behavior, as exercised by various groups and especially by the family, partly function on the conscious level. But this conscious part of the institutionalization and of social control is relatively small.

Of course, there are direct methods of influencing human behavior. But these, as Mannheim stresses, are always based on personal influence and work from near at hand.8 Most behavior is natural and self-evident. Role carriers use many social norms without ever thinking about which social roles and values they are trying to enforce.9 Therefore, the sociologist can help the ecumenical movement by unmasking the institutionalizing agents, of which individuals themselves are unaware. In modern society the old, closed milieus which earlier institutionalized the roles are disrupted to a marked degree, and the complicated nature of modern groups has caused great difficulties in the process of

[142] 8. K. Mannheim, Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1940), pp. 274-275.
9. Cf. T.T. Segerstedt, Social Control as Sociological Concept (Uppsala Universitets Årsskrift, 1948:5, Uppsala, 1948), p. 43.


institutionalization. The effects of different role sources cross each other, and these opposite effects cause trouble and inner difficulties for the individual. This new situation should be favorable for ecumenical efforts, but it can not be exploited unless we know which role sources are in conflict.


Three Types of Cultural Institutionalization

We can distinguish three main types of cultural institutionalization of a church: those where institutionalization is accomplished by an inclusive culture, by exclusive dominant cultures, and finally by marginal cultures. These types are not always mutually exclusive. Sometimes they co-operate, but usually they lead to schisms and disturbances.

Institutionalization by an inclusive culture is usually applied to the church type of religious organization. Several combinations can be found, but most important is institutionalization by the state and by the whole nation, or by groups which more or less identify themselves with the whole nation and are firmly rooted in the cultural and social heritage and thinking of the nation.

Not until the fourth century A.D. was the Christian church institutionalized by the state; however, the Church was institutionalized even earlier by an inclusive culture, that is, by groups who regarded themselves as a nation, the new Israel, the new kingdom. The definition of roles was wide and inclusive, and though the faith in Jesus Christ was considered very exclusive, it had a universal meaning, transcending all boundaries. In the primitive church this “boundary-transcending” inclusiveness was manifest in the fact that the Church regarded itself as the rightful heir of the whole Jewish tradition: the Old Testament, the temple, and the synagogue. The Christians did not live within a small sector of Judaism, but rather identified themselves with the whole Israel, and thus the Jewish heritage left its traces in the divine service and in the general behavior.

The oldest Jewish-Christian church gradually was isolated and capsulated. Conquering instead was the Pauline Christianity,


whose inclusiveness extended to Greek culture (Acts 17: 22-31) in certain important respects. Pauline preaching was freed from an exclusively Jewish background. In the early church the boundaries of other cultures were transcended. Inclusive forms and roles were created continually, although local and regional differentiation remained for a long time — or was ever growing — in the history of the ancient church. In Augustine’s time, he could still write that when the local parishes had different customs one ought to accept the customs of the parish where one was staying.10

The universal Mediterranean culture began, however, to disintegrate more and more, and this involved the Church in great and difficult adjustments. The Roman culture became more exclusive, and the Church became, through its dominant status as the church of Rome, something like a national church institutionalized by a more or less exclusive culture. Schismatic movements appeared, and in their background was this disintegration of the older inclusive culture into one dominant exclusive culture with certain marginal subcultures. The different national and sectarian trends in the fourth and fifth centuries were characteristically institutionalized by small marginal groups.11

By the outset of the Middle Ages the situation was greatly changed. The Western church was firmly tied to Latin culture, but already the invasions of the Goths and later the increased international contacts, not least through increased international commerce, enlarged the opportunities for a new inclusiveness to develop. By one stage after another the Church gained ground and became an integrating part of the medieval societies. The Church institutionalized, on her part, the various daughter churches, but in its entirety it was institutionalized by a culture that was already inclusive and creating inclusiveness through its international character. The basis of this universal thinking had been laid by Augustine, whose ideas about Civitas Dei became the medieval equivalent of the older idea of the Church as the new Israel.

This inclusive medieval culture was finally broken down. The breakdown was intimately connected with the appearance of national subcultures which, together with the low status of the

[142] 10. Augustinus, Ianuario, I:ii:2. Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, 29, pp. 209-210.
11. W.H.C. Frend, The Donatist Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952).


laity and an increasing institutionalization by a hierarchical top, threatened the inclusiveness of the Church. Again it is noteworthy that disunity within the Church took place during the breakdown of an inclusive culture. A rigid, hierarchical form of institutionalization has its weakness in the difficulty with which it meets changes within the socio-cultural setting. With the new social structure and the new cultural upheaval, the medieval culture was no longer inclusive. Only in the northern parts of Europe were the emerging national cultures inclusive.

Within early Protestantism the national organization of the Church was kept, except by the Baptist movements. Among them, the cultures that institutionalized roles and behavior were marginal though often on a high cultural level. For the rest, the Reformation signified that the institutionalization by an inclusive culture was renewed, and that the unity of the Church was kept within the framework of national culture. This was possible because the medieval society survived in several countries. The state replaced the ecclesiastical hierarchy as an institutionalizing agent; but the state was often balanced by the laity which had been made free. The roles and behavior within the churches were settled by an inclusive religious culture, with a certain delegating of the responsibility downward to the laity in the local parishes.

In the seventeenth century, congregationalism demonstrated quite another trend of institutionalization by an inclusive culture. The rising congregationalism was a protest against the growing power of the bishops. Some of the Independents in Cromwell’s England, facing the threat of a growing ecclesiastical hierarchy, regarded institutionalization by the state as a safeguard against disunity in church affairs.12 When the government administration of the nation was extended, the control of the bishops over the parishes increased; and the bishops demanded uniformity in church customs, in liturgy and ethics. These demands for uniformity, typical of hierarchic tendencies, threatened unity, and the mass of nonconformists grew rapidly. The Independents looked to the state as a safeguard against this strengthened episcopal control, but the state could be such a safeguard only on

[142] 12. See my The Five Dissenting Brethren (Lunds Universitets Årsskrift NF: Avd. 1: Bd 51:nr 5), Lund 1955.


one condition: if the institutionalization of cult and doctrine were handed to the local parishes.

History teaches us that the Church itself must often create the inclusive culture — that which can unify Christendom; and it is possible for the Church to do this. Preaching and ethics must include and embrace all social situations. Out of the disintegration of modern culture the Church must seek to create integration and common basic values. This necessity is a tremendous challenge to the ecumenical movement as a whole.

But the problem here is not only one of the general disintegration of culture, but also a question of the local substratum. An inclusive culture can not be spread from an organizational top, but must grow from below. And it appears that churches with more rigid confessional attitudes, but without any lively local substrata, are strong factors of disunity in rapidly changing and disintegrating cultures. Also with local substrata sagging, the basis of an inclusive culture is snatched away. In such a new situation, the Church, in its role systems and behavior patterns, is no longer institutionalized by an inclusive culture but by an exclusive culture. Then faith in Jesus Christ loses its uniqueness and becomes easily identified with the religious experiences of a particular group.

Churches institutionalized in this manner have always had difficulties, for their thinking and role system often develop a closed character when confronting new cultures, including local and national subcultures. The effect has often been a disintegration of church life. On the other hand, churches that have made a healthy adjustment to such new situations have, with attitudes characterized by openness and inclusiveness, transcended the cultural boundaries.

Such difficulties of institutionalization are very well illustrated in material from missionary areas. The difficulties of the younger churches in their efforts to achieve cultural autonomy are rooted in the crisis in Western Christianity during the nineteenth century. This crisis is related to the lack of inclusiveness, and a narrowing of the process of institutionalization. In several of the


European Lutheran churches the development of the new industrial society with its impersonal relationships between employers and employees was considered an event outside of God’s creation.

Not until the twentieth century did Christian people in these churches begin to recognize God’s creative activity behind the new society that had emerged, and to give it a positive ethical interpretation. But already large groups, especially among the workers and the new middle classes, had joined new churches in their search for an interpretation of their situation, for the agrarian Lutheran churches had only left them baffled.

It was not simply by chance that the missionary enterprise first received its strongly Western character during this period of radical social change. The lack of universality caused many missionaries to preach a message that was highly exclusive in relation to the social situation and the cultural heritage of the native people. Nineteenth-century missionary Christianity was seldom socially and culturally conquering and inclusive.

Excessive dependence upon older Western cultural traditions in the shaping of a Christian milieu is surely also today a great hindrance to ecumenical fellowship beyond nation and race. In this connection the statement made by the International Missionary Council at Willingen in 1952 is important:

While the Church of Christ in any place and at any time must exhibit the marks without which it will not be a church, it has the responsibility to exhibit them in a distinctive way, incorporating into the service of Christ whatever heritage of cultural values it may have been given by God’s grace [italics added]. This is not being “rooted in the soil” but related to the soil. The Church can only be rooted in Christ. But the eternal Gospel must be so presented to men and women that its contemporary and compelling relevance is recognized. It cannot be so recognized as long as it appears in a foreign guise, imitating and reproducing the characteristics of a church in some remote and alien land.


Foreign in one sense the Church must always be; its citizenship is in heaven, and it is an agent of transformation. Despite the dangers of identification with this world, we urge that foreignness in the more earthly sense of the word is something to be outgrown with all possible speed. Churches should take a positive yet critical attitude to the national cultures.13

Every critic of the involvement of the churches in disturbing subcultures must greet this statement with satisfaction as a step toward overcoming the cultural and social isolation of the Church.


Institutionalization by Marginal Cultures

The institutionalization of churches by exclusive cultures, which is currently so common, of necessity compels certain marginal groups to break with the older religious institutions. Each time an older inclusive culture breaks down, the same risks that operated in the breakdown of the Old Mediterranean culture appear again in an acute form.

Marginal cultures always presuppose conflict between dominant cultures, on the one hand, and deviant value-systems, on the other. The marginal group is antagonistic to the culture of the dominant society. The difference between institutionalization by an exclusive culture and institutionalization by a marginal culture thus is that in the latter case particular roles are overemphasized and shaped by a conscious opposition to all other culture patterns and value-systems in the society. The marginal culture is a negative reflection of the dominant culture.

Problems are thus presented that are most difficult to solve, for they will tend to create sects. Sects are often institutionalized by marginal groups who retain norms and values from older cultural strata. John B. Holt’s hypothesis, that in these cases there is some sort of cultural shock,14 is of great interest in this connection though it is not yet sufficiently verified. According to this hypothesis, religious movements that strive for a more holy behavior

[142] 13. Cf. E.A. Asamoa, “The Christian Church and African Heritage,” The International Review of Missions, 1955, pp. 292-301.
14. J.B. Holt, “Holiness Religion: Cultural Shock and Social Reorganization,” American Sociological Review, 1940, pp. 740-747.


are dependent upon the migration from rural to urban communities, and upon the difficulties the migrants have in adjusting to the urban cultural milieu. The migrants are frequently firmly rooted in a revivalistic religious tradition, and when they confront the urban culture some sort of shock is created. The adjustment to the new cultural milieu tends to be a totally negative reaction. Thus the marginal groups take their concepts, norms, and habits, from the cultural background they just have left, namely, a rural tradition that is breaking down. From an ecumenical point of view, therefore, religious organizations with such a cultural background are of special concern. These movements, and above all the Pentecostal movements, are institutionalized, at least in part, by cultures that are marginal to modern urban society. The consequence may be a strong anti-ecumenical bias.

Thus an enormous difficulty is presented for the work of Christian unity. The failure of traditional forms of religious organization is a failure to adapt to dynamic social change without disturbances, that is, a failure to adapt and at the same time give freedom to marginal groups to keep the old values and cultural attitudes that the mother organization is abandoning as it adjusts to a new situation. These problems appear in large measure to be unsolvable at the present time.


The Emergence of Administrative Strata

Studies of marginal religious groups would be very illuminating for our purpose. Above all, research is needed on marginal groups that are the result of centralizing tendencies within institutional patterns. For example, in the 1930’s a crisis erupted in the Swedish Baptist Union over the issue of local self-government. Those who wanted no centralization went their own way, and finally a new organization grew up. According to my studies of Swedish church life, the marginal religious groups increase in number and power when contacts between the administrative top and the popular base of religious institutions weaken. Also for this reason,


an orientation of the ecumenical movement toward the local sub-stratum would therefore appear to be highly desirable.

Such an orientation is even more desirable because a new trend in the institutionalization of religious institutions is under way which deeply conditions this involvement in middle-class cultures. This is the emergence of administrative “tops,” which, in the institutionalization of religious organizations, become so isolated from the membership that they do not even come into conflict with these subcultures. Through the growth of administrative strata, and often with a change in the status of the clergy, the importance of the local substratum has decreased and the old local variations in church life have begun to be blurred. Institutionalization from below has decreased.

We have already observed that hierarchical strata and hierarchical tops are dangerous to the unity of a church in a changing society as, for example, in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages and in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In modern society these risks are increased in many ways, and the authority pattern tends to become more and more administrative.

These tendencies reflect the impact of modern society. The breakdown of the old primary groups, not least the neighborhood, demands an adjustment to larger units as substitutes. The local parish or congregation becomes less important both as a basis for activities, and as a religious home milieu. More than before, religious institutions rely on large administrative units. Territorial boundaries are to a certain extent blurred, and the local communities are regarded more as areas to be institutionalized than as institutionalizing agents.

This change has required an administrative top and has created an administrative stratum more and more independent from the local substratum. It is not even elected by this substratum, but often appointed by the already existing administrative top itself. As a consequence institutionalization by an inclusive culture has decreased in accelerating tempo.

In a marked top administration of the bureaucratic type, the behavior pattern of the leaders is to a certain extent independent


of the local substratum, and stamped more by the institutionalization that takes place within the administrative stratum itself. The leaders institutionalize each other. The dynamics of the administrative apparatus itself creates new personal influences, “those of the administrators themselves seeking their own ends and engaging, as newly powerful participants, in power relationships.”15 The behavior patterns, in the informal organization of the institutions, are centered “primarily around the ties of influence among the functionaries” and “tend to concentrate the locus of power in the hands of the officials.”16 In an institution with the modern type of top administration a cleft easily develops between the administrators and the common people, for the administrators have immediate purposes to fulfill that are not those of the common people.

Such a development is also reflected in a tendency toward managerial thinking among denominational delegates engaged in ecumenical activities. Bureaucrats certainly are inclined to present formalized responses to outside presentations, and it is very difficult for such bureaucratic personalities to enter into serious ecumenical conversation without hesitation.17 The most striking point to note is that these formalized responses are institutionalized by the interaction within the administrative top and not also with the local substratum. What is often needed in ecumenical conferences are the frankly expressed responses that are institutionalized from below. Ecumenical delegates are not private persons, nor administrators, but delegates of certain religious organizations, and, if they do not have lively contacts with the common people in their organizations, their responses will be formalized and, above all, ineffective because they do not have any broader social meaning. Thus an integration of the ecumenical movement with local congregations is as necessary as a breakdown of the existing managerial thinking within the denominational institutions.

Administrators and officials run, above all, the following risks: those of superficiality, expertism, and bureaucratic escapism. In each of these the ecumenical problem is real. All the risks are linked up with the fact that the roles of the administrators tend to

[142] 15. P. Selznick, “An Approach to a Theory of Bureaucracy,” American Sociological Review, 1943, p. 50.
[143] 16. Selznick, op. cit., p. 50.
17. Muelder, op. cit., p. 121.


be institutionalized only by the leadership stratum and by its way of thinking.

A risk of superficiality is always prevalent when successful organization and statistical results are the things that the administrators basically strive for. Activity and high percentages are then easily confused with the growth of faith and conviction. The number of Sunday schools, the statistics of church attendance, and the collection figures are assumed to be indices of religious life, and high numbers become the primary end of all endeavors. Such thinking may already infect the ecumenical climate. In such cases, religious statistics have become the administrators' masters, not their servants and critics.

The competition between different churches and denominations which always prevails in modern society is greatly increased through such administrative superficiality. “Right or wrong — our denomination.” This temptation is the chief temptation of the administrative top. This top aims to organize the church or the denomination more adequately, and then applies this superficial way of thinking. Whereas in the local substratum of common people the fact of belonging to a particular denomination often does not exclude open-mindedness in the relations to other denominations, the administrators frequently fall victim to the temptation of trying to close the doors. It is not unusual in certain regions for the common people to visit churches belonging to other denominations, and to let their children attend a Sunday school of another denomination where their own church has no established congregation. Administrators sometimes judge this open-mindedness to be a serious threat to one’s own denomination.

The second risk is expertism. Of course, the need for experts cannot be denied in a modern complicated society, even in religious life. The tasks are so manifold that the need for specialists is constantly growing. With expertism we mean, however, that state of affairs in which the distribution of roles has become so rigid that the experts do not want to do any other job than their specialized job, and so rigid that the experts tend to act autonomously without any inspection from the local substratum. There


may be inspection from the top, but seldom from below. Expertism may evidently be a hindrance to the ecumenical movement, since the openness that is fundamental to all ecumenical endeavor disappears and is substituted by an attitude of self-sufficiency.

Bureaucratic escapism also is a factor which may cause division and disunity. This escapism is found where each administrator tries to define his own job, and does not wish to work in teams. The result is to cut off all possibilities of genuine co-operation with other people both from their own church and from other churches, and to make even more tenuous the contacts with the local substratum.


Communication as the Crucial Test

The relationships between the managerial top and the common people within a church has not yet been the subject of any thorough sociological research. Here we shall only suggest some problems that need to be explored.

We may start with the problem of communication. Experts in the art of administration also have stressed that organization must be coupled with communication.18 As social scientists have pointed out, informal organization and communication has obtained greater importance with increasing bureaucratic efficiency.19 The impersonal character of administration is softened by informal communication.

The problem of communication within a denomination gets its importance from the fact that open communication between top and bottom prevents an institutionalization of administrative roles solely by the leadership stratum. It is evident that several schisms have their roots in deficient communication.

An inquiry into this problem should first aim at examining the general conditions for communication. Necessary to all social communication of a more informal and personal type is that the people use the same language. One gets the impression that the cleft between managerial thinking and the lay points of view is often one of a purely linguistic type. The administrators speak

[143] 18. O. Tead, The Art of Administration (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1951).
19. P.M. Blau, Bureaucracy in Modern Society (New York: Random House, Inc., 1956).


one language, the common people another. This is applicable also to religion: the emergence of a special lay theology has in certain cases been one of the factors behind divisions. Already in the early Eastern schisms in the fifth and sixth centuries, language as a social medium had an extraordinary importance. In the Western church, where there was only one ecclesiastical language, Latin, there never was the same kind of conflict as occurred in the Eastern church where the national churches were institutionalized by national cultures, and where each people had its own ecclesiastical language. Thus, to the degree that an administrative upper stratum of a denomination speaks another language than the common laymen do, there are risks of disunity.

Further, such an inquiry would have to explore the ways of communication: in what degree they are of the formal and the informal types. Are they used only in one direction — for example, from the top to the laity, or in both directions? Personal contacts are most decisive; these evidently must be considered to be the most important form of communication. Where the personal informal contacts are poor and sporadic, the bases of communication are weak. It was no mere contingency that the ecclesiastical divisions both in England in the seventeenth century and in Sweden in the nineteenth century were related to a revival of a more formal system of episcopal oversight.

The fact that these administrative risks are also connected with differences in status and class position between the top and the rank and file must not be overlooked. This is valid especially in churches where the middle classes are not dominant in the congregations.

Finally, differences in the definition of ends need to be examined. The communication must to a certain extent be concerned with the end and purpose of the activities, and often this end is defined differently by the administrators and by the laity. The managerial top runs the risk of overstressing organization and statistical figures as ends in themselves, whereas lay people are more interested in personal problems of a moral and religious nature.


The definitions of the ends of the different denominations in our time tend to conflict more often at the level of the administrators than at the level of the rank and file. Both the differences in language and the differences in definitions of ends cause serious trouble between denominations; this is even more so in modern church life where the administrative top is the only effective institutionalizing agent. Sometimes the communication between administrative strata of different churches may be poor, but the communications are not always open and free between the administrative stratum of one church and the common people of other churches. Informal, personal contacts with persons from other churches may often create better and more immediate ecumenical contacts than high level conferences. The administrators also often run greater risks than the men in the pew do in disrupting the bonds of Christian fellowship with other churches over definitions of purpose. These risks must be underscored because the administrators tend to try to institutionalize the roles and the habits of men in the pew.

It is evident that the ecumenical thinking of the churches is correlated with the degree of inclusiveness of the culture that institutionalizes the churches. Where a church looks upon itself as a member of a universal Church and is open to the common Christian heritage, ecumenical attitudes are quite natural. International contacts and acquaintance with other churches at home and abroad thus ought to be very helpful when we try to break down the walls of exclusiveness and national-marginal thinking. But a broad international interest and a universal outlook in social and cultural affairs are also of highest importance. A narrow ecclesiastical outlook may impede the growth of an international orientation of a nation as a whole.

The cultivating and deepening of international communication must not be restricted to an elite of experts, nor must the experts alone work on a universal interpretation of the gospel. The broader the communications are between the churches, the more important will become the idea of the unity of the Church. If


ordinary people do not become engaged in the ecumenical work, a managerial ecumenism may take over.

Finally, it is more necessary than ever to develop an ecumenical theology in the full sense. Significant efforts have been made in this respect. But more than hitherto such a theology must seek to bridge also the chasm between ecclesiastical cultures and non-Christian cultures. It ought to aim not only at the unity of the Christian churches but also at the unity of mankind, furnishing an inclusive interpretation of the gospel for the whole world.



Bibliography for Essay 6


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Mannheim, K., Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1940).
Niebuhr, H. Richard, The Social Sources of Denominationalism (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1929).
Parsons, T., Essays in Sociological Theory (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1949).
Segerstedt, T.T., Social Control as Sociological Concept (Uppsala Universitets Årsskrift 1948:5). Uppsala, 1948.
Znaniecki, F., “Social Organization,” Twentieth Century Sociology. G.D. Gurvitch and W.E. Moore, eds. (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1945).