The institutional church has not set aside the gospel. It has reduced it to a more manageable and tame form. We have lost the vitality of the Holy Spirit and our churches became domesticated. The church is no longer dynamic, bold, engaged and prophetic in its relation to our culture. At least in the States. In many other parts of the world the church still has teeth and claws. It is dangerous.
Our church cultures are set up to conserve the movement of God. It is at this point that a free flowing body of believers becomes an institutionalized church. We administer what God is doing and in the process loose its essence. The horrific part of the equation is that such a declawed faith has been so effective in the 20th century.
Daryl Guder notes: "Movements do not remain movements: either they become institutions or they disappear. This is a social axiom."
Look at the Assemblies of God in America as an example of this phenomena. They were a movement that has become an institution. In the process they have lost the very Spirit that they sought to conserve. As a pastor in the A/G, I think we are becoming Bapticostal. Defined as Baptist in actual practice and form but Pentecostal in ideology. (There are always exceptions that prove the rule)
Institutionalization of any church form is like keeping the Manna from heaven. It rots and looses its power to nourish if it is stored. It must be renewed daily. The power of the gospel is the same. If we try to hold on to what God has done, we short-circuit the path of his power. We become pacified and loose our integrity as we attempt incarnate the Gospel. We have a form of religion but not the power that gives it teeth and claws.
The emerging church movement (if we currently are one) is no different. Living outside of the institutionalized church is no different. House churches are no different. Networks of Micro-Churches (my church planting idea) are no different. We must take the risk of becoming extinct if we are to maintain any vitality as we incarnate the Gospel of Christ.
In an institutionalized church culture, we should be open to the power and presence of God and not settle for a gospel that has been declawed and domesticated. That is to say: De-institutionalize ourselves. Without the empowering presence of God we might as well pack it up and call it a day. God changes cultures but pastors must lead the people in repentance and reinforce our identification with the kingdom of God.
I don't' think that the issue is institutional vs. Non-institutional churches ~ Emergent vs. Traditional churches ~ or even House churches vs. Mega-churches. The question becomes; Is the church being empowered by God's spirit daily or is it trying to conserve what God has done? One path is tame while the other is wild and dangerous. Give me a church with Claws and Teeth any day.