Peter or Paul? Institution or Charism?

Have you ever thought how Peter is the icon of the tension that exists between the institution and the charisms within the Church? His Hebrew name, Simon, is Shimon, meaning “the one who listens”; his Greek name, Petros, the rock, the solid institution.

Throughout history there have always been tensions between the charismatic/missionary and the institutional aspects of the Church. It’s a given that the Spirit can and does speak through the institution, just as there is evidence enough that the Church actually promotes and encourages the charisms as an integral part of its life. At the very first Synod of the Church, that of Jerusalem in 50 AD, Peter narrates his fresh experience of the conversion of the Gentile Centurion Cornelius and his household (Acts 15,7-11). Paul and Barnabas narrate their missionary endeavours (15,12); James takes the decisions (v. 19).

The institution may not always be as quick as we would desire it to be but it is foolishness not to recognise the presence of the Spirit working in and through the institution as well as the charismatic/missionary element of the Church. One Gospel account narrates the dynamics that take place between the institutional and the charismatic church/es: the charismatic Beloved Disciple arrives at Jesus’ empty tomb, but does not proceed further. Simon Peter, the institution, arrives later and goes into the tomb; only then does the Beloved Disciple enter the tomb and believes (John 20,1-10).

Our tendency to place our trust in the institution can be an easy option because in blindly following we never have to listen and discern, but we never grow either. We seem to invest an awful lot of time, energy and money into systems, as though they are our salvation, but not a corresponding amount of time in listening to God. Yet the truth is that only God can save and not our systems or our structures. It’s only by listening to God that we’ll really begin to see the Gospel come alive in the hearts of the people (remeber Shimon Petros!)

The full truth about the Church is that in its fullest expression it is both institutional and charismatic. It can never be one or another. The two parts should work in harmony with one another. Of course they often do as is apparent in the wonderful life-giving teaching that emerged from the Second Vatican Council and in lots of documents since and before then.

In that coming together of the charismatic/missionary and institutional aspects, there is an explosion of power, the kind of power that is available when the institution stops relying on its structures and the people stop relying on themselves and everyone relies on the Lord and seeks the collective truth. It’s the kind of power that transforms hearts and minds and opens people up to the Living Lord. It’s that kind of power that will enable the Church to be prophet and herald and servant and real community while being both authentically missionary and institutional. Let’s always live in that creative tension that exists between the two.


One thought on “Peter or Paul? Institution or Charism?

  • Reply Ros 29th June 2013 at 6:20 pm

    I enjoyed reading this article, thanks.

    What you write is true, while the only way the church at large as well as every individual that is part of the church.. can only be able to listen to the Lord’s voice when we also include a personal relationship with Him.. believing He is a great and good God.. He is a trustworthy and loving God.. who delights in relating with each and every person He created.. He is a gentleman who does not impose Himself on us but simply invites us.. He delights in being in our lives, in sharing and supporting and guiding us.. He delights when we talk with Him as our best friend and as our father.. He delights when we listen to His voice in the silence of our heart or soul, or through His word, or through nature, or through another person, or through experiences and occurences in our lives.. He delights in letting us taste Him – who is life, who is truth, who is the way.. even now, as we journey through the joys as well as the challenges of life..

    Wow what an awesome God we have!

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