In chapter 1 Viola is arguing for the restoration of the church to its "organic" nature as opposed to the institution it has become.
The church we read about in the New Testament was "organic." By that I mean it was born from and sustined by spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions, controlled by human hierarchy, shaped by lifeless rituals, and held together by religious programs.
To put it in a sentence, organic church life is not a theater with a script; it's a gathered community that lives by divine life. By contrast, the modern institutional church operates on the same organizational principles that run corporate America. (both quotes from p. 32)You can see that when he uses the term "institutional" he is talking about a form of church "a way of doing church," as he puts it in the introduction. He is arguing that the institution has overwhelmed the natural DNA of the church which lives by the divine life reflecting the trinitarian nature of God which is the paradigm for the church's native expression.
Look again at the triune God. And notice what's absent. There's an absence of command-style leadership. There's an absence of hierarchical structures. There's an absence of passive spectatorship. There's an absence of one-upmanship. And there's an absence of religious rituals and programs. (p. 36)Part of me wants to argue that things may have changed in the church since 1988 (the last time he was in what he terms an institutional church). Later he suggests that there are certain identifiable features produced by the church's natural DNA:
Some of them are the experience of authentic community, a familial love and devotion of its members to one another, the centrality of Jesus Christ, the native instinct to gather together without static ritual, the innate desire to form deep-seated relationships that are centered on Christ, the internal drive for open-participatory gatherings, and the loving impulse to display Jesus to a fallen world. (45-46)In this chapter he also suggests four paradigms for church restoration: Biblical Blueprintism, Cultural Adaptability, Postchurch Christianity, and Organic Expression. I can't go into detail here re. all of these. He obviously is arguing for the last one.
In his discussion about cultural adaptability, he makes a point that becomes a very important question for consideration. "The critical question then becomes which practices of the New Testament church are solely descriptive and which are normative? Or to put it another way, which are tied to the culture of the first century and which are reflections of the unchanging nature and identity of the church?" (39)
I think that's a great question to ask whether or not you're reading the book. What do you think?